The hairline fracture to the Forties pipeline and its subsequent closure will result in a loss of production worth about an estimated £20 million per day, according to industry body Oil and Gas UK. The Forties pipeline, one of the most important in Europe, carries crude form the North Sea across the land for processing at Grangemouth.
Ineos, the owner of the pipeline and Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland, said that a “very small amount of oil seepage” had occurred but insisted that none had been reported in the wider environment. The operator confirmed that the crack had widened since its discovery and the decision to shut the pipeline was taken in the interests of avoiding a serious oil leak into the surrounding environment.
In this instance, the fracture was discovered before it sprang a leak into the environment. Ineos has been very fortunate with the Forties fracture. Unfortunately, TransCanada Corp weren’t so lucky, when last year its Keystone pipeline spilt 210,000 gallons of crude into the grasslands of South Dakota.
Pipeline leaks are a serious global issue. And when it comes to monitoring pipelines, oil and gas operators face a number of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is early detection. The faster a leak is detected, the quicker the response rate for suitable provisions to be put in place to limit the potential environmental impact.
It’s why fibre-based monitoring systems, such as Distributed Acoustic Senor (DAS) technology are so important.
DAS technology converts a single fibre optic cable – which is run parallel to the pipeline or attached directly to it – into a network of highly-sensitive, individual vibrational sensors. The vibrations, caused by surface bound threats or by a leak event, disturb the fibre, causing the characteristics of the backscatter to change. The DAS unit then analyses changes in the backscatter to identify and locate the source of the disturbance. This enables operators to ‘visualise’, locate and record activity at every point, in real-time.
When it comes to a potential leak event, it’s imperative that operators have access to reliable, actionable information that allows for real-time decision-making and a rapid response.
When a pipeline suffers a crack, it’s usually followed by a spill and an environmental disaster. Ineos has been fortunate, this time. But the incident highlights just how important monitoring technology can be for oil and gas operators.