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Airborne Leak Detection

The Industry Challenge:

Pipeline operators are interested in using a variety of leak detection systems to ensure the safe operation of their pipelines. Among the systems being considered are various detectors that can be mounted on aircraft that can augment the regular right-of-way inspections that are already being conducted. Some technologies are already used to detect leaks from natural gas pipelines; however, leaks from liquid pipelines can be more difficult to detect due to the behavior of the liquid hydrocarbon as it enters the soil. The challenge is to detect small liquid hydrocarbon leaks before they reach the soil surface. The fact that these kinds of releases are rare and their physical characteristics are not well understood makes it difficult for pipeline operating companies and technology Vendors to validate the performance of their technologies or to design new technologies.

How the JIP Helps:

The project will assist pipeline operating companies in identifying the best technologies for detecting liquid hydrocarbon releases from airborne platforms and will provide key information to the equipment Vendors to enhance the sensitivity and reliability of their equipment.

The Airborne Leak Detection JIP was launched in December 2014 with a technology review to identify commercial technologies that have the potential to detect small leaks of liquid hydrocarbons from pipelines. Vendors of these technologies were invited to participate in the project by providing technical information on the performance of their technology.

The project work included modelling the subsurface transport of the released fluid through the soil, as well as the dispersion of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. The potential to use thermal imaging and ground heave monitoring to locate small liquid leaks was also evaluated with similar models.

The project also includes a progression of full-scale testing programs designed to:

  1. Calibrate and verify the leak model results by measuring various parameters at the ground surface in the large-scale leak simulator (otherwise known as the ELDER apparatus).
  2. Verify the sensitivity of commercial technologies for detecting VOCs in the atmosphere by creating known releases under controlled conditions either in field tests.
  3. Evaluate the performance of technologies in full field trials where promising technologies are installed on airborne platforms and flown over multiple, independently controlled, Field Leak Simulators to create situations where the specific release location is unknown to the equipment vendor.

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