Abstract Prompt leak detection is an essential element of the integrity management process for any hazardous materials pipeline. If leaks are not detected at an early stage, they will result in progressively worse damage to the environment and can endanger the local population. Ultimately they can grow into a far more serious failure of the pipeline if not repaired in a timely manner. Therefore a variety of leak detection and/or leak prevention systems are used, including monitoring flow and pressure levels, surface monitoring and networks of sensors located along the line. However, no single system is able to detect and accurately locate all small leaks when they first occur, and many require installation and maintenance of substantial levels of costly equipment on the pipeline. For this reason, the industry is interested the in advancement of alternative approaches in leak detection.
SmartBall is a radical new technology that has been successfully deployed in water transmission pipelines since 2004. It is now offered as a solution to the problem of leak detection in oil and gas lines too. It is a spherical acoustic device that travels through the pipeline propelled by the product flow and will detect the acoustic signature of any release of pressurized product to the environment (i.e. a leak). Its low cost, ease of deployment and the ability to immediately locate pinhole leaks to within a meter offer major benefits to pipeline integrity managers worldwide.
The paper discusses a number of case histories from the early deployment of SmartBall. The complexities of transferring the technology from a water environment to the hydrocarbons industry are addressed.
Introduction The need for an effective method of quickly detecting leaks in hazardous materials pipelines is clear. The economic losses resulting from undetected spills can be high; from lost product, clean-up costs, repair costs and possible litigation. In addition to monetary considerations, the costs to the environment and local population must also be considered. In many juristictions, there is a legal requirement on the pipeline operator to have some form of leak detection system in place. In the US alone during the period 2003 to 2007, average damages from pipeline spills exceeded $430,000,000 per year with average product losses in excess of $25,900,000. The earlier a leak is detected, the better the opportunity to limit the damage caused.
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