How to Visualize Your Pipeline SCADA Data

Identified oil spill in a GIS

Imagine you’re a haystack integrity manager. This isn’t a real job, but we’re working toward an allegory, so play along. Day-to-day, your responsibility is to ensure there are no needles in the dozens of haystacks under your company’s ownership. Some would say the task is near impossible, but thankfully, you have the technology to perform high-level monitoring of all haystacks under your supervision from a single networked system. This Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system connects to sensors that monitor key metrics in each haystack – such as strand density, strand volume, and stack temperature – for indicators of a needle.

One day, in the control room, a sensor alert comes through the SCADA system. In one of the haystacks, the average strand density is well-above average, indicating the presence of a needle. The haystack integrity manager assembles an inspection crew and makes a simple request:

“Find the needle in the haystack.”

This is the paradoxical state of today’s pipeline integrity management workflows. Operators can detect the potential for problems, but lack the means to visualize and verify them. In other words, great effort and innovation go into detecting a leak, but the process of leak verification has remained a manual and arduous affair.

At SkyX, we’ve gone to great lengths to help you tie visual data to your SCADA, for truly effective leak detection and verification. Let’s take a look at gaps in the current SCADA workflow and how new technologies can help you better pinpoint, identify, and respond to potential leaks.

SCADA Systems Are Essential, But Aren’t the Complete Picture

Transporting millions of gallons of hydrocarbons across thousands of kilometers entails a simple inevitability: infrastructure is going to age, and age makes infrastructure more susceptible to leaks. Ideally, you can perform preventative maintenance that avoids spills. But incidents happen, and having a system in place to respond to leaks is a must.

SCADA systems play a key role in the pipeline integrity management workflow. With this technology, operators can converge performance data from software-based sensors along the pipeline that measure fluid volume, flow rate, pressure, temperature, and more. With all of the sensor data feeding into the SCADA network, control room operators can examine all the key metrics of their pipeline from a single interface.

Anomalies in sensor readings, such as a drop in flow rate, tend to indicate a leak. The SCADA system will provide an alert to the control room, but these alerts can be vague, since sensors sit between vast segments of pipeline spanning dozens of kilometers in length. Oftentimes, an alert only indicates a potential leak along the segment, not the precise location of the problem.

In some circumstances, the initial rupture in the pipeline wall and immediate release of product will trigger a negative pressure wave that can semi-accurately determine the size of the leak and its approximate location. However, incidents which occur from persistent stress – such as corrosion, mechanical failures, natural hazards, etc. – may not create a dramatic rupture event that is easy to pinpoint.

Without precise data, maintenance crews waste valuable time trying to locate the leak rather than remedying it. In the worst-case scenario, personnel can be walking into a dangerous situation unprepared.

Operators can enhance the safety and effectiveness of their response to potential leaks, with smart leak verification technology that works in tandem with the capabilities of a SCADA system.

Visualizing SCADA Data with Drones & AI

Tying visual data to your SCADA system in a meaningful way, requires visual inspection to happen with automation-level efficiency, just like all the other components of a SCADA network.

Historically, automating visual inspection over such a vast distance would be a fantasy, but new technologies – such as drones and AI – can make it a reality. Functioning at high levels of autonomy, these technologies can perfectly complement your existing leak detection workflow. Here’s how we see this play out:

A sensor alert triggers from the SCADA system. Somewhere between a product-in and product-out point, an actionable amount of flow reduction has occurred. With the general coordinates of the 100 kilometers of affected pipeline segment, SkyX configures a targeted flight path and dispatches the aerial system. The segment may be remote, but it only takes the aerial system under an hour to reach the location.

When the aircraft reaches the affected segment, it begins scanning. Equipped with live feed capabilities, a high-resolution camera and an infrared sensor, the aerial system captures photos and videos of the target location. Once image capture is complete, the files are transmitted for analysis to computer vision software using machine-learning algorithms, which looks for spill indicators such as:

  • Pools of crude oil and other petroleum liquids
  • Gas plumes on the pipeline or right-of-way
  • Abnormal discolouration on ground cover around the pipeline
  • Abnormal amounts of condensation on or near the pipeline
  • Oil slicks and spills in bodies of water
  • Ruptures and discoloration on the pipeline
  • Specific changes in-ground or pipeline temperature

Based on analysis by computer vision software, SkyX is able to confirm the presence of a leak and its precise location. Shortly after, geo-tagged and time-stamped visual data seamlessly integrates into your GIS application for asset evaluation, risk analysis, and classification of the leak. With detailed information on the leak in-hand, maintenance crews can now be deployed with a plan to address and remediate the damage.

In essence, SkyX visualizes the data coming through your SCADA system. If a sensor detects a drop in pressure, you can augment that reading with a high-resolution visual of the location, which may even help you identify potential causes of the problem. Don’t forget, sensors can produce false readings, and it’s better to verify the anomaly with an autonomous system rather than sending your crews on an unnecessary search effort

Holistic Pipeline Integrity Management

Working in tandem with your SCADA systems for leak detection, autonomous aerial systems backed by AI can help you to:

  • Locate leaks with increased accuracy
  • Identify leaks and spills with visual confirmation and infrared imaging
  • Decide on a correct course of action with high-quality data
  • Increase the safety of people, the public and environment

Immediate benefits of an effective leak verification response aside, this kind of aerial solution can easily become a routine part of inspection and monitoring operations. Having a consistently-gathered set of visual data to work with, computer vision software can spot developing issues that may go unnoticed by in-line sensor systems.

Pipeline operators have made great strides in leak detection with smart technology that automates the process. In comparison, leak verification methods remain highly-manual and labor-intensive effort. By applying new technologies – like drones and AI – oil & gas companies can start to take an automated approach to leak verification. With actionable data on the leak, operators can assess situations faster, avoid costly disruptions, improve safety, and make decisions with confidence.

Have questions about how high-quality aerial data can elevate your organization?

Contact our team to discuss your unique challenges and data requirements.