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  • Writer's pictureAmex Sanivar

A Short History of Pipeline Construction

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

History of Pipeline Transportation Systems

Since humans first began settling in villages, they realized the need to control the movement of water. This was first accomplished by settling near rivers - water was readily accessible and waste could be moved away. As villages grew and water needs spread, innovative ideas were used to convey drinking and irrigation water, and even gas in China.

Aqueduct System, Viana do Castelo, Portugal ©ChristopherLarson
Aqueduct System, Viana do Castelo, Portugal ©ChristopherLarson

For example, the Chinese used bamboo to transport water and gas, even lighting the city of Peking by the use of ancient piping systems as early as 400 BCE. The Romans and Persians built aqueducts which can still be seen today. The Mayans had complex piping systems. These early day pipelines would lay the foundation for future developments.

But those developments wouldn't really happen for at least another 1700 years.

Which brings us to the 18th century, when the first cast-iron pipes were used commercially. The next major milestone happened in the 19th century, when steel pipes were developed, adding strength to the current pipeline offering.

This rapid growth fueled the 20th century pipeline expansion which would see the majority of pipes being laid, as well as developments in the vast array of pipe materials that we know today.

The Rise in Pipeline Construction

But what caused this rise in pipeline construction? The industrial revolution, to put it simply.

While water was the main focus of pipeline transportation systems in the ancient world, the rise in pipeline construction over the past 200 years has been fueled mainly by the transportation of oil and gas.

In the 19th century, not only homes needed to be supplied with water, but residential areas and factories needed water, gas, and oil. These needs led to the development of the steel pipe in the 1860s. With more strength, liquids could now be pushed at higher pressures over longer distances. The explosion was just beginning.

1923 pipeline being prepared in Canada ©CANADIAN ENERGY PIPELINE ASSOCIATION

Modern Pipelines

As the 20th century progressed, pipelines were being laid at a rapid rate. Not only were steel and iron pipes being put in the ground, but concrete, pvc, asbestos, brick, and other materials were being used to transport water, sewage, gas, oil, and other mediums.

This would lead us to the halfway mark of the 20th century, as the 1950s and 1960s would turn out to be the most important decades for pipe construction. In the US alone, 44% of pipelines come from those 20 years.

Today, pipelines continue to be built all over the world, with an estimated 3,500,000 km of pipe in 120 countries currently either above or below ground, and hundreds of thousands of kilometers being built or planned today.

Looking to the future

This rapid growth and construction then begs the question, what is the future of pipelines? What lessons can we learn from the past to help improve our future infrastructure needs?

These are large questions to grapple with.

While it is clear that new pipelines will continue to be built, a major question facing us today is how do we keep the current pipelines we have operational and efficient. With the majority of pipes now being 50+ years old, these are conversations that need to be taking place now. Repair and rehabilitate should be at the forefront of the pipeline conversation, not just an afterthought.

But replacing a pipeline isn't good enough. There are so many factors that need to enter into our discussion of rehabilitating pipelines, such as: impact on the environment, societal costs, and sustainability of the solutions.

That is where companies like Amex Sanivar come into play. With our trenchless pipeline rehabilitation solutions, we reconstitute pipelines in a way that has a low impact on the environment, interrupts local community life as little as possible, and provides sustainable solutions for the future. You can find out more here.

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