How are pipelines monitored?
Pipelines transport some of our most valuable resources. You need to monitor pipelines to ensure the products safely reach their destination.
Pipelines cross some challenging and remote areas, so it can be tricky but insufficient monitoring could end in catastrophe. We've all seen news articles showing what happens when pipelines fail. In this article, we'll explore some different methods and systems for monitoring pipelines.
Pipeline monitoring systems
Pipeline monitoring involves collecting and analysing data from pipelines; it helps you understand how they're operating. A robust and effective pipeline monitoring system will enable you to spot problems early. It’s vital for safe operations.
There are various methods for monitoring pipelines and operators will often use a combination of different techniques. We’ve collected a selection of the most popular to discuss here.
It’s exactly as it sounds. You physically inspect the pipeline by flying over or walking alongside it. Pipeline operators use drones, robots, humans or even dogs to look for signs of damage. For example, if you’re standing next to the pipe you can see any obvious cracks or corrosion that might lead to leaks. As you can imagine, it’s an expensive, time-consuming and carbon-intensive process. Virtual inspection is also limited because you can’t look inside a pipeline. You could easily miss any internal faults until they manifest externally, when it may be too late. Visual inspection is also limited because it’s not a continuous monitoring method. What happens if a leak occurs between visual inspections?
Pigs (pipeline inspection gauges) are cylindrical devices inserted into pipelines to monitor integrity. The pigs go up and down the pipeline to detect corrosion, cracks and leaks. Smart pigs have sensors to measure pressure, temperature and other parameters. Smart pigging gives operators insight into the condition and integrity of their pipelines. Unlike visual inspection, pigging is especially good for monitoring inside pipes.
Pigging is essential for pipeline monitoring, although it does have its drawbacks. A lot of pipelines, particularly in the oil and gas industry, are difficult to pig or ‘unpiggable’. Pigging is also not a continuous monitoring method, and you often need to shut down operations to do it.
SCADA systems are one of the most common methods of pipeline monitoring. SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) is a computer-based system. It collects and analyses data from a pipeline's sensors and other equipment. SCADA systems help operators monitor pipeline operations. You can use them to detect any abnormalities that could indicate a problem. Usually, operators can only access SCADA from a centralised control room.
Do pipelines have sensors?
Sensors play a crucial role in pipeline monitoring. Pipelines may have lots of sensors installed along their length. The sensors detect and monitor various parameters including pressure, temperature and flow. Monitoring sensor data helps you spot abnormalities that could turn into bigger problems (such as leaks). Sensors are vital for ensuring the integrity and safety of pipeline systems.
Pipeline management software
The sheer number of systems and sensors on a pipeline generate a lot of data. In fact, operators can struggle with data management because of the sheer volume of data. Operators are typically obliged by regulation to archive data, so it languishes in archives. If you don't analyse data, you could lose valuable insights, limiting operational efficiency. This is where pipeline management software can deliver significant benefits.
Many of the methods we’ve discussed do not provide continuous monitoring, or can only do so in the control room in the case of SCADA. Digital solutions allow pipeline operators to monitor their pipeline operations whenever and wherever they are.
Klarian’s Digipipe, for example, is one such solution. It collects and integrates data from different sources, such as sensors and SCADA, to provide a single point of truth for operations 24/7. Often software solutions, including Digipipe, will also take data further by analysing it. For example, Digipipe analyses the output from flow meters to offer leak detection.
What is clear is that pipelines are monitored in many ways using a wide variety of systems. The best approach is for operators to deploy a digital solution. Digipipe, for example, offers an end-to-end solution to integrate data, enable remote monitoring and identify efficiency gains.
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