'Smart' pipe to scan for underwater oil leaks

Norwegian researchers are developing a 'smart' monitoring system that will continuously scan underwater oil and gas pipelines for leaks, combining the interests of the petroleum industry with those of the marine environment.

Information about the state of the transport arteries lying on the seabed has so far been limited to punctual data from sensors and ROVs. The new system will instead continuously scan the length of a pipeline for structural weaknesses and rust, as well as closely monitoring the flow inside to ensure optimum transmission.

Four oil and gas companies have joined forces with the Research Council of Norway to finance the £3.6 million (41m Norwegian Kroner) project, which will create a "smart pipe" capable of collecting sophisticated data underwater, sending and processing it for day-to-day monitoring, but also storing it to be used in mathematical models.

Experts from the SINTEF research institute and four Norwegian companies specialising in pipeline technology and corrosion monitoring will work together to develop the 'smart pipe' over the next three years.

"We are facing a demanding job. There are major challenges involved in bring power to the sensors and making the sensors and electronics sufficiently robust to withstand the pipe-laying process and the challenging seabed environment, not to mention bringing the data back to the control centres," said Lars Mathisen, vice president of underwater communication company SICOM, one of the research partners.

Once developed, they are hoping for the technology to spread. "Our aim is to develop a system that the participants in the project will be able to commercialise. The level of interest on the part of the oil companies makes it quite clear that we are talking about a future product with a global market," said Lars Mathisen.

As well as acting as an environmental watch-dog, the system will help oil and gas companies predict the lifetime of pipes and enable them to plan ahead.

SINTEF project manager Ole Øystein Knudsen said: "SmartPipe will be an important aid when oil and gas are being produced in sensitive environments like the Arctic. The system will also tell us whether a pipeline's life-cycle can be extended, and if so, what will be needed to do so.

"This is important when we remember that the useful lives of many oil and gas fields are being increased, so that they also need transportation systems with a longer lifetime."

Goska Romanowicz



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