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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Corrosion in the News

It’s hard not to make comment when you’re a blogger and a corrosion engineer, and corrosion actually makes it into the news. So why try to resist?

I have been a little surprised at how big a splash the news that BP is shutting down the Prudhoe Bay oil field has made. I didn’t notice anything when corrosion problems apparently caused a 4,800 barrel spill in March. But apparently, the media considers this a big deal because the shutdown will have an impact on the price American consumers will pay for gasoline, which has become a sensitive topic. Thus, the story is more about economics than engineering.

If you’re looking for me to have some special insight on the story, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. From my review of the coverage, it appears that the problems in these pipelines were caused by internal corrosion – where the corrosion originates from the inside of the pipe, working out – whereas my specialty is in cathodic protection, a technique that is mainly effective against external corrosion. Moreover, from the few pictures I’ve seen, the pipelines in question are aboveground, mounted on pedestals to cross the tundra, and cathodic protection is only effective on structures that are buried or immersed.

When I have to go through the news articles carefully just to find out whether the issue is internal or external corrosion, it’s clear that there just isn’t enough information available for me to comment on any technical issues. And it would be pretty boneheaded of me to make any sort of public statement that could be interpreted as a professional assessment of this or any other particular incident. I’d like to write more about what I do, but it’s pretty hard to explain without going pretty heavily into corrosion theory, which is extremely complex. In my sixteen plus years in the industry, I’ve seen exceptions to just about every generalization you could make about corrosion control.

Posted by Greg in Corrosion Control, Current Events

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