Pipelines, NEC

SIC 4619

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in the pipeline transportation of commodities, except crude petroleum, refined products of petroleum, and natural gas. Establishments primarily engaged in the pipeline transportation of refined petroleum are classified in SIC 4613: Crude Petroleum Pipelines, and those engaged in natural gas transmission are classified in SIC 4922: Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution. Most notably, the industry includes coal slurry pipeline operations and metal ore concentrates.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 44 establishments primarily engaged in the operation of pipelines for the transportation of coal slurry, metal ore slurry, and phosphate slurry at the beginning of the 2010s. Together, these establishments generated $638 million in revenue and employed about 588 people. This industry's employment comprised only a scant percent of the total employment for the broader pipeline industry, which mainly operated petroleum and natural gas pipelines.

Most of the U.S. pipelines operated by this industry transported coal suspended in water (crushed and mashed coal mixed with water creates slurry). Slurry systems are a competitive method in cost for transporting coal. The expense associated with building roads and railroads to the mouth of mines can be prohibitive, and the slurry alternative requires a smaller capital investment. As such, the Black Mesa Company began operating a coal slurry line in 1970 that transported coal 273 miles from a mine in northeast Arizona to a power plant in Laughlin, Nevada. This became the prototype for most slurry pipelines, and by the late 1990s, pipelines stretched as long as 1,500 miles.

Coal slurry technology involves transporting pulverized coal suspended in water and pumped through pipelines. From the mine, the coal is crushed, formed into slurry, suspended in water, and pumped through the pipe to the power plant. At the end of its journey, the slurry enters storage tanks, where various processes remove the water. The final result is coal that can be used for burning.

Modern slurry systems were initially developed after World War II. Although coal is the most common commodity transported via slurry, other concentrates, including iron-ore concentrate, copper ore, phosphate-rock concentrate, limestone, and the mineral gilsonite, are transported as well. The South American Alumbrera pipeline, completed in early 1998, is the world's longest copper ore concentrate slurry pipeline, traversing 312 kilometers through the Andean desert, vast grazing lands, rain forests, and flat pampas.

Slurry was not the only resource transported via pipeline other than petroleum and natural gas. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, pipelines were built for the transport of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, ethylene, and other liquids. In 2011, for example, Allentown, Pennsylvania-based Air Products and Chemicals, which provided hydrogen and other specialty gases to industries throughout the world, was in the process of constructing a 180-mile-long pipeline that would link 20 hydrogen plants and connect 600 miles of existing pipeline in the Gulf Coast region. The new pipeline was expected to supply 1 billion cubic feet of hydrogen per day to plants in Texas and Louisiana. At completion, which was expected sometime in 2012, it would constitute the longest hydrogen pipeline in the world.

One issue in the industry in the first decade of the 2000s and early 2010s was related to safety, as some of the materials transported via pipelines were considered hazardous. In 2005 the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) was established within the Department of Transportation, following legislation passed and signed into law in 2004, to oversee the safety of almost 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials by all modes of transportation (about 80 percent of which is shipped by pipeline). The agency also oversees the nation's pipeline infrastructure, which accounts for about 71 percent of the energy commodities consumed in the United States, according to the International Energy Administration (IEA).

From the late 1990s into the early years of the first decade of the 2000s, the industry remained small but stable. Nearly all the firms in the industry were either small companies focused exclusively on pipeline transportation or large firms primarily involved in other lines of business. The industry leader in the early 2010s was ONEOK Inc. in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The firm became a general partner of Northern Border Partnership LP in 2006 (renamed ONEOK Partners). In 2010 ONEOK Inc. reported more than $13 billion in sales and operated more than 22,000 miles of pipelines. The company also managed the Black Mesa Coal Slurry Pipeline, which originates at the Black Mesa Mine. In operation since 1970, the pipeline has a capacity of 5 million metric tons per year and produces nearly 5 million tons of coal annually.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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