ANNIVERSARY MOMENT: One century of natural gas transporting
- Written by Dumitru Chisalita, Judicial Technical Expert in Oil & Gas
In order to meet his needs, man has used natural energy resources, first the ones at hand, then more and more varied ones, by processing them and making them meet better his demands. As the level of knowledge grew in time, determining the evolution of technologies and the desire for increasing the standard of living, conditions were created to replace some energy resources with new ones.
Evidence regarding natural gas and its caloric capacity were not valued at their true level for years, while using them was made at an unorganized local stage.
THE BEGINNINGS OF NATURAL GAS TRANSPORT AT WORLD SCALE
The first evidence regarding the using of natural gas are coming from Iran, by 2000 BC and from China, as historical sources mentioned natural gas was used by 900 BC for lighting. Lots of evidence of using natural gas comes from China regarding leaks of natural gas from subterranean accumulations in Sichuan province, about 150 BC, as the gas was collected with bamboo tubes, led to special enclosures for burning in order to heat up sea water for evaporation to obtain salt.
In the United States, in 1821, William Hart dug a nine meter deep well in Fredonia, Pennsylvania and found a natural gas accumulation. He envisaged evaporating sea water to obtain salt, by replacing wood with natural gas. Hence, natural gas was collected and carried through pipes throughout the town to be used for this purpose, but also to lighten the streets and houses. This was the debut of natural gas industry. In order to honour General Marie-Joseph de La Fayette’s (1757 - 1834) visit, 30 flames were lightened for the festivities. Three years later, the same general was recalling the locality had been lightened by 150 flames, while the hotel he was staying in was heated by natural gas.
Another recording of using natural gas comes from 1828, when the gas is carried from Mattison (nearby Fredonia) to the beacon in the Port of Barcelona (U.S.) through a four-km long pipe and was burnt to lighten signals sent to the ships entering the harbour.
In order to become a general practice, to register huge progress, two-three more decades were needed. By 1840 it is reported the first use of natural gas for industrial purposes at Centerville (US) to evaporate water from brine. In 1865 the first company for exploration, carrying and distribution of natural gas is set up - Gas Light and Water Works Company. In the same year starts the separation of gas from oil and their transportation for great distances, between Pihole and Miller Farm, Pennsylvania .
On August 1, 1872 the first high pressure iron pipeline for carrying natural gas is inaugurated, with a length of 6.4 km from Newton Wells to Titusville, Pennsylvania . Four years later industrialist J.N. Pew and his partners are starting to accumulate leaking natural gas into a rudimentary pipeline system and begin to sell the gas as fuel for oil extracting deposits in western Pennsylvania. At the beginning the natural gas transportation was done through pipelines made of pine tree wood, later through steel pipelines connected by threads.
In the US, in 1878, near Bloomfield, Indiana, started the building of a natural gas transport pipeline, 32 km in length, but the attempt failed due to leaks as the pipes were made of pine wood. By using steel to build transport pipelines, the transporting activities developed and led to the start of international commerce with natural gas, after the pipeline in Bartie (Ontario, Canada) to Buffalo, New York is laid down in 1891. The same reason determined overstepping the length of 150 km for natural gas transport pipelines, once the 194 km long pipeline connecting the gas wells in Indiana to Chicago is laid down. In Europe the start of commercial activities with natural gas is registered in 1912, in Transylvania, after the discovery of gas reserves at Sărmăşel, in 1909. Such discoveries, as well as the awareness of the advantages natural gas is offering, led to the development of the new natural gas industry, which replaced manufactured gas. The discovery by chance of natural gas in 1909 represents the standing stone of the industry that was to supply the main primary energy in Romania’s energy balance for many years. In 1931, the first pipeline with a diameter of 24” was built by Natural Gas Pipeline Company, with a length of more than 1,600 km, linking Texas Panhandle to Chicago. An important impulse was registered in 1942 as President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to take measures for developing unexploited natural gas reserves , following the lack of oil supply during WW II.
THE FIRST NATURAL GAS TRANSPORT PIPELINE IN THE WORLD
The building of the first steel pipeline in the world, with a 6.4 km length, in Newton Wells, at Titusville, Pennsylvania, involved the following steps:
- Digging the ditches for placing the pipeline;
- Carrying the pipes to the placing site with pairs of horses;
- Placing the pipes along the ditch where they would be placed;
- The pipes were rolled until above the ditch on the support made up by the combination comb-inclined plane-steps, where the connection with the next pipe was done; the pipe is placed, in a first phase, on the first tooth of the comb and the first step of the inclined plane to facilitate the connection with a second pipe (the installation for launching the pipe was made up by: tong, comb-inclined plane-steps);
- As a new pipe is connected, the upstream section is lowered one step, one tooth respectively;
- The action goes on until the pipeline is put into the ditch and the comb-inclined plane becomes available for connecting new pipes to the pipeline;
- Connecting the pipes with Dresser coupling;
- The pipes’ handling was done with tongs that allowed transport, rolling and positioning of the pipes one after another.
Photo: Continuous connection of the pipeline in order to be lowered into the ditch
THE FIRST STEEL PIPELINE FOR NATURAL GAS TRANSPORT IN EUROPE
Ever since the 1880 there were speculations within the Austrian-Hungarian geological circles that in the Transylvanian basin, surrounded by salt massifs (Turda, Cojocna, Ocna Mureş, Praid, Sovata, etc.) pointing to the possible existence of potassium salt, which usually accompany such massifs outside the Carpathian arch.
During the drilling for finding the potassium salts in 1909 in Sărmăşel area, huge natural gas reserves were found. By 1913 the exploitation of the reserves and the transport through pipelines to industrial consumers was envisaged. The Sărmăşel – Turda pipeline (having a length of 52 km and 250 mm diameter) – the first steel pipeline for natural gas transport in Europe, was inaugurated on September 3, 1914. The pipeline was later extended 24 km to Uioara and further extension to Zlatna was intended (not accomplished). The pipeline was supplying gas to two factories in Turda and Uioara, belonging to the Hungarian company Solvay, and a cement factory in Turda. The gas was used for burning. The setting up of the first company for natural gas transport was made by Mr. I. Balogh, the former director of Solvay factory in Uioara. He set up Erste Siebenbürgische Erdgas Aktiengesellschaft (E.S.E.A.) (Elsö Erdelyi Földgázvezvezetek Részvénytársaság) – “The first Transylvanian company for transporting natural gas”, having as shareholders the Uioara Solvay works (today U.P.S.O.N. Ocna Mureş) and the Cement factory Turda. ESEA targeted to capitalize the natural gas from the Sărmăşel reserves by building a transporting pipeline having a length of 55 km and 153 mm diameter for supplying the two shareholders. In this regard the former director of Solvay works in Uioara submitted a letter to the Hungarian ministry of finance requesting concession for building a steel pipeline to assure the natural gas transport from Well 2 Sărmăşel to the Solvay works Uioara and to the Cement factory Turda.
The Hungarian finance ministry, through the Mining Regional Inspectorate, gave a favourable answer to the request of building the Sărmăşel – Turda - Uioara pipeline.
The pipeline was later used to connect also urban and communal networks; the distribution of gas to Turda, Câmpia Turzii, Sărmaş, etc. was thus connected. The concession document for Sărmaş commune was issued by finance minister Teleszki.
The pipeline was build according to the American pattern with steel pipes without ‘seam’ with lengths of 6 - 10 metres and connections made up of steel couplings. The flanges were produced by wrought cast steel, while the tightening rings were made by special rubber. By using such connections deviations of up to 5 degrees could be obtained, without curbing the pipeline. The pipeline was completely buried underground in order to prevent damages or illegal connections and to avoid any danger the pipeline could have posted for the population.
Dumitru Chisăliţă has graduated the Engineering Faculty in Sibiu – Engineering and the management of production systems specialization and has master works for ‘Capitalizing the natural gas’ - Sibiu University, for ‘Oil management and marketing’ – Oil and Gas University Ploiesti, for ‘Building’s energy modernization’ – Brasov University. He was awarded the Scientific Title in Engineering Sciences, Mechanic of fluids specialization. He is also extra judiciary technical expert and Consultant in the field of oil and gas, certified by the Agreed European Experts Association in Paris and judiciary technical expert in the field of oil and gas with the Ministry of Justice.