Detecting oil and gas leaks along thousands of kilometers of pipelines, refineries, airports and other critical national infrastructure is an expensive and time consuming practice. In many cases, it involves the use of manual labor to either use cameras or to point wander around with electronic gas sniffers. But even in areas where manual labor is impractical, eg remote areas, and digital sensors are used but these have to be placed at distances which are quite often far apart.But now, to avoid these issues, a new company has started using fiber-optic cable to detect leaks. Traditionally fiber-optic cables are used to transmit data using laser light. Using a similar technology, Optasense has developed a system which fires a laser 10,000 times a second from ‘interrogator’ units, installed up to 50km apart, at 4,000 virtual sensors. These interrogators detect the naturally occurring rayleigh backscatter from the pulses to analyze to the difference in pattern in a similar way to sonal interpreting the changes in echo to detect objects on the sea bed.
One of the advantages of this system is that of cost which is greatly reduced because it can use the existing telecommunication fiber backbone, so commonly installed in environments which require the transmission of data.
As Magnus McEwen-King, managing director of Optasense said “We turn the existing fiber for communications into a nervous system, dramatically reducing the costs associated with the sensor network and making much better use of the fiber and the organization’s response mechanism.”
By utilizing existing backbone technology, this technology can be deployed quickly and easily and can detect leaks in real time, therefore preventing accidents, reducing precious manpower and enabling a quick resolution of the problems.