Pinhole leaks are challenging for pipeline operators because they pose a large environmental threat, but are very difficult to detect. However, due to recent advances in pipeline integrity technology, operators are now able to detect these leaks that conventional ILI tools and leak detection systems cannot.
Leaks can be caused by many things ranging from bacteria in the soil to oxygen in the pipeline, both of which lead to corrosion and degradation of the pipe wall. So, what are some ways that pipeline operators can identify risk areas and pinhole leaks in the pipeline?
Many operators used sophisticated data analysis to monitor potential risk areas where pipelines have the highest probability of developing leaks or corrosion. This can then be used to create risk profiles for each section of pipeline to help focus a more detailed leak detection program.
Using special cameras that can detect vapors coming from the pipeline that are invisible to the naked eye. These cameras use hyperspectral imaging, and are sensitive enough to detect extremely small amounts of evaporated hydrocarbons surrounding the right-of-way.
Using a CPM leak detection system. These systems compare the volume of product at an originating point on the pipeline with the volume monitored at intermediate or destination point. The issue with these systems is that they require a minimum percentage of product lost in order to identify a problem. This percentage usually represents a large amount of product.
Inline tools that confirm product containment. Products like PureHM’s SmartBall technology use acoustic sensors to listen for product loss while traversing the pipeline. These tools are extremely sensitive because they bring the sensor directly to the leak, and can detect tiny leaks that other systems may not find for years.
While every pipeline requires multiple solutions to detect defects and leaks, the latest and most adaptable technology are inline tools. The SmartBall tool can identify pinhole-sized leaks that other systems – such as CPM systems and ILI tools – cannot detect. When combined with an ILI program and CPM system, the SmartBall tool helps operators reduce the likelihood of a pinhole leak being detected by a third party. By regularly running inline tools, operators can ensure their pipeline is contained to a very low volume threshold.
Inline tools are also capable of assessing unpiggable lines, which provides a solution for operators with large unpiggable pipeline networks.