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24 May 2016

Gas transmission – buried treasure

From Long John Silver to Captain Jack Sparrow, we all love a yarn about pirates sailing the high seas, tipping the black spot, and burying their treasures in distant tropical islands.

We’re fascinated by the notion of ‘treasure’– especially buried treasure – and it’s an idea that captivates everyone from the learned archaeologist to the dodgy bloke with a metal detector.

But what do we treasure? These days, mankind’s most prized treasure is not jewels or gold doubloons: it’s energy. One of the planet’s most precious commodities is buried way under the seabed, yet finds its way eventually into our homes. That buried treasure is gas. Invisible, odourless, natural, useful, and pretty darned valuable too.







But how does it get to our cookers and boilers?

It’s a path that starts, like the pirates, in the high seas. Gas producers use their exploratory skills and hi-tech mapping to find and extract gas from the sea bed. It’s then piped from the offshore gas rig to the mainland. Once the gas has been piped onshore, it enters a gas terminal for purification before being pumped onwards. Like the squeeze of a beating heart, compressors force the gas under pressure out into the National Transmission System’s steel pipelines – essentially a complex network of arteries that carry gas out to the extremities of the nation.

Just as our internal organs filter, oxygenate, pressurise and nourish our blood, the National Transmission System has its own means of maximising gas quality. Offtake sites measure gas flow, monitoring pressure and filtration. And crucially, they also add that distinctive, artificial and life-saving gas ‘odour’. The gas is now ready for handing over to the national network of gas distributors – those companies responsible for supplying gas right into your home, safely. 

When they take up the baton, the gas distributor must ensure that they reduce the pressure of gas in their pipelines before it approaches the communities or businesses who’ll use it. Gas governors monitor the pressure of gas that enter ‘gas mains’, a term we are all familiar with. Constructed from cast steel or bright yellow plastic, these are the major vessels for carrying gas into our communities, and carry gas at a pressure appropriate for the many appliances we use in our homes and businesses.

From the mains gas system, gas suppliers manage separate pipelines for domestic or small business use, and for large-scale commercial use. By now the pipes are much smaller, and you may see engineers installing pipes to supply new properties, or working on pipe upgrades and repairs to keep the network in perfect working order. If you’ve noticed a little more work on the roads of late, it’s because there’s a network-wide project to replace all brittle caste steel gas mains with resilient plastic, which will be well worth any present inconvenience.

From that point, it’s just a matter of a few metres of narrow gauge piping and gas is supplied into homes to provide heat, and to help us cook our food.

Gas – a little bit of buried treasure, on tap every day. Versatile, reliable and safe. Unlike Captain Jack.