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Can Pipeline Operators Afford to Lose Millions in Lost Fuel? 

Why Fibre Optic Acoustic Sensing is the Best Way to Protect and Monitor Pipelines Against Physical Threats 

By Pedro Barbosa, Pipelines Industry Sector Manager  

 

Pipeline safety is major news. The recent cyber-attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which caused the largest pipeline in the US to shut down for days, has highlighted the very real and present threat to oil and gas supplies. It has brought pipeline safety front of mind.  

 

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II and members of the Committee on Homeland Security are introducing legislation to support efforts to secure pipelines and their facilities from cyber-attacks, terrorist attacks and other criminal efforts to target pipeline infrastructure. The Pipeline Security Act will reinforce support for the Transport Security Administration’s (TSA) pipeline security mission and increase the TSA’s engagement with relevant public and private stakeholders. 

 

And while protecting assets against cyber threats is fundamental for ensuring the integrity of assets, so too are the physical threats.  

 

A Need for Protection 

Oil and gas pipelines traverse thousands of miles, often across remote locations. Pipeline failure - either from ruptures and leaks caused by corrosion, mechanical damage, etc - and intentional theft from pipelines can be devasting. It can cause risk to human life, product loss and cost a pipeline operator millions. And leaks also pose a significant environmental risk that comes with a hefty clean-up price and potential litigation. So, operators must ensure the integrity of their pipelines and reduce the possibility of product loss while also under pressure to make cost savings.  

 

Continuous 24/7 monitoring of an entire pipeline is vital for reacting to any threats quickly and to minimise any loss. But it is extremely challenging using traditional measures. Mass balance and real-time transient modelling (RTTM) are often used to monitor for leaks, but they have long detectability times and very low sensitivity to small leaks. This means leaks are often missed or alarms are only raised when large quantities of product have already been lost. Right-of-way surveillance for theft detection is also very difficult in remote locations under extreme conditions. Line walkers and aerial surveillance can be useful, but they don’t provide continuous detection of events. 

 

Distributed Acoustic Sensing as a Smart Solution 

Fibre optic sensing in the form of Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) is the answer. Our LivePIPE solution has been monitoring pipelines in real-time for years. It turns fibre optic cables running alongside a pipeline network into thousands of vibration sensors. LivePIPE monitors pipelines for leak detection - measuring the vibrations caused by fluids, both liquid and gas, being forced through a leak orifice – as well as disturbances relating to attempted theft.  

 

Being able to detect any disturbances along the length of the pipeline makes for quicker responses that mitigate against product loss and environmental damage.  

 

The Need for Speed  

In North America, there is a common requirement to detect a leak equivalent to one percent of the pipeline's flow rate. In practice, if a pipeline is transporting 100,000 barrels of oil per day, one per cent equates to 1,000 barrels per day, or roughly 42 barrels per hour. If it takes six hours to identify a leak, a whopping 250 barrels will have escaped. 

 

Using existing monitoring technology, leaks from tiny orifices are in some ways the most dangerous. They can remain undetected or take days to isolate. In that time, many millions of barrels worth of oil can be lost. DAS detects leaks as small as 20 litres per minute from many different sized orifices, even as small as 1mm. The advanced sensing technology raises the alarm in just 90 seconds, by which time only 30 litres will have escaped.  

 

Fibre Optic Acoustic Detection and Security System Ticks all the Boxes  

Using fibre optic sensing to protect and monitor gas, oil, and other utility pipelines is the quickest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to maintain pipeline integrity and provide early warning of leaks, illegal taps, excavations, or intruders. It’s a complete solution for industrial pipeline network monitoring that’s able to reduce environmental risk and increase operational safety.  

 

For more information, download our LivePIPE brochure.  Download Now

 

 

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