As oil production moves into increasingly deeper waters and more environmentally-sensitive areas, the need for reliable pipeline monitoring increases. The SmartPipe project that has been going on since 2006 aims to develop smart pipeline technology for real-time pipeline monitoring.
SINTEF researchers have developed an entirely new concept for transmitting data via a belt containing a series of sensors designed to measure pipeline wall thickness, tension, temperature, vibration and acceleration.
Sensor belts have been fitted to the new pipelines at 24-meter (78 ft) intervals. There is a thick insulating jacket containing polypropylene around the outside of the steel pipe sections carrying the well stream. It is here that the electronics are concealed, and along which the data is transmitted wirelessly either onshore or to a platform.
At Orkanger, 250 meters (820 ft) of pipe will be deployed in the sea for testing. This is just a small fraction of the length of a real oil pipeline, many of which are more than 100 kilometers long.
However, it’s long enough for the researchers to find out what they’re looking for. If the electronics package can survive being underwater, will the pipeline behave as it should after being through a production process involving temperatures as high as 200 degrees Celsius (392 °F)? And will the sensors succeed in transmitting data to personnel onshore?
A consortium of companies from the Trondheim area is planning to commercialize the smart pipline technology. Siemens is responsible for the equipment which takes care of transmission from the pipeline to the oil companies. Bredero Shaw in Orkanger manufactures the pipelines and will install the equipment. Force Technology interprets the data and Norbitech in Røros has manufactured the electronics. The company ebm-Papst in Oslo has supplied the system’s battery packs.
“Today, all pipeline status monitoring is based on regulations” says Project Manager Ole Øystein Knudsen at SINTEF. “Everything is based on safety guidelines and five-yearly inspections. The new self-monitoring pipelines provide us with a continuous data stream and will allow us to maintain the condition of a pipeline in an entirely different way, enabling us to respond to problems at an early stage”, he says.
One example Knudsen cites is the monitoring of small concentrations of anti-corrosion additives. The new smart pipeline technology makes it possible to detect errors in the additives at an early stage and make corrections.
“Another important issue is the monitoring of unsupported sections along a pipeline”, says Knudsen. “These sections may start to swing and incur fatigue fractures due to the undulating sea floor, but the new pipes will enable us to prevent this situation”, he says.