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BY MAURINO DE FEBBO, R&D MANAGER,


ASEL-TECH INC., HOUSTON, TX, USA
Pipelines International March 2013

Leaks in pipelines have always been a


concern due to the implied risks and the
costs associated. This becomes even more
critical with hazardous fluids that pose
risk to life and the environment. This
article presents the basis of acoustic
leak-detection technology and the new
systems introduced by Asel-Tech, a
leading manufacturer of leak-detection
systems since 2003.
Risks can include risk to equipment, personnel
safety, environmental contamination,
production losses, cleanup, medical expenses
and lawsuits. Small leaks have the potential to
turn into an expensive and dangerous event if
not detected and stopped in time.
The earlier the leak-detection and follow-up
remedial action, the lower the consequences.
Recent regulations in many countries are
becoming more exigent regarding pipelines and environmental protection. As
such, leak-detection systems play an important role in safe pipeline operation by
helping operators to quickly identify and react to a spill.

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The acoustic or sonic leak-detection systems (LDS), also known as negative


pressure wave (as defined by API-1130), are becoming a preferred
leak-detection methodology in many pipeline applications. Acoustic LDS
systems have quick response times (in the range of seconds), accurate
leak-location capabilities (in the range of meters), high sensitivity and reliability.
Acoustic systems can also be applied to a wide range of fluids and scenarios
above-ground, buried, subsea, liquids, gas, and also some multiphase fluids.
The acoustic methodology
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The acoustic or sonic methodology applied by Asel-Tech LDS is based on the


identification of hydraulic transients created by a pipeline wall rupture at the leak
onset. The transients propagate through the fluid in both directions, in the form
of wave fronts at the speed of sound within the fluid. These low-frequency
transients thus produced travel along the pipeline in the fluid guided by the
pipeline wall, and can travel long distances before losing energy (attenuation).
The physical phenomena and temporal evolution of a pipeline pressure profile,
just after a leak event, are illustrated in Figure 1.
Special transducers (sensors) are positioned at both ends of the monitored
section to capture the transient signals, as shown in Figure 2. The sensors track
the dynamic pressure signals and convert them into electrical signals that are
read and analysed by dedicated electronics running sophisticated detection and
filtering algorithms for proper leak-pattern recognition. The detection time at
each sensor is precisely determined and registered, and since the propagation
velocity in the media is known, the leak-location can be calculated based on the
arrival times and a few other known parameters gathered from the pipeline.
Figures 3a and 3b show signal examples recorded from an actual pipeline.
Sonic leak-detection system (SLDS)
The SLDS is the traditional LDS offered by Asel-Tech. The typical architecture for
one pipeline segment is shown in Figure 4. It comprises the following main
components; acoustic sensors, field-processing units (FPUs), GPS antennas, a
central monitoring station (CMS) and the communication network.
The acoustic sensors are installed at strategic points along the pipeline and are
responsible for reading the dynamic signals used to identify leak events. The
number and placement position of sensors is determined according to:

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Particular characteristics and configuration of the pipeline


Fluid transported
Detection sensitivity desired
Level of leak-location accuracy desired
Signal attenuation in the specific media

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Pipeline diameter
Length of the protected pipeline section
Operating pressure; and
Position of branches, valves, pumps stations.
Multiple monitored sections can be defined and integrated according to each
application. In some cases the sensors (monitoring points) can be spaced up to
30 or 40 km still keeping good sensitivity.
Good application engineering is required for each particular pipeline in order to
determine optimal sensor spacing for the particular pipeline and desired results.
Wherever possible, in the first and last segments of the pipeline, it is preferable
to install a pair of sensors instead of a single sensor. This arrangement makes
possible the implementation of special filters that help in the identification of
noise and events originating outside of the protected section.
This approach helps to significantly reduce and often eliminate false alarms that
could be generated by those events originating outside the protected segment.
Figure 4 illustrates a monitored segment with a pair of sensors at each end
(sensors A and B). Each pair of sensors in this case works as just one monitoring
point. In order for the aforementioned filtering technique to be effective, the
sensors A and B must be spaced at least 60 m apart.
The sensors are normally installed using flanged or threaded connections and
can be easily installed, even with the line in operation, using a standard hot
tapping process. This method of installation reduces installation costs and
production losses, being another advantage of the acoustic systems.
The field-processing units (FPU) are the heart of the SLDS and are responsible for
the continuous acquisition and processing of signals from the acoustic sensors,
with high resolution performance processing hundreds of data sets per second.
The FPUs are normally placed near each monitoring point and the sensors are
hooked up through 420 mA loops.

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Each FPU can be dedicated to just one or a group of sensors, covering more than
one monitoring point if necessary. The FPU carries out very complex and heavy
signal processing techniques, transferring on-line results and status to the
central monitoring station through the communication network. The captured
signals are processed by broad analog and digital filters and include the use of
an artificial neural network (ANN), FFT and many other innovative techniques, to
ensure clear signal identification and distinction from other pipeline background
noise or signals that may be present in the line under normal operation
conditions.
In the case of a leak, an alarm will be issued to the operator by the CMS,
indicating the exact time and location of the leak with its associated coordinates.
Effective signal processing associated with multilayer detecting algorithms are
also the key to ensure 100 per cent of pipeline coverage, from sensor to sensor,
with no mute or silent zones in the protected section. This complex set of
processing techniques ensures the high performance of the new acoustic
modules and grants to the SLDS its unique features. In case of a communication
fault, the detected events are stored in internal buffers and automatically
transmitted to the CMS when communication is re-established. Any leaks which

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may occur during the fault period can still be alarmed with correct time stamping
and location.
GPS interfaces and antennas are included in the system to keep the clocks of all
FPUs perfectly synchronised to the GPS time base, even if they are miles away
from each other. This procedure ensures the high accuracy time stamping
required to calculate the precise location of detected leaks.
Data communication with the CMS is done through Ethernet ports for speed and
reliability. The physical link can be varied such as cable, radio links, satellite
links, optic fiber, or others, according to the available resources at each facility.
Service ports and a local display are also available in the units for diagnostics and
maintenance purposes.
The CMS is the central point from where the entire leak-detection system is
monitored and controlled, and normally is placed in the pipeline control room.
The CMS is a standard PC running special software called OPCi which manages
all data communication with the FPU network. In the case of an alarm, a complete
report with all information will be shown to the operator, including a map of the
area pointing the exact leak co-ordinates. All the FPUs configuration parameters
and operation conditions are entered via CMS, and set up during the start-up
phase. The entire CMS features a very easy to read and interact with experience.
The CMS also keeps a log of all alarms and events, system status, as well as
historical data for easy checking of any past occurrences. The system can also be
easily integrated to a SCADA or other system via the embedded OPC driver to
extend the operation capabilities to other stations. This integration would also
make possible the reading of operational information such as valve operation,
fluid changes, pumping direction, and to automate parameter selection within
the system. A remote access can also be established for assistance through the
Internet, if needed.
Sonic leak-detection system for terminals (SLDS-T)
SLDS-T is a special deployment of the SLDS, used in ship loading/unloading
terminals where it is not possible to install any sensors or equipment at the sea
side that normally ends up in a monobuoy. The SLDS-T works with sensors at
only one side of the protected section land side. This system has excellent
leak-detection capability, but locates the detected leaks because sensors are
only placed on one side of the segment.
Remote leak-detection system (RLDS)
The RLDS is the newest member of the Asel-Techs leak-detection products and
is based on the same proven reliable technological platform of the SLDS. The
RLDS simplified architecture is shown on the Figure 6. The RLDS uses the same
sensor arrangement and communication structure of the SLDS, although using a
brand-new signal acquisition hardware called sonic remote unit (SRU) provided
with very efficient processing algorithms with distributed intelligence, and having
part of the data processed at the CMS according to the situation. The result is a
very efficient system featuring the same features and performance as the classic
SLDS, but demanding less hardware in the field, and thus being less expensive to
deploy, especially for longer pipeline segments.
Integrated leak-detection system (ILDS)

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The ILDS is implemented using a combination of the acoustic technology with


mass-balance methodologies, offering an even higher performance and
versatility. This is due to the complementary characteristics of the two
methodologies, being able to quickly detect, locate, and quantify leaks, with
many other advantages.
Performance parameters
The more important parameters used to evaluate the performance of
leak-detection system are leak-detection sensitivity, time to alarm, leak-location
accuracy, overall system robustness, and false alarm rates.
Leak-detection sensitivity is a measurement of the minimum leak size the
system is able to detect reliably under normal operational conditions. For the
acoustic systems it means the minimum hole size that can be detected in an
application. The final system sensitivity is dependent on factors such as pipeline
diameter and length, fluid characteristics, operating pressure, etc.
In most cases it is possible to detect leak holes as small as 0.2 per cent of the
cross sectional area of the pipeline, meaning very small leak rates. Considering
that the system is able to alarm in just a few seconds, the total spilled volume will
be negligible compared to any other leak-detection methodology. The time it
takes to alarm is another key advantage of the acoustic-based systems. The
SLDS requires no more than just a few seconds to declare the leak alarm, and is
one of the fastest response time technologies available for pipeline
leak-detection.
The ability to quickly and precisely locate the detected leaks is another important
feature of the SLDS/RLDS. The typical leak-location accuracy is better than 2 per
cent of the protected section length, and the final error can be reduced to just a
few meters by refining the alarm signals manually at the CMS.
As for false alarm rates a well-designed and commissioned system can achieve a
near-zero false alarm rate. This due to the very advance signal processing and
artificial neural networks deployed.
Tools for leak simulation
Special pneumatic tools are available to perform safe and easy leak simulations
on the pipeline protected sections. Actual fluid withdrawal testing is the only way
to reliably test any leak-detection system and improve its performance.
Conclusions
The current high-tech leak-detection systems based on acoustic technology
represent an attractive option for most pipeline applications, combining reliable
operation with many highly desirable characteristics such as very fast
leak-detection, high sensitivity, accurate leak-location, and applicability to a
wide range of fluids and scenarios with excellent performance at very attractive
implementation costs.
Appeared in issue: Pipelines International March 2013
Image caption: Figure 1: Transient generation and evolution of
pipeline pressure profile after a leak event; Figure 2: Leak-detection
and leak-location method; Figure 3a: Normal background noise (top).
Figure 3b: Leak signal example (bottom); Figure 4: Typical SLDS

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architecture for one pipeline segment; Figure 5: Sensor installation example;


Figure 6: RLDS simplified architecture.
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