MIT research could predict pipe fractures

According to researchers at MIT’s Impact and Crashworthiness Laboratory, a computer model that tests automobile components for crashworthiness could also be of use to the oil and gas industry. The team is now using their simulations of material deformation in car crashes to predict how pipes may fracture in offshore drilling accidents. The researchers simulated the forces involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and discovered that their model accurately predicted the location and propagation of cracks in the oil rig’s drill riser. In a side-by-side evaluation, the team found that their model’s reconstruction strongly resembled an image of the actual fractured pipe taken by a remotely operated vehicle shortly after the accident occurred. The group presented their results at the International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference in June 2011. Such a simulation, according to Tomasz Wierzbicki, professor of applied mechanics at MIT, could help oil and gas companies determine stronger or more flexible pipe materials that could help decrease the impact of a future large-scale accident. Although it’s highly unlikely that any pipe material could have remained intact during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there are numerous advancements that can be made to shore up existing oil and gas pipelines. The group, whose research is partly sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell, will be analyzing samples from retired offshore pipes during the next few months.

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