The development of several suppliers’ Leak Detection Systems (LDS) has been driven in large part by the research developments and/or collaborative efforts; i.e., joint industry projects (JIP) of major owner-operators and pipeline operating companies, many of whom have a deep vested interest in helping the suppliers develop more effective and accurate LDS. ARC expects that JIPs, such as those being conducted by DNV GL, should help raise awareness of the need for leak detection, help key industry participants share best practices and develop technology solutions that will enhance LDS performance, and help drive greater industry adoption of leak detection among users.
End users have been pressuring suppliers to develop even more effective and accurate LDS that don’t require them to pay for unneeded functions. In response, suppliers are developing more modular LDS solutions that can function as components within a comprehensive pipeline integrity and monitoring system. ARC recommends that operators and users consider several different technical and commercial factors before deciding on an LDS and related LDS supplier. Factors to consider include the following:
- Age of pipeline
- Pressure requirements (i.e., low, high, etc.)
- Composition of medium (i.e., multiphase, oil, gas, etc.)
- Accuracy of system – localization, volume detection, etc.
- Responsiveness of system – how quickly leak detected
- Ease of use, training
- False alarm management/mitigation
- Reliability of system
- Slack condition during transient(s)
Suppliers are developing several leak detection systems to overcome the increasing number of operational and environmental hazardous challenges users encounter when trying to handle more hydrocarbons in this oil price recovery. An increasing number of pipeline operating companies and related stakeholders are beginning to embrace the belief that investments in leak detection systems not only will mitigate risk by helping to prevent catastrophic leaks and the associated financial and operational adverse implications, but also should help reduce fines, regulatory oversight, and damage to a company’s reputation and public image.
Regulatory oversight in a growing number of countries seeking faster detection of oil spills or natural gas leaks was one of the major driving factors that help shape ARC’s five-year forecast in its recently published Leak Detection Systems (LDS) market study. In the recent past, regulations for oil pipeline safety were issued that will require Plains All American Pipeline Company to equip its national pipeline control room in Midland, Texas, with advanced leak detection equipment. Such new equipment, coupled with the installation of additional safety valves, would help Plains control room operators respond sooner to pipeline oil spills, like the one that happened last May to Plains’ Line 901 located by Refugio Beach. In addition, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) ordered Plains to revise alarm threshold adjustments. Last year May’s oil spill was caused by external pipeline corrosion that PHMSA has concluded Plains could and should have known about sooner; to that end, PHSHA ordered Plains to embrace a far more vigorous, frequent, and fine-tuned corrosion detection and prevention program. ARC believes that more uniformly applied standards will actually help operators to follow fewer different regulatory mandates thereby enabling suppliers to keep costs of leak detection systems more cost effective and helping increase adoption as the value of improving pipeline integrity and operational performance is proven out through increased deployments of LDS as part of comprehensive pipeline integrity solutions.
Although increased regulatory mandates will likely prove to be more painful for operators in the short-term (having to battle low oil prices as well), ARC believes that the development of “a level playing field” of uniform regulations that all operators have to follow will be better for all parties concerned in the long run, since safety, environmental impact, and operational performance will all be the better for it.
In this environment, owner-operators, independent E&P companies, and pipeline operators realize the value of investing in automation and other technology solutions to enhance production, improve and/or enhance recovery, and ensure more efficient operations with fewer experienced personnel. Automation investments can also reduce risk by maintaining operational integrity to help reduce the frequency of accidents or other abnormal events and help mitigate their negative impact on safety, environment, and profitability of the pipeline or relevant oil & gas facility such as an offshore platform or onshore oil or gas processing facility.
ARC welcomes the opportunity to speak with technology suppliers and users alike about your activities, thoughts, perspectives and questions on this exciting area. For further discussion or to provide feedback on this, please contact the author Jyoti Prakash at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Keywords: Leak detection systems (LDS), Environmental regulations, Safety, Automation.