connectivity matters
oil pipeline July 6, 2012  |  Written by Rajant Corporation

Monitoring Remote Oil & Gas Infrastructure – An Expansive Issue

A series of recent equipment failures and resulting oil spills in Canada has renewed concerns over pipeline safety and monitoring and environmental impact in Alberta and Saskatchewan – particularly in light of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.  Oil sands, in particular, pose new problems in transportation.  They must be cut with chemicals, heated, and pumped at high pressure, which increases the likelihood of a spill.

The larger of the two recent events, in which more than 125,000 gallons of crude oil flowed into a rain-swollen Alberta river comes as efforts continue to clean up an April 2011 pipeline spill of one million gallons of oil.  That leak, one of the largest in Alberta history, occurred in a remote area along a 480-mile, 44-year-old pipeline.   A few weeks later this month, the failure of a piece of equipment on another pipeline resulted in more than 1,400 barrels of oil sands-derived crude leaking in a rural area.

The crux of the problem lies in thousands of miles of aging, unmonitored pipelines and pumping stations operating in geographically dispersed networks across vast areas.  These essential arteries of petroleum transport criss-cross rural Alberta and Saskatchewan, and ultimately link to U.S. networks that deliver the crude to refineries and, ultimately, export.  In Saskatchewan alone, more than 2,000 pipelines span 14,600 miles.

Given the immense physical proportions of oil transport infrastructure, it is virtually impossible (not to mention impractical) to institute any level of human monitoring.  The pipeline systems are supported by a strong regulatory framework, but require better remote monitoring capabilities.

The potential for spills and other dangerous events is far from limited to equipment issues, as illustrated by two recent terrorist events in which a Texas man was apprehended for trying to blow up a gas pipeline, and a Syrian crude oil pipeline was hit by a bomb.

With renewed emphasis on domestic energy production and price containment, the need to effectively monitor the myriad oil and gas infrastructure is more essential than ever. With larger, longer and more vulnerable pipelines planned and proposed, the ability to accurately monitor the condition and health of pipelines, pumping stations, storage facilities and remote extraction sites grows more important every day.

The monitoring applications to make this possible already exist, and can be readily deployed over a self-healing broadband mesh network with no single point of failure.  We’ve discussed the application of Kinetic Mesh Networking technology with oil and gas producers as well as legislators, and progress is being made.  Eventually, this capability will become table stakes for any company involved in terrestrial or offshore oil and gas extraction and transport.

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