Maintaining Pipeline Integrity through Effective Leak Detection

Emerson's Marc Buttler

Pipeline infrastructure here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world go back many decades. With the rapid technology advancements in oil & gas exploration and production and increasing production levels, some of these pipelines are at capacity limits and new pipelines are being planned & built.

Maintaining the integrity of these pipelines is paramount for safety and the environment. I received a great presentation from Emerson’s Marc Buttler on the subject of pipeline leak detection that I wanted to recap in this post.

There are many standards and guidelines governing leak detection. Here are some of the most prominent ones:

When considering pipeline monitoring technologies, criteria should include monitoring sensitivity, reliability, robustness, accuracy, response time and system cost. To achieve the sensitivity, reliability, accuracy and robustness criterion, hybrid leak detection systems have either multiple systems with separate alarming or integrated systems with common alarming.

The statistical method of leak detection analyzes pressure and flow deviations. This approach is relatively simple to install but hard and expensive to tune and lacks sensitivity, reliability and accuracy.

The pressure wave leak detection method measures a wave in the fluid caused by a leak. This method provides high accuracy and detection time and is good for larger leaks. Accuracy is lacking for small leaks and theft and this method is not as robust or reliable.

The real-time transient model (RTTM) leak detection method performs a volume balance calculation based upon the inflow and outflow less the volume packing rate. This method has good sensitivity, accuracy, robustness and reliability but takes more to install than other methods.

PipelineManager solution for real-time pipeline monitoring

Some other methods include mass balance and model-compensated mass balance and rarefaction wave.

RTTM is the best solution for internal natural gas leak detection. It is the only technology that addresses all the API 1130 criteria. It uses time averaging periods to detect various sizes of leaks—short periods for large leaks and long periods for small leaks. Dynamic alarm thresholds are set to minimize the chance of false alarms. Location of the leaks is calculated by the proportion of upstream and downstream imbalance.

A typical architecture includes real-time and historical databases from the SCADA or DCS system controlling the pipeline, operator and engineering stations, Emerson’s PipelineManager software performing real-time leak detection with a primary and secondary real-time model server, VisualPipeline operator stations and accessories for backup and printing.

Visit the Pipeline Integrity & Leak Detection section on for more on ways to maintain pipeline integrity. You can also connect and interact with other pipeline operation and management experts in the Oil & Gas group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.