Pipeline FAQs

Pipeline FAQs

Pipeline Monitoring: Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the most common questions customers ask Fotech about their pipeline monitoring strategies.

If you have any further questions, we’re always happy to answer them and discuss how our services could help you. Just contact the Fotech team to start the conversation!

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Perimeter Security

Pipeline FAQs in Full

The most common concerns that pipeline operators face are:

  • Breaches of pipeline security (especially through theft, also known as hot tapping).
  • Leaks, whether caused by accidental damage, theft attempts, or maintenance issues.
  • Accidental damage from third-party interference or heavy machinery (also known as ROW interference).
  • Maintenance issues, especially if they are not detected quickly.
  • Locating PIGS (pipe inspection gadgets) when they are lost, stuck, or need cleaning.

Pipelines are hugely valuable assets, both to the operators that own and run them, and the citizens that depend on the products they transport. And, because of the vast amounts of water, oil and gas they transport, even the smallest interference to a pipeline can have catastrophic results. The financial impact on oil and gas operators can be disastrous. Not to mention the likely environmental damage caused by a leak or breach – which affects the natural habitat, surrounding communities, and the pipeline operator’s reputation. So, it is vital to ensure that your pipeline monitoring systems are geared up to provide real-time, 24-hour-a-day monitoring that will alert you immediately and accurately as to the exact location and nature of the pipeline integrity threat.

Historically, pipeline operators have relied on internally based systems such as mass balance and real time transient modelling (RTTM). However, these systems infer the presence of a leak using computational pipeline monitoring (CPM) modelling systems. These tend to have long detectability times and very low sensitivity to small leaks. In North America, for example, there is a common requirement to detect a leak equivalent to 1% of the pipeline’s flowrate. In a pipeline transporting 16 million litres of oil per day, that 1% equates to 160,000 litres. If it takes, for example, six hours to identify a leak, 40,000 litres will have escaped, with all the associated cost and environmental risks this scenario brings. 


A pipeline intrusion detection system (PIDS) using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) can detect disturbances along the pipeline within minutes. Enhanced with the right artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology, DAS monitoring systems have the power to detect pipeline threats much faster and more accurately than any traditional computer modelling approach. DAS detects disturbances by monitoring fibre optic cables that already exist close to the pipeline. This process generates vast amounts of data that can be quickly interpreted to alert the pipeline operator not just to the location of the threat, but about the likely nature of the threat, so that any response is fast and accurate. This method of fibre optic acoustic sensing also has the advantage of being able to monitor, analyse and return data even when the pipeline is in harsh or ‘invisible’ locations – such as deserts, mountains, and rainforests.

With the right technology, yes! LivePIPE®, Fotech’s modular DAS pipeline monitoring system, works 24 hours a day to monitor the entire length of your pipeline and detect threats in a matter of minutes. DAS is responsible for the acoustic sensing. But it’s the configuration of the monitoring module (Helios® DAS) and the sensing module (Panoptes® alarm management server) that gives LivePIPE® the power to monitor and interpret data and alert instantly. This means that, within minutes, operators know where the threat is occurring and what the threat is. This intelligence equips them to take fast, decisive action to deal with the problem.

Absolutely. LivePIPE® DAS technology can detect acoustic disturbances and analyse the nature of those disturbances. So, if the disturbance is related to a fault or maintenance issue, LivePIPE® will alert you immediately that this is the problem. The same applies for pipeline security threats, interference, or leaks. Plus, LivePIPE® will pinpoint the location of the problem accurately within metres, so that you can target the exact area of the pipeline that requires maintenance.

DAS can also quickly and easily locate lost or stuck PIGS – which can be very difficult to find. This is invaluable in locating, cleaning, and maintaining PIGS without costly excavation or unnecessary disruption to the pipeline or surrounding environment.

The success of pipeline monitoring depends on several factors. For example, the quality of the technology, whether it can be calibrated and tailored to your pipeline and whether it can integrate with your own systems and networks. It also depends on the reputation of the technology vendor, and the accuracy and speed of threat detection. So, it’s important to make sure that the system on offer is proven to perform across all of these areas.

Less advanced systems that rely on modelling and traditional detection methods do not have the capacity to pinpoint the exact locations, or the nature, of the threats detected. With advanced DAS technology, though, the potential for fast, accurate location is far greater. When applied through LivePIPE® II, DAS has the power to detect pipeline threats and breaches to within just a few metres. It then analyses and informs you of the exact nature of the threat, and it can raise an alarm in whatever way you choose, so that your operatives can act.

LivePIPE® II has been tested extensively in the field and has yielded 100% accurate results. Crucially for pipeline operators, fields tests have also shown no false results – anomalies which can waste time and money. 

DAS – or distributed acoustic sensing – works by converting any standard optical fibre into thousands of acoustic sensors. Essentially, it is like creating thousands of very sophisticated microphones along the length of the fibre.

The DAS unit sends pulses of light out along the fibre, which then returns backscattered light to the DAS unit.

Even the smallest anomalies in those backscatters can be detected – from acoustic energy and vibrations to temperatures and strain changes.

DAS interprets these vast volumes of data to analyse, track and monitor any changes in the fibre optic cable. In this way, the fibre becomes your pipeline’s sensor.

For pipeline operators, DAS fibre optic acoustic monitoring provides highly valuable intelligence that can save significant time and money, and guard against environmental damage. Fotech LivePIPE® harnesses the power of Helios® DAS to detect, analyse and raise the alarm on any pipeline integrity event, pinpointing the event location to within just metres. It also analyses the nature of the event, raisin the alarm immediately so that swift remedial action can be taken.

The accuracy of DAS pipeline monitoring depends on the quality of the technology supporting the system. Fotech LivePIPE® II’s modular system incorporates the Helios® DAS unit, which monitors the fibre to detect pipeline events, while the Panoptes® server deploys AI and edge computing to analyse and report on the location and nature of the threat.

Crucially, any DAS system needs to be calibrated to optimise results according to the range, location and sensitivity of the particular pipeline and fibre being monitored. Not all technology vendors have the experience to perform these calibrations. Fotech has a proven track record in calibrating and tailoring bespoke, modular DAS systems for the pipelines industry. This is proven in our field tests, which have consistently delivered 100% accurate data with no false results.

Because LivePIPE® is a modular system that can be fully calibrated, it can be built and expanded to monitor the entire length of your pipeline or network of pipelines. It monitors the pipeline or network 24 hours a day, and can detect, analyse, and report on multiple threats simultaneously.

Yes, not only does LivePIPE® warn against breaches, but it also does this in real time. The system can be set up to deliver warnings in any way that suits your operators – from a text message to a field operative to a central computer system alert. When LivePIPE® raises a warning, it will also inform you of the exact location of the event, as well as the nature of the event – be it a pipeline leak, theft, third-party interference, heavy machinery interference, or a problem caused by a stuck or lost PIG.

Absolutely! LivePIPE® can be integrated with your systems to provide constant, accurate data on any potential breaches to assets along your security perimeters.

Yes. The LivePIPE® system using a Helios DAS X4 interrogator is currently able to withstand temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius, with further tolerance improvements due to be rolled out in the near future.

Yes. We frequently integrate LivePIPE® with our customers’ supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) architecture, to ensure that they can integrate their response to pipeline threats seamlessly.

Yes, LivePIPE® has the capacity for UAV integration, so that when the system issues a warning about a possible event, a drone can be flown straight to the location. This has several advantages. It enables fast travel to remote locations to address the threat before damage is done. A drone can be networked with your control room or CCTV, so that you can observe the threat, issue warnings to third parties and even follow a third party if you suspect theft or liability for damage. It can also give valuable intelligence as to the nature of the threat so that security operatives or police can ensure they are equipped to deal with the event safely. And it has the potential to save huge amounts of unnecessary travel to harsh and hostile sites, thus reducing associated costs and risks, as well as your company’s carbon footprint.

LivePIPE® is a bespoke, modular pipeline inspection system that is carefully built and exactly calibrated to suit every customer’s particular pain points and pipeline integrity strategy – as well as the length, location, and surrounding conditions of the pipeline. If you would like to find out more or discuss your requirements, just contact Fotech.

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