Recently, our blog articles have been discussing the strategic benefits of deploying Distributed Acoustic Sensing technology to monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. By harnessing the power of DAS technology, pipeline operators can guard against the threat of pipeline leaks, theft (or hot tapping), and accidental or malicious damage with 24/7, automated fibre optic sensing. Far from an optional extra, maintaining pipeline security and integrity is a vital consideration not just commercially, but from a socio-economic perspective, since we depend on pipelines to carry our most precious natural resources to our organisations, businesses, and citizens.
What’s more, pipeline infrastructure is growing globally. According to the Global Oil & Gas Pipelines Industry Outlook 2023, North America and Asia alone are expected to deliver a combined total of 259 new-build pipelines by the year 2023. That amounts to an extra 84,000 kilometres in addition to the existing 3.5 million kilometres of global pipeline infrastructure. And that’s just across those two continents. The Druzhba pipeline, for example, is the world’s longest crude oil pipeline at 5,500km. It has the capacity to carry up to 2 million barrels of oil, from its network starting point in Almetyevsk in the Russian Federation, and out throughout Eastern Europe. The West-East gas pipeline operated by PetroChina spans a total of 8,707 kilometres, with sections still under construction set to bring its total capacity to 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year. Meanwhile, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) Water Supply Project has delivered the world’s longest, largest and deepest subsea water pipeline, at a total length of 107 kilometres, of which 80 kilometres lies offshore.
Given the sheer scale of the global pipeline network, it is easy to appreciate how challenging monitoring pipeline integrity in remote environments is for operators. Not only are the consequences of a pipeline breach potentially catastrophic, the nature of threats is also evolving as new technology advances. Major incidents such as the 2019 drone attack on Saudi Aramco’s oilfields, or the now notorious Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, demonstrate in sharp focus just how high the stakes are when a pipeline is vulnerable.
As pipeline networks cover such vast areas, it would be easy to think that, when selecting a DAS pipeline monitoring solution, its kilometre reach capabilities are paramount. Granted, it is essential to be able to monitor pipelines spanning huge distances – often in harsh and hard to reach terrains. But, in fact, there are other questions to consider that are even more crucial to ensuring that a pipeline monitoring solution is geared up to provide the real-time intelligence needed to tackle pipeline theft, damage and emerging cyber threats.
How Sensitive is DAS Pipeline Monitoring Technology?
Traditional Pipeline Intrusion Detection Systems (or PIDS) rely on computer modelling such as Real Time Transient Modelling (RTTM). But these systems’ capabilities in detecting smaller pipelines leaks and breaches is limited. And, when we consider the volume and flow of an oil, gas or water pipeline, even the smallest breach can amount to a serious disaster. Many pipeline operators only focus on breaches of 1% or above. If we apply that parameter to a pipeline carrying, for example, 160 million litres of product a day, even a 1% pipeline leak adds up to a loss of 160,000 litres of flowrate per day before the issue is even detected, let alone dealt with.
Distributed Acoustic Sensing technology monitors pipelines in a different way. It utilises the fibre optic cables that typically run alongside pipelines, constantly detecting even the smallest vibrational disturbances on the pipeline. In the case of Fotech LivePIPE II®, cutting edge photonics and edge computing further enhance this capability by analysing the returned acoustic data and using machine learning to determine the nature of the disturbance. Not only are the results faster and more accurate, they also equip operators to deploy an informed response based on real-time intelligence rather than post-event analysis. This allows the pipeline breach to be dealt with as quickly, safely, and cost-effectively as possible – both for the benefit of citizens reliant on the resource, and for the pipeline operator’s commercial bottom line.
How Accurately can Distributed Acoustic Technology Detect a Pipeline Breach?
When it comes to dealing with a pipeline integrity threat, understanding the location of the threat is crucial. Pipelines typically run through remote and harsh environments – deserts, rainforests, mountains, and subsea locations. So, physically attending the site to find the disturbance can be an expensive, time consuming and dangerous business. Clearly, the more accurately the location is pinpointed, the more effectively those risks are mitigated.
LivePIPE II® has been designed and developed to detect pipeline disturbances to within just metres. This equips operators to deploy resources quickly and accurately, with less risk. Excavation works to uncover the pipeline breach are also minimised. Plus, of course, precious time is not wasted in trying to narrow down the location manually – a crucial factor in avoiding unnecessary loss of precious natural resources.
Can a DAS Pipeline Monitoring System be Calibrated to Different Conditions?
Because DAS technology is a continuous sensor, sensitivity to acoustic disturbances reduces as the pipeline travels further away from the DAS interrogator. Indeed, along any DAS pipeline detection system, sensitivity and range impact each other as one or the other increases or decreases.
This is why Fotech places such importance on our ability to fully calibrate LivePIPE II®. Calibration optimises the balance between sensitivity, range and the nature of intelligence required by the operator. This, combined with LivePIPE II®’s ability to receive and analyse vast quantities of data, has huge advantages. LivePIPE II®’s Panoptes Server can raise the alarm, using a “traffic light” warning system, within just 90 seconds. Plus, it has been shown in field tests to return no false positives, avoiding the risk and cost of responding to non-events.
Can DAS Pipeline Monitoring Expand with a Pipeline Network?
As discussed at the start of this blog, pipeline networks are vast and constantly growing to serve global demand. So, whilst the “holy trinity” of sensitivity, location and calibration are vital, operators also need to extend their pipeline monitoring capability as the network expands.
A modular pipeline monitoring system enables this. In the case of LivePIPE II®, each module can be configured with multiple Helios DAS® interrogators and Panoptes alarm servers. These can also be networked into the operator’s own security systems – including CCTV and UAV drone integration. What’s more, the Enhanced Data and Acoustic Management platform (EDAM) equips operators to record acoustic data over a period of time, so that a historical pattern of events is gathered to enhance existing pipeline monitoring systems or add new detection parameters.
The result is a Distributed Acoustic Sensing system with the right balance of real-time detection, value adding intelligence on pipeline breaches, and full visibility of any disturbance and the nature of that disturbance along the length of the line.
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