When gas processing plants are offline, the empty pipes aren’t simply left to fill with air, but are kept isolated and filled with an inert gas, commonly nitrogen.

Nitrogen is used this way because it’s a very effective anti-corrosion agent for closed pipe systems that are exposed to oxygen and/or moisture. Anti-corrosive nitrogen gas is used not only in refinery pipes, but also sprinklers, cooling towers and other applications. Nitrogen has the added benefits of being abundant in the atmosphere, cheap, and non-toxic.

Royal Dutch Shell had an embarrassing moment this past April when they cut a pipe at their gas refinery in Bellanaboy, Ireland, thinking it carried water. It didn’t – it was meant to carry natural gas. Fortunately, the module was not online at that point, and the pipe was inerted with nitrogen.

This incident didn’t cause any injuries or environmental damage, but serves as a reminder of how important it is to maintain safety procedures and clear communication on site.

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