Hydrocarbon pipelines are exposed to hazards from natural processes, which may affect their integrity and trigger processes that have consequences on the environment.
Among the natural hazards are the effects of the earthquakes, the neotectonic activity, the volcanism, the weathering of soils and rocks, the landslides, the flows or avalanches of mud or debris, the processes related to sediment transport such as the erosion, the scour by streams, the floods and the sloughing due to rains. Those processes are sometimes related to each other, e.g. the earthquakes can produce slides, or movement of geological faults, or soil liquefaction; the rain can trigger landslides and can cause avalanches and mudslides or debris flow; the volcanic eruptions can originate landslides and avalanches, or pyroclastic flows. Human activities can also induce or accelerate “natural” processes that affect the integrity of the pipelines.
The strength and stiffness of the pipelines allow them to tolerate the effects of natural hazards for some period of time. The amount of time depends on the strength and deformability, the stress state, the age, the conditions of installation and operation of the pipelines and their geometric arrangement with regard to the hazardous processes.
In the programs for pipeline integrity management, the risk is defined as a function that relates the probability of the pipeline rupture and the consequences of the failure. However, some people define risk as the summation of the indicators of probability and consequences, such as a RAM matrix. Others define the risk as the product of the probability of failure times the cost of the consequences, while the overall function used to evaluate the rupture probability of a pipeline facing hazards considered in the ASME b31.8 S standard includes all the elements involved in the failure process. In that standard, for the specific analysis of natural hazards, it is proposed that the function is separated in the two following principal elements: the probability of occurrence of the threatening process (hazard) and the pipeline’s capacity to tolerate it. In this paper a general function is proposed, which is the product of the probability of occurrence of the threatening process, the vulnerability of the pipeline (expressed as the fraction of the potential damage the pipe can undergo), and the consequences of the pipeline failure (represented in the summation of the costs of the spilled product, its collection, the pipeline repair and the damages made by the rupture).