June 2022

What’s New in Production: Pipeline optics

Why would I think the optics of pipelines are worth writing about? Perhaps it’s because pipelines are arguably the safest means of transporting hydrocarbon fluids, yet their reputation is undeservedly poor.
Willard C. (Bill) Capdevielle, P.E. / Contributing Editor

Why would I think the optics of pipelines are worth writing about? Perhaps it’s because pipelines are arguably the safest means of transporting hydrocarbon fluids, yet their reputation is undeservedly poor. The optics of pipelines need improving, and I believe optics can help—fiber optics to be exact. 

I first learned about fiber optic monitoring of pipelines back in 2015, when I was a volunteer energy champion at the Houston Technology Center. We were mentoring a group of Russian companies, and I singled one out to work with, because I was convinced of the immense value of their technology—fiber optic monitoring of pipeline health over long distances. In fact, they had already completed a successful pilot program for 800 km of Gazprom pipeline. 

The technology’s advancement. Again, several years ago, I was doing some consulting work for a midstream company regarding a variety of topics, including pipeline integrity. We were approached by a company proposing fiber optic monitoring of pipelines. Of course, my interest piqued immediately. This company eventually morphed into LUNA Innovations, Inc. 

LUNA Innovations offers a complete Fiber Optic Pipeline Monitoring System (referred to as PRE.VENT DxS System) through two companies they recently acquired: LIOS Technology and OptaSense. 

Before I describe what this technology can offer, I want to discuss pipeline integrity—in short, reducing the risk associated with pipeline integrity issues that can lead to a catastrophic loss of containment of hazardous fluids. Such a loss of containment harms the environment and potentially the public. It’s important to remember that risk is probability (of an event) times consequence (of the event). Interestingly, fiber-optic sensing and monitoring of pipelines reduces both the probability and the potential consequence. 

The ideal implementation of this technology is that a fiber optic cable is installed with the pipeline during the initial installation. For underground (land and offshore) pipelines, the fiber-optic cable is buried alongside the pipe, while for above ground pipelines, the fiber-optic cable is strapped to the pipe. 

PRE.VENT DxS measures three different pipeline parameters: temperature, strain, and sound/vibration. I would add two more parameters: location and time. The last two parameters are critical ones, because PRE.VENT DxS can locate events precisely with spatial accuracies of 1-10 m and temporal responses varying from seconds to minutes. The combination of all the parameters discussed here is what enables PRE.VENT DxS to provide fast-response detection in pipeline applications—potentially reducing the consequence of an event. 

While all the parameters described above can be detected individually, they are all very complementary to each other. This is why LUNA has developed software and algorithms that process, analyze, and interpret data, and alarm the operators, with a low probability of false alarms. 

PRE.VENT DxS can detect the following types of events: 

Leaks—even very small leaks. Using temperature changes (heat for oil, cold for gas), acoustics (hearing pressure pulses and orifice noise), and strain (from ground disturbance), PRE.VENT DxS reduces the potential consequence of a leak by identifying a loss of containment event much earlier than conventional mass balance methods, enabling a quicker response. 

Geotechnical Integrity issues: By monitoring strain, PRE.VENT DxS can identify the pipeline integrity effects that are associated with seismic events, landslides, soil erosion and underwater free spans that may lead to immediate or eventual loss of pipeline integrity. This reduces the probability of a loss of containment event. 

Third-Party Intrusions (TPIs) can be identified by acoustic monitoring. Learning algorithms can be used to identify precise sounds and vibration signatures related to specific intrusion threats, i.e. mechanical digging. Consequently, acoustic monitoring allows one to identify unwanted human footsteps up to 10 m away and a backhoe digging 50 m away. This capability reduces the probability of a loss of containment event. 

Pig Tracking. This can often be a challenging task, especially for installations offshore or in difficult terrain. PRE.VENT DxS can hear a pig passing by each weld, providing a very effective tracking tool. LUNA’s real-time software can display pig progress on a GPS map. 

As of writing, PRE.VENT DxS systems can utilize fiber optic signals up to 100 km away, both up and down the pipeline. Thus, fiber optic monitoring systems are required every 200 km along the pipeline. These stations require about 400 watts of power and can communicate with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems via extra fibers in the cable. In fact, with nominal extra investment, pipeline operators can also use the fiber-optic cable for their dedicated telecommunication lines and/or lease the extra unused fibers to telecommunication companies for phone or internet use, capturing a bit of extra revenue. 

With the implementation of the PRE.VENT DxS system by LUNA Innovations, the actual and perceived risk to pipeline integrity is highly reduced. Hence, this technology can provide peace of mind to operators, regulators, investors and the public—hopefully allowing industry to move forward with pipeline projects which allow the safe and efficient transportation of hydrocarbons. 

For more information see: https://lunainc.com/industry/energy  

About the Authors
Willard C. (Bill) Capdevielle, P.E.
Contributing Editor
Willard C. (Bill) Capdevielle, P.E. has 45 years of upstream industry experience. He has held various technical and managerial positions and is retired from both Mobil Oil and Hess. Bill has spent equal portions of his career supporting producing operations, in upstream technology centers, and in capital project support.
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