This Little Piggy Went to Pipeline
Pigs aren’t only found on the farm; pipeline operators use pigs to keep lines free and clear.
Everyone knows that pigs will eat anything—that’s why farmers feed them slop. Pipeline pigs are no different, except that they don’t have cute, curly tails—they will clean up anything in their path.
Pipeline pigging is a common approach that oil and gas companies use to ensure that pipelines are functioning properly. Companies often need to “pig their pipelines” to clean out built-up debris along the line and ensure the line is running smoothly. It’s an important part of maintaining the integrity of the pipeline, which the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) requires in order to keep pipeline operations going.
“Ultimately it’s the responsibility of the company who owns the pipelines to keep them safe. Our role as the regulator is to make sure that they have plans in place to care for their pipelines and that they are following these plans,” says Dave Grzyb, a pipeline specialist with the AER.
What’s in a name
The origin of the term pig is a bit of an urban legend in the oil and gas industry. There are many stories that tell the history of pipeline pigs, but none can truly be authenticated.
Early versions of pigs were bundles of straw wrapped with wire that were forced into the pipeline and resulted in a squealing sound, hence the moniker. Other versions were rags wrapped in leather that came from pig hides.
Regardless of where they get their name, pigs play an integral role in caring for pipelines and helping to reduce pipeline incidents. While the AER doesn’t specify when or how frequently companies should pig their lines, many companies do it on a frequent, even as often as weekly, basis as part of their regular maintenance.
In addition to cleaning pipelines, there are electronic pigs that can be used to inspect the lines—that’s right, smart pigs. These inspection pigs take measurements and collect data about the condition of the pipelines. They look for things like corrosion, cracks and dents, or any misshapen parts of the line.
“Inspection pigs give a tremendous amount of useful data. It’s very important for companies to understand the extent of corrosion inside their pipelines to determine whether they need to be repaired,” says Grzyb.
Inspecting pipelines is a proactive way to detect any issues that could lead to an incident. Identifying potential problems early is the best way to help prevent pipeline incidents and protect what matters most to Albertans.