Exploring New Leak Detection Technology for Liquids Pipelines

For Barry Callele, Director of Pipeline Control Systems and Leak Detection for Liquids Pipelines, improving our leak detection capabilities has been a top priority.   “We took immediate steps after the Marshall incident to improve processes and training for those providing analyst services to the control center operators and we have since developed strategies that will propel us to an industry leading capability in the near future.  There are a number of aspects to the plan, but the key areas of focus include targeted instrumentation improvements across all our pipeline systems, improvements to the technologies in use today, and researching and assessing new leak detection technologies for application on our pipeline systems.”

The Leak Detection department, led by Ray Philipenko is now focused on enhancing our overall leak detection capabilities on the liquids pipelines system through lab and field testing, and by researching and assessing the best commercially available technologies.  This includes other Computational Pipeline Monitoring (CPM) systems that can be used to detect the presence of a leak.  CPMs are computer-based systems that use pipeline measurements to detect the presence of leaks.  The group has identified several technologies with the potential to complement Enbridge’s existing leak detection system and provide an extra layer of protection and surveillance capability.  

“Northern Gateway Pipeline has made the commitment to install dual leak detection systems as a secondary safety measure and we are working diligently to find the one that when used with our existing CPM, will give our pipeline controllers the best possible leak indicator data,” says Callele.

The group is also busy evaluating commercial technologies aimed at detecting very small leaks.

“For smaller leaks, we are assessing the effectiveness and reliability of acoustic inline inspection tools, pressure wave systems and external sensor-based systems,” says Philipenko.  One promising technology uses fiber optic cables to act as a microphone to “listen” for sounds produced at the onset of leaks and as a localized temperature sensor to detect variations in ground temperature caused by the release of product into the environment.  Assessing the effectiveness of these external systems led us to partner with a local research firm to design and build a world class test apparatus to assess reliability and sensitivity levels of these various technologies under near real world conditions.

Enbridge has also partnered with the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), a U.S. based research consortium, to test the pressure wave sensor technology on parts of the Enbridge pipeline system in 2012.  “The pressure wave technology is of interest to us and the pipeline industry, as it can be retrofitted to existing pipelines segments with the potential to detect the onset of a smaller leak earlier than traditional means ,” says Philipenko.

While the Leak Detection group is largely focused on technologies that are available now, it’s also considering other future possibilities with the help of Tom Zimmerman’s, Research, Development and Innovation group.  Zimmerman’s group is working closely with others in Enbridge Pipelines to assess commercially available technologies as well as less developed, early stage innovations.

Right now Zimmerman is closely following the emerging development of Micro-Electronic Mechanical sensors in California’s Silicon Valley.

“These could involve having thousands of very tiny sensors covering a large geographic area of the pipeline system and providing additional capability to detect vibrations, pressure and temperatures. The technology is still very much at the early stage but it’s something we’re watching,” says Zimmerman.

He adds that the company is also studying technologies developed in other industries, including water supply and the space industry, to see if there are crossover applications for Enbridge’s system. In 2013, he plans to explore emerging research opportunities in conjunction with the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the Michigan Technological University and others.

“When it comes to technological innovation, you need to look far and wide. Because sometimes the technologies that are the furthest way from our business offer the biggest payoffs in the long term,” says Zimmerman.

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