LPG Contamination in a Pipeline - Who's to Blame?

Litigation, North America

Identifying the source of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) contamination in a long-distance pipeline with numerous suppliers presents challenges. A pipeline operator alleged that one supplier contaminated the product with heavy hydrocarbons, resulting in a two-month outage for maintenance and cleaning. Expert opinion was based on the review of the nature of the contaminants, when they were observed, and concentration levels along the pipeline.

Customers that burn liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or use it as feedstock in petro-chemical operations, are very sensitive to potential contamination of the product with heavier hydrocarbons. The latter can lead to upsets and operating problems with equipment designed specifically for LPG. Although LPG is often transported by road or rail, there are a few long-distance LPG pipelines-and the operators must be alert to the potential for off-specification product being delivered into the system by their shippers.

Following numerous reports from customers regarding off-specification product over a period of weeks, an LPG pipeline operator was forced to shut the pipeline down for maintenance and cleaning that lasted almost two months. Initial laboratory reports suggested the presence of a certain class of heavy hydrocarbons, which pointed to a limited number of the otherwise numerous suppliers into the system. When one of the larger suppliers reported a potentially related operating incident, the pipeline operator initiated a legal claim against the supplier for liability, unrecovered costs, and lost profits. In its defense, the supplier alleged that any relationship between its "incident" and the contamination was inconclusive.

Baker & O'Brien was engaged to offer an expert opinion as to the likely source of the contamination. Our report examined the specific contaminants found, when they were first observed, how their level increased or diminished along the pipeline with time, and the likely contaminant ingress points. Our findings proved instrumental in the pipeline operator and propane supplier achieving a settlement.

Robert L. Beck

Senior Consultant

Industry
Natural Gas and NGLs / Petroleum Refining / Transportation and Storage
Service
Standard of Care / Accident / Incident Investigation / Litigation / Operations and Maintenance / Product Quality / Pipeline
Region
North America