IoT-based Pipeline Monitoring in the O&G Industry
The $7.4 trillion oil and gas industry is integral to the global economy, especially for nations where petroleum is the primary export. These nations depend on an extensive network of pipelines to transport the liquid petroleum and its by-products.
Although pipelines are considered the fastest and safest mode of transportation for petroleum, they are not infallible. They are subject to multiple structural failures due to both internal and external factors. These failures (corrosions, leakages, etc.) don’t just contribute to the company’s losses but can also have an adverse effect on the environment. According to a 2018 study, liquid pipeline accidents cost U.S. $326 million annually, and identifying and fixing these damages takes around 14 hours.
Pipeline monitoring is not a new concept. In fact, SCADA systems have been around since the 1960s to communicate the information and data necessary for the operation of the pipeline facility. But, these traditional systems are severely limited and do not provide the granular data required to improve asset management. Also, as environmental agencies enforce stricter regulations on oil and gas companies, optimizing operations and reducing costs becomes a vital part of the companies’ agenda.
Round-the-Clock Pipeline Monitoring with IoT Sensors
With the help of IoT sensors, engineers get access to real-time information on the pipeline’s condition. The sensors are designed to track specific parameters. A change or fluctuation in any of these parameters could signify a specific structural issue. For example, ultrasound sensors are used to detect the formation and propagation of cracks along pipe walls. This allows engineers to be more proactive as well. With information on the location of the damage and its severity, engineers can prioritize work and carry out maintenance activities to prevent any major breaks or spills.
Also, an IoT-powered pipeline monitoring system reduces dependence on manual inspection and data entry. This reduces human error and costs to the company. It also improves turnaround time and makes maintenance activities more efficient. Moreover, automating these tasks also allows engineers and technicians to focus on more critical tasks.
Another minor, but essential benefit, is the decrease in the number of visits to a site for inspection. As the hours spent driving to and from sites are reduced, the amount of fuel used and CO2 emissions are reduced significantly.
AVEVA, a player in the pipeline control and monitoring space, provides a comprehensive monitoring system that uses different methods to detect specific problems in the pipeline’s structural integrity, including leaks, illegal tapping, and ruptures. This system, by working in tandem with the AVEVA Enterprise SCADA platform, empowers pipeline engineers with a holistic view of operations, allowing them to make informed decisions and maximize productivity.
Bandweaver is another company looking to provide the oil and gas industry with safer, more accurate pipeline monitoring systems. Their solution uses both condition monitoring and leak detection systems (based on distributed temperature sensing and distributed acoustic sensing) to detect damages to the pipeline infrastructure. Clients can use this information to quickly identify disturbances with great accuracy and take necessary steps to mitigate the risk. The disturbances may be natural (like landslides, earthquakes) or man-made interferences (like accidental or deliberate digging, illegal tapping, etc).
Combining the Power of IoT and AI
By leveraging the power of AI and IoT, companies can build intelligent pipeline monitoring systems that continuously identify and record patterns that precede infrastructure failure. This data can be used to set up fail-safes that are automatically triggered when the sensors register a set of events known to cause failure. In addition, these IoT-powered systems are self-learning and self-monitoring, and are continuously updating themselves to improve their fault detection capabilities.
Moreover, artificial intelligence can be leveraged to notify concerned parties (crew members, government agencies, etc.) of the failure automatically. This quick relay of information will allow emergency services to respond quickly, reducing the damage to the asset and environment.
BehrTech recognizes this requirement and has designed an award-winning, all-in-one platform that improves asset visibility, operational efficiency, and crew safety. The MYTHINGS platform provides operators with real-time insights into the state of the pipeline infrastructure. It identifies the causes of past failures, calculates the probability of these failures occurring in the future, and schedules maintenance to minimize downtime.
Their sensors monitor critical parameters like pressure, temperature, leaks, etc., and notify relevant parties of anomalies so that crews can schedule proactive maintenance to prevent serious damages. They also produce wearables that engineers can use to monitor their vitals and notify them about potential hazards.
Another company leveraging the power of AI and IoT to improve pipeline monitoring is PSI. Their proprietary software, PSIpipelines, is designed to optimize operations while keeping safety in mind. The real-time transient modeling accurately recreates flow inside the pipes and lets pipeline operators identify undesirable changes and their causes. This predictive failure analysis allows operators to forecast when and where the problem will occur and take preventive measures.
The Future of Pipeline Monitoring
The future of pipeline monitoring is IoT. The integration of IoT with the technologies currently available will only improve a company’s ability to compete in the industry. Not only will it save the company money by preventing costly infrastructure failures, but it will also improve operational efficiency.
The data collected while monitoring pipelines provides engineers with vital information on how external influences like the changes in weather conditions, soil composition, moisture, and pH levels affects pipeline conditions. This data could be critical in the service life of pipelines. Also, sensors can help check the wear and tear on the older pipes that have been in use for the last few decades.
In addition, employing an IoT solution does not require a significant investment compared to other alternatives. IoT-enabled technologies like LPWAN and sensors can be easily retrofitted to pipelines at very low costs. The immediate influence that an IoT-powered pipeline monitoring network will have on operational efficiency, safety, and sustainability will soon outweigh its initial costs as well.