It is imperative to adopt some conservative premises in the engineering calculations undertaken during the design stage of an offshore pipeline susceptible to lateral buckling, in order to achieve a design with adequate levels of robustness and integrity throughout the pipeline’s design life. The conservatism can be attached to many uncertainties such as the pipe-soil interaction — interpreted as-soil friction factors — the seabed stiffness and profile and even the as laid lateral out-ofstraightness. Once in operation, these effects will come into play and the pipeline may behave slightly differently to that anticipated in design, depending on the relative strength of the natural uncertainties compared to the design features such as engineered buckling triggers. The over-riding intention in design is, of course, to enable the pipeline to withstand, with sufficient safety margins, the maximum stresses and strains anticipated to occur by realistic predictions in the design stage.

In recent years, many kilometres of deepwater pipelines have been designed and installed along the Brazilian coast using the principle of controlled lateral buckling, in which engineered buckle triggers, such as sleepers and distributed buoyancy sections, are deployed at regular intervals along the pipeline. The purpose of these triggers it to initiate a sufficient number of benign buckles along the pipeline and thereby relax the compressive forces set up as a result of thermal expansion without violating safe limits on stress and strain in the pipelines. In addition to the engineered buckling sites, however, the natural seabed features and associated uncertainties will interact with the pipeline’s behaviour and create additional natural buckle sites. To anticipate these sites and discover their importance at the design stage is recognised as a real challenge, particularly as precise post-installed and in-operation surveys are not normally carried out with the intention of confirming such buckle sites and design assumptions.

The work reported in this paper is a detailed comparison between the initial design and observed operational behaviour of an offshore HP/HT pipeline, mainly in terms of the engineered and natural buckles actually formed along the pipeline, the severity of these buckles and some conclusions concerning the effects of initial imperfections and pipe-soil interaction characteristics considered in detailed design. It is hoped that this rare feedback from real operating conditions on installed pipelines, will be of great interest to pipeline designers and lead to more efficient and better understood design processes and encourage Operators to undertake more regular and sophisticated surveys of operating and installed pipelines for the benefit of future projects.

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