‘Excavation damage’ remains a leading cause of pipeline incidents. That’s according to data from the US Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as recently highlighted by Schneider Electric.
Excavation damage can result from malicious criminal activity, primarily as part of hot tapping attempts on buried pipelines. But it can also be caused by accidental incursions – such as in the notorious HoHo pipeline incident in 2014 where construction workers pierced the pipeline causing a major spill. In both cases this type of damage can have significant repercussions.
However, looking at the breakdown of all reported pipeline incidents by cause in the US between 1994 and 2013, the troubling issue is that although excavation damage represented only 12.5% of all incidents, it was the single biggest cause of ‘serious’ incidents (34%).
This clear discrepancy is damning. Although many causes of pipeline incidents are out of operators’ control, preventing excavation damage is relatively straightforward with the use of Distributed Acoustic Sensor (DAS) technology.
DAS effectively provides an invisible ‘smart barrier’ along the entire length of a pipeline that can detect excavation activity well before a pipeline is put at risk. As our recent blog detailed, our LivePIPE system recently detected 26 separate hot tapping incidents on a single pipeline in India. The majority of these tapping attempts were prevented before the potential thieves could reach the pipeline, as digging in the proximity of the pipeline was detected and an alarm was raised.
Equally, LivePIPE has also successfully prevented accidental excavation damage. For example, on a pipeline in South America a LivePIPE alarm was initially assumed to be a false alarm as the incident appeared to be deep in the jungle where no work was scheduled. However, the confidence of the LivePIPE alarm led to the threat being investigated and it emerged that a construction team had gone off path while conducting a blasting operation and had unknowingly ended up in very close proximity to the pipeline. As a result, LivePIPE enabled the operator to inform its team of their error and to cease their activity before any damage could occur.
Ultimately, the fact is excavation damage should not be the cause of nearly so many serious incidents each year. But as these two examples show, DAS technology can significantly enhance pipeline monitoring efforts and prevent excavation damage from ever happening.