By May 7, 2015 Read More →

Aerial leak detection technologies focus of pipeline research project

Challenge with leak detection technologies is choosing correct sensors

Three North American pipeline companies have teamed up to advance leak detection technologies, focusing on aerial-based approaches for crude oil pipelines.

leak detection

Challenge with airborne leak detection systems is selecting appropriate sensors to detect liquid hydrocarbon leaks. Photo: TransCanada.

The goal of the project is to identify technologies capable of viably detecting small leaks from liquid petroleum pipeline systems to improve pipeline safety.

Enbridge Pipelines Inc., TransCanada Corporation, and Kinder Morgan Canada have signed a joint industry partnership (JIP) agreement to conduct research into aerial-based leak detection technologies. The parties have each committed $200,000. All three companies will share equally in the new knowledge and advancements.

“Joining forces with Kinder Morgan and Enbridge helps us maximize research potential and reach new levels of technological innovation to improve our industry as a whole,” said Vern Meier, TransCanada’s VP of pipeline safety and compliance.

The companies say the project is expected to involve laboratory research and field trials to evaluate the feasibility of commercially available aerial-based leak detection technologies, for use with crude oil and hydrocarbon liquids pipelines.

“We are committed to identify, develop and test new technologies to further progress key areas of pipeline safety, such as leak detection. Through collaboration with committed industry partners, we continue to make important advancements with leak detection technology,” said Kirk Byrtus, Enbridge’s VP of pipeline control.

Data analysis will be conducted by Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures, and testing will be carried out by project research partner C-FER Technologies (1999) Inc. of Edmonton.

“The challenge with airborne leak detection systems is not with the aircraft, but with selecting appropriate sensors to detect liquid hydrocarbon leaks before they reach the surface,” says Brian Wagg, director of business development and planning for C-FER Technologies.

Potential technologies to be tested may include infrared camera-based systems, laser-based spectroscopy systems, and flame ionization detection systems, with sensors suitable for mounting on light aircraft or helicopters. Representatives of Enbridge and C-FER Technologies are currently surveying commercial vendors of these airborne leak detection technologies to validate their feasibility for liquid hydrocarbon pipelines. Project research and trials are expected to begin during the third quarter of 2015.

“This program helps operating companies understand which technologies are best suited for detecting these leaks, and will provide vendors with unique information on what leaks actually look like,” said Wagg.

“This information will help those vendors fine-tune their systems to detect leaks with greater reliability.”

A previous Joint Industry Partnership (JIP) – which was established by TransCanada and Enbridge, and now includes Kinder Morgan – has already yielded groundbreaking leak detection research using a state-of-the-art pipeline simulator known as the External Leak Detection Experimental Research (ELDER) test apparatus.

“Pipelines are widely accepted as the safest and most efficient way to transport oil and gas, and TransCanada continues to strive for zero leaks or safety incidents on our pipelines,” says Vern Meier, TransCanada’s Vice President of Pipeline Safety and Compliance.

Meanwhile, work on the ELDER leak detection project, originally announced in December 2013 by Enbridge and TransCanada, continues at C-FER Technologies’ Edmonton research facility.

Enbridge and TransCanada have each committed $1.6-million to the ELDER project, while Kinder Morgan has committed $1-million. The project has a total funding commitment of more than $6-million.

Engineers from C-FER Technologies, Enbridge and TransCanada performed a series of tests throughout 2014 on four external leak-detection technologies – vapor sensing tubes, fiber-optic distributed temperature sensing (DTS) systems, hydrocarbon-sensing cables and fiber-optic distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) systems. All engineering and test data is shared among committed project partners.

Since 2013, the ELDER program has carried out four tests, and collected data from the 13 participating vendors, representing hundreds of recorded leaks in the ELDER apparatus. Data analysis is ongoing, but some participating vendors have already reviewed test results with the intention of using them to improve their systems. The ELDER program is expected to continue into 2016.

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