The need to provide adequate pipeline leak detection systems to detect potential leaks for oil and gas pipelines is evident to protect people and environment. Many countries, at the national and local levels, are mandating such systems for existing and new pipelines. The challenge however is that pipelines are vastly different in terms of topology, operational mode, and fluid type.
Regarding topology, some pipelines are laid above ground, over mountains, or below rivers, while others are buried underground or passing undersea. Regarding operation, some pipelines are operated constantly while others are operated in on/off modes to fill tanks, reservoirs and vessels. In addition, pressure and flow rates vary considerably from pipeline to another, as the length and diameter of the pipelines also vary considerably. Finally, the fluid type, whether liquid of gas, should be taken into account in the selection of any pipeline leak detection system.
There are a number of internal and external technologies developed over the years to tackle the difficult problem of providing effective pipeline leak detection system. Some external methods are fiber based and others are based on emission detection. Some internal methods are pressure-based, some are flow-based, and many are a combination of the above. The landscape for leak detection technology is vast, and experience has shown that there is no single leak detection technology that is optimum for all pipeline and all cases.
This paper will examine the different pipeline leak detection methods, elaborates on their strengths and weaknesses, and will provide a set of criteria for the proper selection of single or dual technology leak detection system based on the characteristics of the target pipeline system.