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July 13, 2012
PRCI Completes Aerial Inspection Technology Field Test Trials for RAM Program
For the past several years, PRCI has been leading a research and development (R&D) program that is directed at automating the monitoring and surveillance of gas and oil pipeline right of way (ROW) corridors. The program is referred to as the Right of Way Automated Monitoring Program, or RAM Program. The RAM Program has broad interest in the pipeline industry, with more than 30 companies within PRCI supporting the program. PRCI recently completed two separate and substantial field test trials of aerial inspection sensor technologies for detecting encroachment of machinery threats and natural gas leaks from energy transmission pipelines as part of the RAM Program. The field trials were implemented to provide simulated conditions for machinery encroachment and gas leaks from a transmission pipeline ROW corridor for an assessment of the capabilities and limitations of sensing technologies that are currently available or are under development. The field trials are an important element of advancing the RAM Program and are described below.
The initial field testing program was conducted in May 2012 and was directed to machinery threat detection. The field test was sponsored by NiSource Gas Transmission and Distribution (NiSource) and consisted of a series of test flights above a baseline ROW corridor with controlled placement of targets, including resolution charts/targets and construction equipment that was staged on the baseline test site ROW. Four separate companies with aerial inspection technology capabilities participated in the field test trials and provided the data to PRCI, which is currently under review. The participating companies were selected based on their current capabilities and state of technology readiness from prior evaluations and technology screening completed as part of the RAM Program. All of the technology systems tested have unique approaches and equipment for capturing imagery that is then analyzed to detect and identify machinery threats on the pipeline ROW, so a range of commercial or near-commercial technologies were covered in the study. The trials included 8 separate test flights, each with the conditions on the ground, with regard to number and types of equipment, geographic placement, orientation, and ground cover and canopy changed from one flight to the next. Each participating company was required to provide a field report following their flight test on the targets identified. This approach allowed for a direct assessment of Probability of Detection, Probability of Falls Calls, and ability to specifically identify different types/classes of threats – e.g., differentiating a relatively small 4-wheel gator from a large excavator.
Data from the field trials has been provided by the participating companies and is under review by PRCI to determine true performance metrics for the technology systems tested. The initial results confirm that there are viable technologies that are approaching performance levels that will PRCI is scheduling close out meetings with the participating companies in August 2012 to provide direct feedback on the performance during the field trials and discuss what corrections may need to be made to the technology systems to improve performance. These meetings will include discussion on possible changes to the flight test protocols to more accurately represent conditions on the ROW and provide the types of conditions where performance in the initial test suggest improvements should be made. Notice will be provided when the close out meetings are scheduled.
In addition to providing data for use in assessing technology performance capabilities, all of the imagery data captured during the flight test trials will be used for further development of threat detection algorithms. The algorithms are a key part of the RAM Program and improving the performance for the automation of detecting and identifying threats to pipeline integrity related to unauthorized encroachment on pipeline ROW corridors and excavation that results in damage to pipelines.
In June 2012, PRCI conducted an Aerial Inspection Technology Field Test Trial to assess the current capabilities of existing and emerging technologies for detecting leaks of gas from transmission ROW corridors using aerial platforms. The field test was sponsored by PRCI member company Enbridge Pipelines/Enbridge Energy Company Inc. (collectively Enbridge) and included participation by five (5) separate companies that expressed interest in participating in the study. As with the machinery threat test trial, each of the technology systems tested are unique, each with a different approach and sensor system/technology used for leak detection and locating. These technologies included three (3) helicopter-based technology packages and two sensors flown on fixed wing aircraft. The field test trials were conducted using two separate, closely-spaced (within miles) gas pipelines operated by Enbridge Energy with a series of controlled gas releases from specified locations, including several releases originating from underground to represent the same conditions that would be encountered if a leak were to occur from a subsurface pipeline. In addition to the controlled gas releases, field conditions were established to simulate liquids releases using crude oil that was allowed to vent to the atmosphere at several locations along the ROW corridors used for the flight tests. The test trials continued for three days and provided multiple test conditions for data collection for each of the participating companies.
The test data are being evaluated to determine the sensitivity (quantification of concentrations) and accuracy (locating leak source) of natural gas leak detection technologies. There will be a coordinated series of meetings with the participating technology vendors to review and discuss the results and provide feedback to them. This collective exchange should provide an understanding on where R&D efforts should be focused to continuously improve gas sensing from aerial platforms. Notice will be provided when the close out meetings are scheduled.
A report will be developed by PRCI that compiles the data obtained during the field trials and provides an assessment of the current state-of-the-art with regard to sensing technologies for gas leak detection from aerial platforms. A web meeting will be scheduled in August or September 2012 to provide a report out to the RAM Program Team after the draft report is complete.
Those interested in participating in the close-out meetings for either the machinery threat detection field trails or the Aerial Inspection Technology Field Test Trials with the participating technology vendors should contact Mark Piazza of PRCI.
PRCI wants to acknowledge the substantial efforts of NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage and Enbridge Pipelines/Enbridge Energy Company for their contributions to support the field trials. Specific thanks from PRCI go to Mr. Mike McCutcheon of NiSource and the entire aviation and operations team in the Gary, IN area and to Mr. Bryan MacKenzie of Enbridge Energy Company and his team in the Mineral Wells, TX area and the Enbridge Leak Detection Team members from Edmonton, AB and Toronto, ON.
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