An early-warning system for pipeline strikes

Piping Up For Technology Series (Part 9)

Innovation never stands still – there’s always a new advancement coming down the pipe. Enbridge is constantly testing commercially available technologies, and looking for opportunities to enhance existing technologies, in the areas of design, prevention, monitoring and leak detection, to keep our pipelines safe.

Our Piping Up For Technology Series, on the @enbridge blog, offers a glimpse of various research projects we’re engaged in, and the efforts we’re making to adapt and harness technology for safety’s sake. These proactive investments in innovation are intended to add another layer of safety and security to our pipeline network – and, ultimately, to the energy transportation industry as a whole.

People don’t always know what’s below. That’s why we want to be aware of what’s going on beneath the surface.

Even with our robust Call 811 and Call/Click Before You Dig public awareness campaigns, the most common source of natural-gas pipeline damage is accidental third-party strikes.

“Within our Enbridge Gas Distribution system alone, we have more than 82,000 kilometers of natural-gas pipelines,” notes David Furdas, a senior engineer and project manager with Enbridge Gas Distribution, which serves more than two million residential, commercial, and industrial customers in central and eastern Ontario.

“We want to stay a step ahead of the industry by using technology to intervene – to have some advance warning before the pipe is hit.”

Since 2014, Enbridge Gas has been working with NYSEARCH, a collaborative research-and-development organization representing 25 natural gas utilities, on a right-of-way intrusion detection project that employs the most sophisticated commercially available technologies, based on experience and research.

After selecting the most appropriate technology – fiber optic cables – the project team from Enbridge Gas and NYSEARCH is now evaluating damage prevention systems from three vendors. A series of blind tests, involving excavation machinery, manual digging, equipment activity and vehicle traffic, was conducted last fall along a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) section of an Enbridge Gas right-of-way.

“It’s all based on motion or vibration in the ground. The fiber optic cable itself is a sensor, where pulsed light is sent down the fiber. Say, for example, a third party hasn’t called in for locates, we have a pipeline in the immediate area, and they’re mobilizing and getting ready to start digging,” says Furdas.

“The system has the capability of detecting that sort of activity through changes in the reflected light patterns, and triggers an alarm. Before the backhoe bucket even hits the ground, we can potentially receive the alarm and dispatch someone, or intervene by some other means.”

Based on last fall’s results, which are currently being closely scrutinized, additional testing may be recommended, says Dave Merte, a senior project manager at NYSEARCH. The Enbridge project team expects to be able to recommend a damage prevention technology for Enbridge’s rights-of-way by mid-2016—potentially, for application on our crude oil network as well as our gas pipelines.

“Definitely. The project is broad-scoped, and any potential solution could be used company-wide,” says Furdas. “The technology appears to be suited to liquids pipelines as much as it is to gas pipelines.”

Watch for upcoming posts from our Piping Up For Technology series on the @enbridge blog channel.