Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Pipeline Free Span Analysis and Mitigation

Nowadays, offshore pipelines have a significant role in development of oil and gas industry in different parts of the world. This crucial industry is laid on seabed by various methods either embedded in a trench (buried method) or laid on uneven seabed (unburied method). Construction of unburied pipeline is the most common method for its rapid and economic performance. In this method, however, the pipelines are subjected to various lengths of free spanning throughout the route during its life time, which may threaten the pipelines safety. Free spanning in offshore pipelines mainly occurs as a consequence of uneven seabed and local scouring due to flow turbulence and instability; hence, with no doubt, free spanning occurrences for unburied pipelines are completely inevitable.

Fredsoe and Sumer (1997) assessed the role of free spans in unburied offshore pipelines. They acknowledged the previous studies and mentioned that resonance is the main problem for offshore pipelines laid on the free spanning. Pipelines resonance happens when the external load frequency as a result of vortex shedding becomes equal to the pipe Natural Frequency. This phenomenon may burst the pipe coating and may lead to develop more fatigue on the pipelines. Different design guidelines, e.g. DNV (1998) and ABS (2001), have accepted a less stringent approach and recommend the free spanning to be reduced to the allowable length to avoid fatigue damage. These guidelines proposed a simple formulation to calculate the first Natural Frequency based on the pipelines specifications and seabed conditions; however, all of the guidelines encourages using modal analysis at the final phase of design.

Choi (2000) studied the effect of axial forces on free spanning of offshore pipelines. The results indicated that the axial force has a significant influence on the first Natural Frequency of the pipe. In this research, the different seabed condition has been broken down into three main types and the general beam equation for the boundary conditions was analytically solved. He also compared his result with Lloyd’s approximate formula, which estimates the first Natural Frequency of the beam considering axial load effect. Xu et al. (1999) applied the modal analysis to incorporate the real seabed condition to assess pipelines fatigue and Natural Frequency (NF). Later, Bai (2001) approved Xu et al. (1999) approach and emphasis on applying the modal analysis to determine the allowable length of free span for offshore pipelines.

In practice, a considerable amount of works have been applied to determine the allowable free span length, however, there is still lack of knowledge in assessing the role of all effective parameters in determination of allowable free span length. The objective of this paper is two folds: (i) to assess the role of main effective parameters on Natural Frequency; and (ii) to present a simple formula for allowable free span length with accounting for the seabed condition. To do so, first the approaches of DNV (1998) and ABS guidelines are discussed and then the modal analysis is outlined to have a useful tool to assess the role of all involved parameters. Finally, a case study on the Qeshem pipelines is performed to evaluate the free span allowable length.

During pipeline routing evaluation, consideration has to be given to the shortest pipeline length, environment conservation, and smooth sea bottom to avoid excessive free spanning of the pipeline. If the free span cannot be avoided due to rough sea bottom topography, the excessive free span length must be corrected. Free spanning causes problems in both static and dynamic aspects. If the free span length is too long, the pipe will be over-stressed by the weight of the pipe plus its contents. The drag force due to near-bottom current also contributes to the static load.

To mitigate the static span problem, mid-span supports, such as mechanical legs or sand-cement bags/mattresses, can be used. Free spans are also subject to dynamic motions induced by current, which is referred to as a vortex induced vibration (VIV). The vibration starts when the vortex shedding frequency is close to the natural frequency of the pipe span. As the pipe natural frequency is increased, by reducing the span length, the VIV will be diminished and eliminated. Adding VIV suppression devices, such as strakes or hydrofoils, can also prevent the pipe from vibrating under certain conditions. The VIV is an issue even in the deepwater field since there exists severe near-bottom loop currents. To prevent static and dynamic spanning problems, a number of offshore pipeline spanning mitigation methods in Table 3 have been identified. Based on soil conditions, water depth, and span height from the seabed, the appropriate method should be selected. If the span off-bottom height is relatively low, say less than 1 m (3 ft), sand-cement bags or mattresses are recommended. If the span off-bottom height is greater than 1 m (3 ft), clamp-on supports with telescoping legs or auger screw legs are more practical.


Bakhtiary, Abbas Yeganeh, Abbas Ghaheri, Reza Valipour. 2007. “Analysis of Offshore Pipeline Allowable Free Span Length”.

http://www.jylpipeline.com, January 2014.

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