At any given moment, thousands of kilometers of critical assets are running through pipelines across expansive grasslands and forests, city streets, and under large bodies of water. But, surprisingly, many of these energies and chemicals pipelines operate unmonitored or are scantily managed. It’s a missed opportunity to achieve operational continuity and efficiency, the results of which can be substantial.
Often when I talk to customers about leak detection systems, I relay two different stories where pipeline operators used outdated monitoring technology or none. In one use case, a pipeline operator wasn’t aware of an oil leak until 17 hours had passed. The company ultimately paid close to $177 million in clean-up fees and fines. And in the other case, an operator couldn’t detect an intrusion where thieves had illegally tapped one of the company’s pipelines to steal oil. Due to the leaks, 137 lives were lost as a result.
Effective pipeline monitoring yields many benefits and, more importantly, can save lives. Since many pipelines are often in isolated areas, it makes sense for companies to take a preventative stance, especially on criminal activity. This September, Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited announced that it lost $700 million per month due to crude oil thefts. Early detection can significantly cut down methane and other emissions while also providing real-time intelligence and precise monitoring.
When we think about the effect of a pipeline leak, there are obvious detrimental environmental impacts that we can avoid. The Common Ground Alliance annual report states that in 2019, damages to buried pipelines incurred an estimated $30 billion in societal costs of damage to buried utilities. When I hear about these incidents, I believe we should look to the addition of enabling technologies that will help the industry move to more environmentally responsible and sustainable products to target prevention, in addition to the decrease of operational downtime.
Gaining accuracy in leak detection
In 2020, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, leaks from energies and chemicals pipelines equated to 21 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions of methane. It turns out that these downstream emissions, according to the International Energy Agency, can be reduced by 75% with existing technology.
But while leak detection is a growing trend across industries (including water and wastewater), current market offers might only help in notifying you that you have a leak in your pipeline and locating a general area where a leak event is located by using process instrumentation products installed on the pipeline to notify users. Traditional algorithms can only supply notifications, and little data is available to identify what may be the cause. It’s then on pipeline operators to investigate where leak events might be occurring and what caused them.
This is why Schneider Electric partnered with Prisma Photonics last year. The company, which began in 2017, has created an invaluable leak detection system known as PrismaFlow™ to geolocate events to a specific spot. By incorporating fiberoptic-sensing technology into an optical communication cable that’s already been deployed near a pipeline, PrismaFlow can detect the attenuation and immediately alert companies to its precise location within 10 meters.
Because Schneider is on a mission to help industries become more efficient, our addition of PrismaFlow as an offer was a no-brainer. It enables organizations with a toolset to get alerts on phones or laptops should a pipeline leak occur, creating an instant response to leaks to curb emissions and prevent disasters. When PrismaFlow detects an event using algorithms in its Hyper-Scan Fiber Sensing™ technology, it analyzes the conditions and classifies whether the event is a leak, manual digging, vandalism, construction, illegal tapping, pedestrian activity, etc. Organizations can then shut off the exact valve necessary within minutes versus hours.
The Hyper-Scan also dramatically reduces nuisance alarms, such as when a pipeline is near a busy road or urban area. This works by using machine learning-based artificial intelligence. Within hours of installing PrismaFlow, these algorithms can characterize and differentiate between different target types and alert users based on the events of their interest. Another attractive element of our partnership with Prisma Photonics was that installation only requires one strand in a pre-existing fiber optic cable for the sensing technology to work and monitor up to 200 kilometers of pipeline.
Precision improves environmental sustainability
How sensitive is the leak detection system? Current data for PrismaFlow has it around 0.025% of the pipeline flow, which is essentially one hundred times greater sensitivity than current offers on the market.
Securing pipeline infrastructures from malicious or criminal activity benefits other areas in addition to driving efficiency and sustainability. Financially speaking, oil and gas industries can potentially save millions of dollars by the prevention of one leak. Water industries can save millions as well, as the loss of water along transportation pipelines has been increasing. By combining pipeline management solutions with advanced leakage detection and prevention, organizations can achieve operational continuity and efficiency in the most robust conditions.
To learn more about the value of cost-effective leak detection systems, read our brochure on PrismaFlow or read more about this leakage detection solution for EcoStruxure™ on Schneider Electric Exchange.
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