Lateral buckling of pipelines is influenced by, and sensitive to, a complex combination of factors associated with considerable uncertainty. Key elements such as pipe to soil friction, vertical and horizontal imperfections can vary significantly not only along sections of the same pipeline, but at the same location over time. These factors carry a probabilistic likelihood of occurrence that results in a probabilistic distribution of buckle formation forces and locations, as well as post buckle loads, as described by Rathbone et. al. (2008).

To effectively capture all possible combinations of inputs and results, and thus gain a full understanding of potential buckle behaviour and interaction, would require many individual finite element analyses to be undertaken, which is not viable. The paper describes new insights into challenging pipeline lateral buckling design gained through use of a highly adaptable Structural Reliability Analysis (SRA) method. It discusses the difficulties in defining pipeline and seabed complexities while still retaining adequate detail to fully describe the pipeline system.

A range of realistic lateral buckling design scenarios will be discussed, illustrating how to reduce existing limitations in probabilistic design through the use of the SRA method. The method is flexible enough to enable varying levels of detail to be modelled, from simple idealised checks of buckling susceptibility, which are commonly performed during the early phases of design, to the more complex analysis of pipeline failure, performed during detailed design. The paper will demonstrate the ability for the method to capture complex real life scenarios such as the effect of a bi-modal distribution in observed pipeline embedment, as well as the influence of covariance between frictions, on the probability of buckling and resulting strains.

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