Satellite technologies help keep pipelines safe

Energy transmission pipelines are safely buried underground, which protects them from many of the external threats that could cause damage. But they’re still susceptible to some dangers that may not be as obvious.

For pipeline operators, protecting pipelines from the geohazards that can cause damage is a high priority. Geohazards are geological processes – such as landslides, seismicity (earthquakes) or river erosion – that may occur in certain geographical areas. It takes a lot of technological know-how to be able to anticipate these hazards. And that’s where satellite technology plays a huge role in ensuring safe pipeline operations.


Satellite-imaging detects changes long before they become problems


When the ground surrounding a pipeline moves slowly, but continually, this puts stress on the pipeline. Over time, gradual ground movement can increase risk of damage to the pipeline materials. That’s why pipeline operators use satellite-imaging technology to detect and monitor ground movements as small as a few millimetres per month – long before they create enough force to compromise the pipeline.

Each satellite image from a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) system, can cover areas of about 50 kilometres by 50 kilometres. Those images can detect and measure the amount of movement before operators even have cause to suspect they exist. The unique power of satellite InSAR monitoring lies in the ability to quickly measure incredibly small movements, looking over very large areas on a regular basis, without the operator having to send personnel to the field.

The SAR satellite uses microwaves and special processing to create high resolution images. It can capture images in the dark of night and provide a reliable source of information for monitoring the entire planet independently of weather events such as cloud and rain. Satellite data is being used globally to measure ground movement, map floods, identify deforestation, track iceberg movement, map ice thickness, detect the location of ships, and more.


Satellite monitoring just one tool in the pipeline monitoring toolbox


Other tools pipeline companies use in conjunction with satellite monitoring are: Geographic Information Systems (GIS), borehole instrumentation, global positioning  systems (GPS), surveying and strain gauges. Geotechnical engineers assess satellite measurements, along with other measurements from ground-based instruments, to assess the risks to pipelines. We’ll tell you more about those tools in upcoming blog posts.

For the pipeline industry, satellite monitoring is a valuable way to measure where the ground is moving and by how much. And, it can even be used to identify areas where the ground is not moving, which helps new pipeline developers find suitable areas to route pipelines. It is technologies such as these that are helping CEPA member companies deliver your energy safely and responsibly.

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