How can operators monitor thousands of km of pipelines?

Pipeline companies use a wide variety of methods to monitor pipelines – from highly advanced technology to patrolling the pipeline right-of-way. Visual inspections are done regularly – either by walking, flying or using drones – and the industry also uses electronic monitoring from high-tech control rooms and patrols inside the pipeline. In 2015, CEPA members invested $1.3 billion in maintaining and monitoring their Canadian pipeline systems.

Monitoring from the control room

Just like NASA has mission control in Houston, all CEPA members have a master control room where all their pipeline operations are monitored. Every pumping station, every remote sensor, every maintenance operation, every patrol on the ground and in the air is monitored using a SCADA system (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) – similar to those used to monitor airports and space stations. Any changes in regular operation are quickly detected.

Cushing Control Center TR Brent Gaither 2014 (ENB)

Every pipeline and facility is monitored 24/7 using sophisticated technology.  Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

CEPA members have some of the most sophisticated pipeline control rooms in the world.

Watching all the time

Carefully monitored from the control room, remote sensors on the pipeline track any change in pressure, flow rate or temperature. Using ATVs, crews also patrol the line conducting regular maintenance and keeping a careful eye on the pipeline right-of-way. A special type of video surveillance cameras, called hyperspectral imagers, may also be used – they are fitted with hydrocarbon sensors (hydrocarbons give off a unique hyperspectral signature) and temperature sensors that can detect leaks. Aircraft, like helicopters and drones, are also used to scrutinize pipelines from the air.

Control Room

Control rooms are the the eyes and ears of the pipeline system.

Any changes are immediately transmitted to the control room, setting off alarms.

Cleaning the inside of a pipeline

Keeping the inside of a pipeline clean keeps product moving smoothly and prevents corrosion. Large rotating wire brushes attached to a smart pig move through the pipeline. As extra protection, corrosion inhibitors may be applied during this process.

Keeping an eye on Mother Nature

Geohazards are geological processes – such as landslides, earthquakes or river erosion – that may damage a pipeline. CEPA members use technology like aerial LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imagery created from airborne laser sensors to monitor geohazards in real time. That means if any geohazard activity is detected near a pipeline, the line can be shut down before an incident occurs.

Brushing the inside of a pipeline helps prevent corrosion by removing small amounts of accumulated sand and water.

Workers locating pipe

Pipeline workers use technology to locate pipelines.

Worker inspecting pipe

Pipelines are regularly inspected – both inside and outside – to monitor for cracking, corrosion and material defects.

Workers looking at pipe - Pembina

Visual inspections can help pipeline operators spot anamolies before they become issues. Photo courtesy of Pembina Pipeline Corp.

Workers inspecting smart pig - photo Enbridge

Inline inspection tools called smart pigs are a critical technology used to see inside a pipeline. Photo courtesy of Enbridge Pipelines.

Reducing risks from geohazards helps protect the public and the environment.

integrity dig

An integrity dig is when a section of pipeline is excavated to give pipeline operators an up-close view of the pipeline to determine if a repair or replacement is required.

Checking the integrity of the pipe

Pipeline operators also regularly conduct integrity digs, which involves excavating a section of buried pipe to clean and examine it. If a defect is found, it’s repaired and recoated and the pipe is re-buried. CEPA members conducted over 3,100 integrity digs in 2015 to examine pipelines for suspected defects and make repairs.

Inspecting the inside of the pipeline

How do you inspect an underground pipeline? One way is from inside the pipeline. Like a small submarine, in-line inspection tools called smart pigs travel inside a pipeline using ultrasonic technology to measure pipe thickness and metal loss. These smart pigs travel through the pipeline scanning about three metres per second, locating anything out of the ordinary, like minute cracks or signs of corrosion.

Thousands of integrity digs are done annually to check pipelines.

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