The global demand for energy is driving pipeline constructions around the world. However, for these pipelines to remain profitable, operators need to mitigate against leaks by taking advantage of the most innovative technologies


The global demand for energy is increasing year on year and is estimated to reach the oil equivalent of 18 billion tons by 2035.  Research consultant, Douglas-Westwood, has forecast that new pipeline installations around the world will span 309,000km by 2019 and the rapid development of pipelines that we’ve seen so far seems to support this prediction. Interestingly, the fastest growth is expected in the Middle East in the period to 2019, with North America and the Asia-Pacific region the highest volume markets in terms of capex.

Alongside the general increase in the demand for energy, the sources of gas and the markets served are also moving geographically. For example, as gas is promoted as a cleaner alternative to coal for power generation, countries such as China are aggressively developing domestic shale gas production. Conversely, some traditional sources such as the North Sea Southern Basin are in rapid decline. This means that the UK is seeking alternative sources from domestic shale gas, Europe or LNG from North America, all requiring a different transportation network.

Unsurprisingly, this rapid expansion in new pipeline networks has sparked fresh concerns around the environmental repercussions of potential pipeline leaks and oil spills. In fact just last month, Shell reported a major pipeline incident along the San Pablo Bay Pipeline, which leaked 21,000 gallons of oil at an area near the border of Alameda and San Joaquin. Whether operators’ motives are driven by CSR, loss of product or industry regulations, one thing is essential - they need to mitigate against pipeline leaks.

While no single solution can address pipeline leaks alone, fibre optic-based surveillance technology, such as the Distributed Acoustic Sensor (DAS), is delivering a real step change for pipeline integrity monitoring.

By effectively converting the fibre optic cable into tens of thousands of individual, highly-sensitive vibrational sensors, DAS delivers operators with real-time, actionable data. This allows them to identify leaks within minutes and ultimately ensures fast and efficient response times.

In this way DAS can play an integral role as part of a holistic system, working with existing surveillance technologies to provide one comprehensive system that provides total coverage of the pipeline. It is only by implementing systems in this way that the industry can really achieve significant advances in terms of pipeline leak detection.

The benefits of fibre sensing technology are already widely acknowledged and industry experts are predicting that this trend will continue. This suggests that fibre-based diagnostic technologies will soon overtake more traditional detectors in terms of market share. With the global energy demand set to increase by 34% by 2035, it is crucial operators act now to ensure they have the necessary systems in place to minimise pipeline incidents at the earliest stage.