The increasing energy demand has promoted the interest in exploration and field development in the Arctic waters, which holds one quarter of the world’s petroleum reserves. The harsh conditions and fragile environment in the arctic region introduce many challenges to a sustainable development of these resources. One of the key challenges is the engineering consideration of warm pipelines installed in permafrost areas; found mainly in shallow waters and shore crossings. Evaluations have to be made during the pipeline design to avoid significant thaw settlement and large-scale permafrost degrading. In this paper, a three-dimensional (3D) finite element (FE) model was developed to study the interaction between buried pipelines transporting warm hydrocarbons and the surrounding permafrost. This interaction is a combination of several mechanisms: heat transfer from the pipeline, results in permafrost thawing and formation of thaw bulb around the pipeline. Consequently, the thaw settlement of soil beneath the pipeline base results in bending strains in the pipe wall. For safe operations, the pipe should be designed so that the induced strains do not exceed the ultimate limit state conditions. The developed model helps in accurate prediction of pipe strains by using finite element continuum modeling method as opposed to the more commonly used discrete (springs) modeling and hand calculations. It also assesses the real size of the thaw bulb and the corresponding settlement at any time, thus preventing an over-conservative design.

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