For those in the oil and gas pipeline industry, it’s important to take the time to understand the geology behind wildfires. Wildfires are often under-looked as a threat to pipelines but can cause significant damage, especially when it comes to erosion and altering a landscape. Fortunately, there are some tools available to the industry that can help prevent erosion in areas devastated by wildfires.
James Kaste is an associate professor of geology at William & Mary University. After witnessing destructive wildfires in 2010 that burned ten square miles of land in Colorado’s Fourmile Canyon, he sought to conduct more research on the geology behind wildfires.
He was particularly attracted to this area because they received substantial rainfall following the fires, including significant flooding in 2013. It made for a unique situation that geologists had never really seen before, with the results proving beneficial in helping to understand just how dangerous the effects of wildfires can be.
Kaste set out to understand how much erosion had occurred because of the fire and the rains. Heavy rains hit the entire area, but wildfires did not hit the whole area. This allowed Kaste and his team to analyze erosion levels in both areas to determine how much the fires contributed to erosion.
The results were nothing short of revolutionary. Kaste’s team found that the areas that burned hottest experienced an erosion rate as high as 100 times higher compared to areas of the region that had not burned at all. The team found that areas with dense vegetation were most susceptible because these areas provided natural fuel for the fire, accelerating the fires’ growth.
Kaste then discovered that in the months and years following the fire, water did not seep into the ground. Since the ground could not absorb the water, the water was instead forced to run off into rivers and roads. As this happened, it took more topsoil with it along the way.
Wildfires and Onshore Pipeline Protection
When it comes to onshore pipeline protection, fires can make things very difficult. Although the wildfires may not damage the pipelines themselves, companies struggle with the amount of erosion that occurs as the result of the fire. This tends to especially harm companies that had built in thickly-vegetated areas and had not considered erosion control as part of their onshore pipeline protection plan.
If pipeline runs through areas that are prone to wildfires, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. Taking the time now to install preventative tools could save you both time and money in the long run. This is especially true when it comes to erosion. It’s easier to protect the soil that’s already in place than to have to figure out a way to replace areas of the land that have disappeared.
If you are looking to increase your onshore pipeline protection, one of the best ways to do so is with Submar articulating concrete revetment mattresses. These mattresses form an erosion-resistant barrier that will protect your pipeline no matter where it is. The mattresses are incredibly versatile and can be applied to a variety of susceptible areas.