Novel Approach to Pipeline Weighting Reduces Buoyancy, Cost and Materials

Pipeline weighting was invented in the early 1900s to
prevent submerged natural gas lines from floating in rivers or wetlands. The
first weights devised were two cast iron halves that bolted together around the
pipe. Bolt-on cast iron weights were later replaced by equally effective, less
expensive and easier to manufacture cast concrete weights. By the mid-1900s,
set-on weights were introduced. These single pieces of cast concrete that set
over the pipe were sometimes called doghouse weights because of their shape.
Except for the concrete coating of pipe, no significant advance in weighting
technology was developed until the end of the 1900s.


During the 1990s, a new means of providing buoyancy control
on pipelines was developed. It involved the use of membranes filled with sand
or aggregate and draped over or strapped to pipe.

One such device, the saddle bag weight, is manufactured as a
strap-on or set-on. The strap-on weight is a replacement for concrete bolt-on
weights, and the set-on weight is a replacement for concrete set-on weights.
Each design represents a fundamental advance in pipeline weighting technology.

Industry acceptance of filled membrane weights has
progressed rapidly. For example, approximately 17,000 saddle bag weights were
sold from their introduction in 1999 through November of 2000. By the end of
March 2001, the total had grown to more than 50,000. Clearly, the pipeline
construction industry has identified benefits of the filled membrane over
traditional concrete weights.


Why Filled Membrane Weights?

Geotextile membranes have been used for several years in
such applications as dike lining. The materials, when properly applied, will
last up to 100 years, according to independent research reports. This is
certainly longer than the anticipated life of a natural gas or water line. When
used for pipeline weighting, the filled membrane weights have compelling
advantages over cast concrete weights


filled membranes are safer and substantially less expensive to install than
bolt-on concrete weights. No bolts need installing or aligning as with a
bolt-on concrete weight.

membranes conform to the bottom of the ditch and less trench de-watering is

rock shield is needed between the pipe and the bag.

lines can be installed in one ditch without the need to place sand bags between
the lines.

saddle bag weights do not extend above the pipe and thus less ditch depth is
required than with set-on type concrete weights, where most of the weight is
provided by concrete that extends above the pipe.

fabric is not biodegradable, is not attacked by acidic soil, is permeable to
water and supports cathodic protection.

straps retain their strength and will not rust.

of the pipeline will not result in damage to corrosion coating.

remote areas of the world where concrete is not readily available, substantial
savings can be realized by using locally available stone rather than
transporting a ready mix plant and cement to the site, or incurring the cost of
transporting heavy concrete weights or concrete coated pipe to the site.

can be filled and applied to the pipe immediately without any cure time.

concern exists with producing and applying the bags at any ambient temperature,
while freezing can destroy the structural integrity of concrete.

bags can be returned to inventory or easily stored and retained for the next


Perhaps most significant is that for almost all ballast
materials, filled membrane weights require fewer weights to achieve the same
buoyancy control as concrete weights. The reasons for this phenomenon can be
found in examining the buoyancy properties of the ballast materials that can be
used to fill the membrane weights.


Solid Proof

Reference data (Table 1) demonstrate that the density of
solids varies widely depending on where the material is mined. CRC-Evans
Weighting Systems, Inc., established a laboratory at its Tulsa, Okla.,
facilities and tested a variety of aggregates. In a typical case, a sample of
crushed limestone weighed approximately 105 lbs. /cu. ft.. The difference
between the average of 153 lbs. /cu. ft. for solid limestone and the crushed
density of 105 lbs. /cu. ft. is due to the amount of void volume in the crushed
stone sample. If one uses 153 lbs. /cu. ft. for solid density and 105 lbs /cu
ft for dry crushed density, the void volume is calculated as


Void Volume =

100% ¥ [1 – (105/153)] = 31.37%.


However, the issue in buoyancy control is not the weight in
air but rather the weight in water or mud. Archimedes’ Principle states
that the upward buoyant force acting on an object submerged in water is equal
to the weight of the water displaced. A concrete weight with a volume of one
cubic foot will displace one cubic foot of water, thus causing an upward
buoyant force of 62.4 pounds. However, a filled membrane weight with a volume
of one cubic foot will displace less than one cubic foot of water due to the
void space between the ballast particles. In the above example, the upward
force is 42.8 pounds as only 0.6863 cubic feet of water are displaced.
Knowledge of the void volume of various ballast materials is critical to the
proper sizing of filled membrane weights.

In order to establish the void volume of any ballast sample,
tests were performed on a variety of crushed stone and sand samples to
determine the weight in air and weight in water. From those two measurements,
the negative buoyancy available in water or mud can be calculated.


Measurement Techniques

The weight of samples of crushed stone or sand was
determined in air by weighing an empty container, adding a known volume of dry
solids, and then weighing again. The difference between the two measurements
determines the dry density of the material. However, to obtain an accurate
weight, the samples must be free of moisture. Moisture can introduce
substantial error in the measurements, especially with fine solids.

The second measurement, weight in water, is done in the same
manner as the weight in air except that the container is submerged in water.
However, care must be taken in the filling of the sample container so that the
ballast sample is properly compacted. Compaction of crushed solids is a
well-known phenomenon. The general rule is that smaller particles experience
greater compaction than larger particles. This is easily demonstrated by
generating a loose sample of dry sand, filling a bucket with the sample, and
then placing the bucket on a vibrating table and watching the level drop. The
same experiment will result in little drop if crushed stone is used.

The use of crushed stone alleviates much of the concern
about compaction. However, compaction techniques were developed that result in
laboratory sample compaction that matches the compaction obtained when membrane
weights are filled in the field.


Buoyancy Calculations


As mentioned previously, laboratory measurements provide
accurate weights of crushed stone or sand samples in air and in water. These
measurements are used to determine the negative buoyancy provided by a filled
membrane weight (Table 2).

These equations can be used to compare the concrete and
filled membrane weights in water. If one considers equal weights of concrete
and crushed stone, the following is determined using the 105 lbs /cu ft stone
example mentioned previously.


Assume 5,000 pounds of concrete and 5,000 pounds of crushed

Downward force of concrete in water is calculated as


Concrete Weight =

 5,000 –
(62.4)*(5,000/140) =

2,771 pounds


Downward force of crushed stone in water is calculated as

Membrane Weight =

5,000 – (62.4)*(0.6863)*(5,000/105) = 2,961 pounds


One can see that equal dry weights of concrete and crushed
stone will result in a greater submerged weight for the crushed stone than the
concrete and allow wider spacing of the weights. In this example, the crushed
stone weighs 6.86 percent more in water than does the concrete. Thus, the
number of crushed stone filled membrane weights compared to concrete weights
can be reduced by 6.86 percent; this can result in substantial savings when
dealing with large numbers of weights.



Some key inherent benefits of the filled membrane weights
can be achieved using any type of stone or sand ballast at any location in the
world by applying the laboratory methods detailed here to characterize the

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About the author

James C. McGill is a consultant with CRC-Evans Pipeline International, Inc. He has been involved in pipeline buoyancy control since 1983, is a registered professional engineer, is a named inventor on 26 patents including a method of concrete coating plastic pipe, and is a member of the Engineering Hall of Fame at the University of Tulsa.