ARCO Alaska, Inc. (AAI) at the Kuparuk Oilfield on the North Slope of Alaska recently initiated the use of an airborne Forward-Looking InfraRed (FLIR) Sensor System to enhance environmental protection in the arctic. Oil flows from the ground into production pipelines with temperatures in excess of 100 degrees F. If a leak were to occur in a pipeline, between the outer pipe wall and the surrounding insulation, a FLIR should be able to detect the leak. The efficiency of the aircraft-mounted FLIR system allows for the entire Kuparuk field, with over 700 miles of pipeline, to be surveyed in less than three flight hours. Not only has the airborne FLIR unit proven its ability to be an effective tool in the surveying of pipelines for potential corrosion due to water-soaked insulation, but it is also very effective in imaging a spill site and returning pertinent information to an Incident Command Team for spill response. Finally, the FLIR systems have been used to image wildlife in their habitat when visual methods produce inconclusive results. Wildlife surveys of caribou and polar bears have been conducted using the aircraft FLIR systems at Kuparuk. The FLIR sensor system is an innovative technology proving to be a good tool to ensure pipeline integrity and enhance protection of a sensitive arctic environment.

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