Outages caused by maintenance, repair or replacement of aging pipelines is giving a boost to providers that don’t rely on pipes to transport natural gas to customers, industry experts said Tuesday.

small-scale lng

Pipeline integrity programs are a growing business for small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) specialist Stabilis Solutions Inc. to keep molecules flowing to end users during testing or other outages, the company’s senior vice president of Sales and Marketing Steve Stump said. 

“As they’re doing pipeline integrity work or if there are pipeline maintenance projects, we can come in, use LNG, vaporize it, pressurize it to whatever the need point is,” he said at the LDC Gas Forums Mid-Continent conference in Chicago. “And we have those types of projects going on literally every day.”

Stump also said LNG is taking a more active part in pipeline maintenance, as a propellant during pigging applications.

“The benefit to it is that you’re not introducing a non-natural gas element into the pipeline, so they don’t have to evacuate it,” he said. “And when they’re done with the pigging, then they don’t have to pull all the nitrogen out.” In addition, “the propellant that you’re buying is your retail product also. It goes right down the line to the retail customer.”

Chesapeake Utilities Corp. business development manager Eric Pearson said his company “absolutely believes” infrastructure integrity issues are creating a big opportunity for its Marlin Gas Services subsidiary. The business specializes in transporting compressed natural gas (CNG) through its “virtual pipeline” of trucks, portable compressors, decompression units and other mobile equipment. It is also branching out into renewable natural gas (RNG) and small-scale LNG transport.

Pearson said Marlin is developing various sizes of compressors to deploy to pipelines to “reduce, if not eliminate” methane emissions during integrity testing.

“There’s a great opportunity with pipeline integrity…and turning that into a service with the virtual pipeline, as well as RNG opportunities,” he said.

On RNG, Pearson said Marlin is currently partnering with a number of developers to bring their gas to market. The company would set up compression equipment at the RNG production site, then transport it elsewhere to be decompressed and put into the pipeline system.

“That kind of virtual pipeline allows us to collect gas at numerous locations that can be a significant distance from the existing pipeline infrastructure,” he said.

Larger companies are also factoring in the potential for non-pipeline transport during integrity testing. Canadian distributor Enbridge Gas Inc. already is pursuing RNG and CNG projects, said Hilary Thompson, director of storage and transport business development. The company services 75% of the Ontario population, and is the largest utility in North America based on volume, she said.

Enbridge’s maintenance programs undergo a careful planning process that takes into account the full lifecycle of the assets, Thompson said.

“Then we start to consider, where’s the potential work that we want to do to help in relation to the health and condition of our assets, and as a result, where will the constraints be? And then it goes into our full planning loop that looks at both the traditional and non-traditional options.”