Asset integrity and operation reliability are primary objectives in pipeline management, requiring methods, system and procedures to detect potential and actual harmful events within short temporal constraints. Time of intervention after a leak is of dominant importance, but early detection of potential precursors demonstrated to be an even more prevailing aspect for pipeline operators. Two main categories of events are examined in the present article: Leak events and Third-Party Interference (TPI) events on fluid filled pipelines. While the former definition (TPI) usually also includes events leading to product leaks, in the present work the distinction between the categories is under the assumption that most of the thefts or theft-attempts events involve preparatory activities of some kind that, if detected, could anticipate the response and reduce, or eliminate, their impact. Vibroacoustic technology is an efficient and cost-effective technique for detecting both families of events, identifying in real time pressure and sound-based transients, pipe shell vibrations and flow anomalies. The proprietary technology developed and patented by Eni (e-vpms®) is already operational and has been applied in different scenarios. Today the technology is deployed and functional on a considerable number of pipelines, with tens of bunkering activities already detected. While the technology was developed and used primarily for Leak Detection purposes, proving fast detection and localization of leak events, it also demonstrated to be able to detect, under the right conditions, precursor events to a voluntary-generated leak event (e.g. bunkering preparation activities). Some success cases are shown, that show the early detection of activities which are not yet classifiable as product thefts or leaks but are indeed potentially involving damage to the pipeline. The anticipation of threat detection using a vibroacoustic system could hence constitute a turning point for reducing both direct and indirect damage to the assets, before an actual leak occurs.
Anticipating bunkering events: notable cases evidence using Vibroacoustic Leak Detection Technology to detect precursors.