How To Prevent Pipeline Leaks using Aerial Data

If you work in the field of pipeline integrity management, you’re likely finding yourself playing an ever more difficult game. With aging infrastructure and ever-increasing regulatory burdens, you may be in search of a way to better prevent pipeline leaks along your assets and Right-of-Way (ROW).

Platforms for aerial data can provide a new layer of visualization that gives you a better view of your asset and helps connect the dots on incomplete data in your workflow. These platforms leverage Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and visualization software to scan your pipeline on an ongoing basis and deliver actionable insights.

Catch Small Issues Before they Become Big Problems

SCADA systems provide an important toolset for detecting leaks, but the portrait they paint is incomplete. While the sensors that form a SCADA network capture key metrics – such as pressure, flow rate, temperature, and more – SCADA systems are not the be-all, end-all of pipeline integrity management. The layout of these sensors make localization of potential leaks a challenge.

Routine visual inspection of a pipeline is also of paramount importance. In a 13-year analysis of a refined petroleum pipeline – approximately 528 miles long, carrying 172,900 barrels per day, and over 50 years of age – the results show that less than 50% of spills and other incidents were detected by SCADA systems1.

In fact, the majority of these incidents were detected visually, whether by employees or contractors working on-site, inspections and site visits, ROW surveillance and even the nearby public. Getting eyes on your asset and ROW is one of the best ways to prevent incidents.

The trouble is, a visual inspection is extremely hard to make a routine and consistent process with human personnel – it requires a lot of money and manpower. Not to mention, human eyes get complacent and fatigued and can miss small changes from inspection-to-inspection.

What if you could automate this task? Well, you can. Just as a SCADA system continually gathers sensor data from within the pipeline, autonomous UAVs can continually gather visual data on your pipeline and ROW.

Harness the Power of Aerial Data to Detect Leaks

While high-resolution imagery and visual models – such as orthomosaics and Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) – give you an eye on your pipeline, pinpointing the critical details can become a huge undertaking in and of itself. Computer vision can solve this problem, analyzing thousands of images for indicators of a leak or ROW issues that could cause damage to your pipeline.

With aerial right-of-way monitoring, you can identify external issues that can pose great threats to your pipeline integrity. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) 2019 Pipeline Incident Report, external forms of damage such as excavation, natural forces, and other outside issues accounted for over $100 million worth of damage over the course of the year2. Spotting these issues and mitigating them before damage occurs avoids the loss of money, time, and your hard-earned reputation.

Beyond the ability to detect objects/anomalies and classify them accordingly, SkyX technology enables changes to be tracked over time. From inspection-to-inspection, our SkyVision software can identify subtle changes that are indicative of a developing issue along your pipeline – such as approaching construction activity, vegetation encroachment or gradual erosion of the earth.

Change detection can also provide value during the remediation stage. Routine monitoring of a spill clean-up area can show whether the health of the environment is improving, stagnating, or even continuing to decline. This is valuable information that helps prove to regulators that your cleanup efforts are effective.

Proactively Prevent Leaks Instead of Reacting to Them

The most powerful way to improve your oil pipeline leak detection strategy is by leveraging all of this data to make accurate predictions about future issues. With the ability to collect images, identify anomalies, and track changes over time – these critical points of data can be used to improve your asset integrity long-term.

Traditional leak detection technologies leave you scrambling to react to vague alerts around potential leaks. Aerial data gives you the data you need to get proactive and prevent damage before it occurs.

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  1. Oil Pipeline Safety Failures in Canada, Equiterre, Shelly Kath, 2018
  2. Pipeline Incident 20 Year Trends, PHMSA, 2019