Identifying Pipeline Leaks Quickly is Key to Minimising Risk

When it comes to today’s vast and complex oil pipeline systems, even the smallest leak can lead to extensive financial loss and lasting reputation damage.

The recent rare unplanned shutdown of the Forties pipeline in the North Sea, which supplies 450,000 barrels per day of crude to Britain, along with a third of the UK’s total offshore natural gas output, was caused by a crack found in the pipeline. The nearly month-long shutdown resulted in major refinery capacity shutdown, force majeure being declared and oil and gas prices reaching their highest points in years. Additionally, the owner of the pipeline has faced harsh criticism for its handling of the situation.

Internal pipeline leak detection systems are commonly used to detect a leak. These systems use point sensors to track flow rates, as well as apply mathematical and statistical computations to monitor flow rates, pressures, temperatures and product characteristics. Although these systems are useful in identifying leaks, they lack in sensitivity. Leaks take longer to detect, and small leaks may go completely undetected.

Instead of relying on computational assumptions, the OptaSense pipeline leak detection system uses distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) technology to transform a standard telecommunication fiber optic cable into a fully distributed sensor capable of detecting the physical characteristics of a leak, including changes in noise, temperature, pressure and ground strain—simultaneously and in real time. The integration of these four modes into a single leak detection system not only provides improved sensitivity, it delivers the reliability required to identify and validate leaks faster and with more confidence so minor issues can be addressed before they become major incidents. The OptaSense system can detect small leaks 10 times faster than internal systems—allowing you to detect a 0.1% leak size within a matter of minutes.

Today’s complex pipeline networks require robust systems that perform under changing fluid compositions, temperatures and pressures, which for many internal systems often result in computational errors and false alarms. The OptaSense pipeline monitoring solution eliminates these issues by delivering a system that performs under transient, slack-line, and multi-phase flow conditions. Even when critical pipeline infrastructure goes offline, this fiber-based system ensures continuous and reliable real-time event detection, classification and location.

To validate the performance of it’s pipeline monitoring system, OptaSense recently performed a series of tests at the CTDUT Pipeline Testing Facility in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The facilty houses a unique closed-loop system that simulates a real-world pipeline environment. The OptaSense monitoring system was able to quickly identify and locate even the smallest leaks along the pipeline. Read more about the testing here.

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