This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features JJ Williams and Alex De Joode discussing their collaborative efforts in FOSA and the recent API 1175 revision, as well as fiber optics in the pipeline industry, their numerous benefits and how every new pipeline should be equipped with one.
In this episode, you will learn about what the fiber optics capabilities consist of, how it is useful for damage prevention, pig tracking, temperature testing, and overall leak detection.
FOSA and Fiber Optic Applications Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms:
- JJ Williams is a Global Commercial Director at LUNA Innovations of OptaSense. JJ also serves as Chairman of the Board and Public Policy Committee Chair of FOSA. Connect with JJ on LinkedIn.
- Alex De Joode is the Head of Pipelines & Terminals Business Unit of AP Sensing. Alex also serves as Chairman of the Technical Committee of FOSA. Connect with Alex on LinkedIn.
- FOSA is a non-profit organization created in Washington, DC in 2017, with the mission of educating industry, government, and the public on the benefits of fiber optic sensing.
- Leak Detection is the process of monitoring, diagnosing, and addressing leaks in a pipeline to mitigate risks.
- Fiber Optic is used to monitor well production, determine producing zones, and measure fracture performance.
- Fiber Optic Sensing uses the physical properties of light as it travels along a fiber to detect changes in temperature, strain, and other parameters.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) is a national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry.
- API Recommended Practice 1175 (API 1175) establishes a framework for Leak Detection Program management for hazardous liquid pipelines within the jurisdiction of the U.S. DOT (specifically, 49 CFR Part 195). API RP 1175 is specifically designed to provide pipeline operators with a description of industry practices in risk-based pipeline LDP management and to provide the framework to develop sound program management practices within a pipeline operator’s individual companies.
- API 1130 defines the requirements for leak detection in pipeline operations.
- DAS (Distributed Acoustic Sensing) is a technology that enables continuous, real-time measurements along the entire length of a fiber optic cable.
- Negative Pressure Wave is a method to detect the occurrence and location of leak incidents in a pipeline based purely on the pressure drop due to a leak as it travels up and down the pipeline. Three core technical challenges include data quality, dynamic slope, and false alarms causing changes to normal working conditions.
- The Real-Time Transient Model (RTTM) simulates the behavior of a pipeline using computational algorithms. The model, which is driven by the field instrumentation, monitors discrepancy between the measured and calculated values potential caused by a leak. RTTM uses flow, pressure, temperature, and density among many other variables.
- Cryogenics is the production of and behavior of materials at very low temperatures. Ultra-cold temperatures change the chemical properties of materials.
- Seeping leak is a leak where natural liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons escape to the earth’s atmosphere and surface, normally under low pressure or flow
- SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) though evolving quickly, SCADA is generally a software used to visualize process data, alarms, analytic results, and lately integrating video surveillance, and artificial intelligence.
- Right-of-Way is a strip of land encompassing buried pipelines and other natural gas equipment allowing them to be permanently located on public and/or private land to provide natural gas service.
- Pig Tracking refers to the process of using pig tracker equipment to identify the location of a pipeline pig.
FOSA and Fiber Optic Applications Full Episode Transcript:
Russel Treat: Welcome to the “Pipeliners Podcast,” episode 260, sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing standard operating procedures, training, and software tools for custody transfer measurement and field operations professionals. Find out more about GCI at GasCertification.com
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Vubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time.
To show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Grayson Robertson with Ironwood Midstream. Congratulations, Grayson, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week JJ Williams of OptaSense and Alex De Joode of AP Sensing join us to talk about FOSA and fiber optic applications in pipeline. JJ, Alex, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
JJ Williams: Thank you.
Alex De Joode: Thank you.
Russel: Before we dive in, maybe I’ll ask you guys just to tell us a bit about yourself, who you are, what you do, and just go from there. Alex, do you mind? You could go first.
Alex: Yes. I worked for AP Sensing, a fiber optic sensing company. Before I worked there, I worked a lot for 20 years on pipeline leak detection using other methods, pipeline simulation, and negative pressure waves, and all the other methods. I transitioned into this new type of technology.
Russel: That’s awesome. I did not know that. Being a leak detection guy myself, I’m very intrigued. JJ, same question. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
JJ: Thanks, Russel. I’m JJ Williams. I’m the global commercial director for Luna, which is a global fiber optic sensing manufacturer.
We cover the full range of fiber optic sensing technologies. We have two brands in the pipeline monitoring space, which is OptaSense and LIOS, which does distributed acoustic sensing and distributed temperature sensing. I’ve been with the company for 15 years. Our biggest market is pipeline leak detection.
Russel: Cool. For the listeners’ benefit, you guys are competitors, correct?
JJ: Yeah, that’s right. We see each other on the battlefield, and we also collaborate in the Fiber Optic Sensing Association.
Russel: That’s what I asked you guys to come on and talk about. Maybe I’ll just start there and I’ll ask the question, what is FOSA, and how is it that competitors come together to participate in an industry association like that?
JJ: Well, the Fiber Optic Sensing Association is a nonprofit industry association. It was formed in 2017, and it’s based in Washington, DC. It’s focused on North American awareness and education about the distributed fiber optic sensing technology.
Even though our technology is installed on hundreds of thousands of miles of infrastructure assets, not a lot of people in the public, or in government, or in the agencies know about the technology. FOSA was formed for everybody to get together and work on ways of raising awareness and education about the technology.
In the past five years, we’ve done a lot of good things. We’re about 30 member organizations currently who manufacture fiber optic sensing, or install it, or support it.
Russel: It might be helpful, and I know I didn’t ask this question as we were doing tee-up, but what’s the history of fiber optics? How long has it been around, and how long has industry been using it?
JJ: Alex, do you want to take that one?
Alex: Yeah. Fiber optic, you have to understand, even for telecommunications, it’s quite recent. You couldn’t imagine a world today without fiber optic telecommunications. What happened is this technology is so widespread at the moment because it brings a lot of benefits for telecommunications.
Similarly, fiber optic sensing developed out of this availability of fiber optics everywhere for telecommunications and other purpose. Science made it possible to transform those fiber optic cables into sensing cables.
Basically, you send a laser pulse and analyze the information that comes back. With that, you can have information about acoustics and temperature. It is like if you have acoustic sensors or temperature sensors every so many meters.
It is a really, really impressive technology, and it is, at the moment…It started, say, 20 years ago, and in the last 10 years, it has made a big, big development. To the point now it is a widely used technology, as JJ mentioned, used in hundreds of thousands of kilometers of infrastructure. Power cables, tunnels, and doing all sorts of different things, railway, and pipelines.
Russel: It’s interesting for the listeners, because most people have heard about fiber optic and, certainly, in the U.S., we’re familiar because most of our neighborhoods have had it cabled through. We’re using it to stream videos, and get more Internet, and all that kind of stuff, but there are other capabilities that come along with it.
It’s a relatively – I say relatively – but relatively new technology, and the application, and the cost points, and all that are changing pretty quickly, at least in my experience. You guys think that’s a fair assessment, and where we’re at, and where we’re coming from?
JJ: Yeah, I think that’s fair. As Alex said, it’s about 20, 25 years old as a technology. Like a lot of technologies, some of the first applications were in the military and navy space. Then in the last 10, 15 years, more and more commercialized.
It rapidly progressed into part of the standard toolkit for a lot of engineering designs for infrastructure assets. Of course, like any technology, development, ease of deployment, cost, and ease of managing the data just gets better and better all the time.
Russel: It’s like any technology. As it matures, the capabilities go up, the costs go down, and more and more people begin to understand what it is and how to apply it as that technology matures. What is FOSA, as an organization up to in the pipelining space?
JJ: Well, our members are very active in the pipeline space. It’s probably the biggest market for fiber optic sensing. We have a technology committee that Alex actually chairs. Do you want to just describe what the technology committee does, Alex?
Alex: The technology committee in FOSA is responsible for providing to the general public information about the technology. For instance, currently, we’re involved in making recommendation practice documents for pipeline leak detection, for instance. We bring the experience of all the vendors, and users, in fact, into a document that will be very helpful.
Russel: So similar to what API does with its standards developments, but more focused on the application of fiber optics to pipelining?
JJ: Correct. We also have a public policy committee that I currently chair, which is more focused on stakeholder outreach to the federal government and to the agencies about the technology to raise that awareness and education.
The infrastructure bill that passed last year is obviously a generational amount of money that’s coming into infrastructure, and our technology can support that investment in a number of different ways. There’s been a lot of outreach on that, for example, or in the electric grid, resilience and reliability, we outreach on that a lot.
Those are the two main committees of FOSA. Clearly, pipeline is our biggest market where we’re quite focused on that.
Russel: It’s my understanding that fiber optic for leak detection on greenfield pipeline projects outside of the U.S. is pretty well accepted, but that in the U.S., it’s much less so. Is that correct?
JJ: I think that’s fair assessment, although it is growing in the U.S. I would say that fiber deployment, installing fiber in an open trench during a greenfield construction, it’s less common than overseas, yes.
Russel: That’s certainly my understanding. Let’s talk just a little bit about how you use fiber optics for leak detection. What is it actually doing? How does that technology work? How does it sense a leak? How good is it at knowing the size and location of a leak?
Alex: That targets back on your previous comment, why it’s not so common in America. A lot of the applications use the telecommunication cables outside the United States. Using fiber optic cables for the telecoms of the field instruments is more common outside America.
The cables are used for transmitting information between the pressure sensors and RTOs along the pipeline. I also use it as a sensing cable along the pipeline, but not only for leak detection, for other functionalities as well, which we can discuss later.
How can we detect leaks with this technology? There are a match between the sensing capability and the fact that the leak is there. For instance, if we are using a DAS, Distributed Acoustic Sensing, you have several effects that the leak causes that can be sensed by fiber optic. For instance, negative pressure waves that typically, until the moment to recently, have used pressure sensors only to detect leaks.
You can see those negative pressure waves starting and progressing along the pipeline very well using fiber optic. Obviously, depending on the pressure, you can hear the noise of the leak, both inside the pipe and outside the pipe, especially for gas and high-pressure fluids.
If there is a change in temperature, the most common case, for instance, if the pipeline is insulated because it’s either cold or hot inside the pipe, you can use this change in temperature because the ground on the environment outside the pipe to detect that leak.
This can be done with an accuracy typically of a few meters, which is the reason why, especially in America, this technology is being used as a complementary detection system to improve location. A lot of the traditional systems lack the necessary location accuracy to reduce response time. You know it’s leaking, but within a few kilometers is just not good enough.
We can bring this certainty, even if somebody for instance called, there is a leak, you can immediately check your sensor system and see because you know the position so well and the caller knows its position. It brings a lot to the table in terms of confirming it’s a false alarm, confirming it’s a real leak.
Even on API 1175, it has now been recognized that many pipelines can use a sensor cable, in our case, I’ll give the example, a cryogenic line. You have a very distinct thermal signal of a leak.
You shouldn’t have -10 degrees in Texas in summer, it’s clearly a leak that’s happening there at the moment. Therefore, the distributed temperature sensing can be used as a primary leak detection, or distributed temperature gradient sensing, which are different flavors of the same idea. You’re measuring a change in temperature. That’s very important because…
Russel: You’re seeing a difference in temperature of the ground at one location versus another, where you wouldn’t expect to see that temperature difference.
Alex: Therefore, it can be at the primary leak detection, even.
Russel: How small of a leak can you pick up with this technology?
Alex: It depends. In general, much less than what you can detect using flow meter-based leak detection systems, or flavors of it, including real-time transient models, because you are not really looking at percentage of flow. Percentage wise, if you have a very large diameter, you can detect really, really tiny leaks.
In general, as the finding in API 1175, you have seeping leaks, small leaks, medium leaks. In many cases, or let’s say in most cases, fiber optic sensors can detect seeping leaks. If the fiber is close enough, if it was designed for it, it can detect really minuscule amounts.
Russel: Yeah, that…
Russel: It’s really more about…I think this is one of the things that pipeliners ought to understand about fiber optics.
All the other computerized leak detection where I’m using the SCADA system and the metering, if you’re doing much better than one percent of flow, you’re doing really well. It’s hard to tune a model any tighter than that, but when you start talking about fiber optics, it’s more about absolute leak size.
JJ: Correct, and that’s partly due to the advantage in space and time that we have as a distributed sensor. Over a mile stretch, for example, we’ll have thousands of sensors, even though it’s just light in the fiber, distributed over that section.
We just have that inherent advantage in terms of space and time to be detecting something very quickly, with a high spatial resolution. With the sensitivity of the systems, we can really dial it into small leaks.
Russel: Yeah. When you start talking about being able to find very small leaks, and you’re talking about being able to locate those leaks within a few meters, that’s a step change improvement in what we’re currently able to do with leak detection…
JJ: Yeah, it is.
Russel: …in terms of computerized pipeline modeling.
JJ: Yes, it is significant. As Alex said, it’s also complementary to other techniques. We do not, for example, provide a volume or size of the leak, not with the accuracy of other technologies. That’s one area where our technology is not as strong in terms of size of detecting even the volume of the leak.
Alex: Yes, but if you have flow metering on the pipe, you clearly are doing your mass balance there, and you know your flowing balance, so you clearly see if the leaks is above your threshold of, let’s say, that few percentage that you’re SCADA can see.
If this is below that, you know it’s a small leak or you know what is the flowing balance. The SCADA can give that information. It is a very useful new technology. Also, I can say, working for so many years in this field, it’s the greatest technology that has happened in recent years for leak detection.
I cannot see in the future any pipeline being built, or it’s my recommendation that no pipelines should be built underground without a fiber optic cable attached to it.
JJ: Yeah. When you consider the cost of opening that trench and installing a new pipeline, putting a fiber optic cable in at the same time is pennies on the dollar – cents on the dollar, I should say – to the overall project.
Russel: Right. You brought up 1175. I want to dig into that a little bit deeper. How did FOSA participate in the 1175 revision that recently occurred?
JJ: We’ve participated in about two years of conference calls with the 1175 and 1130 API committee. That was probably around 100 phone calls during COVID, as well. They were typically on Friday afternoons, so I wasn’t always 100 percent tuned in, I will admit that, but there were some points where I was very tuned in.
Things in those committees, there’s a lot of discussion. Particularly when it comes to your technology, you want to be very much engaged. The committee did an excellent job with all the different stakeholders in moving the ball forward and getting that document, the 1175, to a conclusion.
It currently really does provide a good representation of what’s on the market and the best practices for pipeline safety.
Russel: For the listeners that may not know, 1175 is leak detection program management for pipelines. Distinct from 1130, which is very technical and specific to computerized pipeline modeling, it’s really addressing more, what is the comprehensive program and how do you manage a comprehensive program around leak detection.
A couple of the points, Alex, you and JJ have made, resonate with me, which is, hey, we don’t do everything. We’re pretty good at saying you have a leak and where it is, but we can tell you how big it is. You need other mechanisms for that.
Having fiber as a mechanism to confirm a leak…To me, the real challenge in leak response is all the things that happen once you get some kind of notification that you might have a leak, and the analysis you have to go through sometimes quite quickly to know whether or not that’s something you need to respond to.
Certainly, if you look at some of the large situations in the past, well, particularly in 2010 and a couple of years later, there were a number of situations where leaks got worse while people were trying to figure out if they actually had a leak.
JJ: Completely agree.
Russel: One of the things that fiber could do that it would allow people to more confidently say, we have a leak, we need to shut down and mitigate. Which could be pretty significant…
Alex: And the location actually helps too to know which valve to close.
Russel: Yeah, sure. It’s not a small thing, very much not a small thing. What kind of other capabilities does fiber optics provide for pipeliners? You’ve mentioned communications, you’ve mentioned leak detection. What else is there?
JJ: On the same platform typically, you can provide damage prevention. You can use the same system, just different software applications, to automatically detect threats on the right-of-way. You can detect things like excavators or backhoes on the right-of-way.
Those typically are quite unique signatures for engine noise, and ground impacts, and ground disturbance, so we can automatically alert the operator to the threat on the right-of-way on a map basically. That’s done in real-time.
A typical use case is there is a one-call permit list of scheduled activities along pipelines or utilities, and then we provide an alert of construction activity on a right-of-way. Then the operator’s like, oh, my gosh, we don’t have a one-call permit out at this location. Why is there construction near our pipeline? Then they can respond at that point.
Damage prevention is actually a very widely used application that you get at the same time as pipeline leak detection, and is almost used more regularly than leak detection because, thankfully, leaks are so rare. That’s a key application. Alex, do you want to cover the others?
Alex: There are quite a few other applications. That starts with pig tracking, for instance. The advantage of real-time pig tracking using fiber optic is that you see the velocity of the pig at each position. As it speeds down, when it goes up the hill, it speeds up. When it goes down the hill, or passes on crossings, or curves, or when it hits, let’s say, fluids or dirt, it’s a scraper, you can see all of that in real time.
Sometimes, even if the pig got stuck, of course, and if the pig has been stuck for a few seconds, we generate points of interest. There is something there, it might salinement that can cause a leak in the future, why the pig got stopped there for 15 seconds. There is this type of concern.
Some technology, it’s called distributed temperature sensing, can be used to monitor the temperature of the ground. We recently published a paper where this temperature, the ground temperature, is used to enhance the real-time transit models, because ground temperature has the same effect for gas as pressure in the amount of inventories inside the pipe.
For liquids, it’s actually more important than pressure, if the temperature is varying or not. Coming from this background, as I said, on pipelines in Malaysia, I was shocked to see how much the temperature around the pipeline varies. You will be really surprised to see if you’re…
Russel: You’re answering the question that was coming up as you were talking about it. How much change do you have in ground temperature?
Alex: You have a lot. You imagine that you’re going a few thousand meters on a mount, of course, you can see that, but even if you have fields that are changing temperature because of the season, on top of the season, you have the effect of the type of crops that you grow. Corn is very thick, it’s a big insulator. Rice, you have that water and that’s not always there, and so on. It’s really…
Russel: In the summer, the trees have leaves and throw shade, and in the winter, they don’t.
Alex: Which side of the valley you are.
Russel: The illustration you make of going up at one side of a hill and down the other where one side is in the sun and the other isn’t, and you’re in the fall season, I could see that being a very significant change in temperature.
Alex: Normally what happens, what I notice when you’re measuring temperature, even when you talk about global warming and measuring temperature around, what’s happening is, you are measuring temperature in areas that are raised normally, like say the farm or somewhere. The fields are normally lower than those points.
For me, it was very clear that the ground-measured temperatures, not only for pipelines, is very misleading. When you see the temperature measurements around the ground, it’s very, very different from the point measurements.
We can also do other things like measuring temperature for heated pipelines that you are controlling the heat tracing. This type of thing is a big application.
JJ: I do want to mention another application which is quite common, which is ground movement or strain sensing where, for example, we recently did a project above an abandoned mine.
We detected a sinkhole in the middle of a field that the operator was delighted to detect and discover because clearly, that represents a significant threat to the pipeline. Fiber optic sensing can provide strain change detection as well for ground movement.
Alex: I was going to add flow assurance. In some cases, you can have hydrate formation or just accumulation of dirt in switching other applications in crude oil waxing. That instability in the flow can create vibrations around the position. We can hear those using a distributed acoustic system.
For that, especially in some cases, multiphase for instance, it’s another application where this is very challenging for real-time transit models and other negative pressure wave systems to work. We can bring a lot of information, even for operation process control, and these types of things.
Russel: I would assume if you drop a fiber bundle in a trench, you can implement all of these capabilities with that single fiber bundle. You don’t have to have multiple fiber cables for these different capabilities.
JJ: Yeah. Depending on what you’re trying to detect, you may select different cable types or different laser units. Typically, those cables can be dual use, so they can also provide telemetry to connect all of the pipeline automation. Yes, in short, you can do those different applications off the single platform.
Alex: You’re hearing here first, we are about to launch a new initiative to what type of fiber and cable should you consider when you are installing a new pipeline underground. I think this information, regardless of if you want to do this now or later, the cables last for a long time, they don’t cost much, and you should attach them to the pipe or around near the pipe.
This information is very useful and will save a lot of money and headache. You will find this information in FOSA soon.
Russel: Wrapping up this conversation guys, and I often ask the guests to wrap up, but I think for this time, I want to do the wrap up because I’m chewing on all of this, this is a lot of information.
One of the questions I like to ask is what should every pipeliner know? I think my takeaway from this conversation is that there’s a lot of things that you can do with fiber. If you’re doing a new project, you probably need to be talking to the fiber guys about what kinds of capabilities you could do now, and enable later by dropping fiber in the trench.
That’s my takeaway. Fifteen years ago, when I was having this conversation it was quite different, because these applications were not as mature and the cost of the cable was somewhat more. We’re in a very different place now with this technology.
JJ: To answer to that from my side, Russel, I would say an open trench is a window of opportunity. That window of opportunity closes with that trench. Our mantra is always, when you’ve got that trench open, throw in a fiber.
Do the cost-benefit analysis and do the life cycle benefit of that fiber optic cable, not just from a capex view but from a 30 year opex view, all the benefits you’re going to get from that fiber optic cable, not just leak detection or the other applications that Alex and I described, but telemetry as well.
Pipeline automation, but also pipeline in business operations. Those pipelines connect facilities and the fiber itself is a platform technology for digital transformation.
If you’ve got facilities dotted around the country that are connected with fiber, there are so many options for what you can do over that fiber, from communications and business operations, getting data from different parts of your business. All of that starts with putting in a fiber when you can, and when it’s cost effective to do so.
Russel: Yeah. No, that’s right. It opens up a whole universe of new opportunities. Guys, I really appreciate the time.
I also want to say I really think that you guys, as an industry, are to be commended because of the collaboration to work with the customers and work with the technology, and try to figure how to mature it and help deliver solutions, that’s always a lot more than just the tech.
It’s a lot about the people, and the regulatory framework, and the standards, and all those kinds of things that help people get value. Keep up the good work. This is awesome.
JJ: Thanks. I really appreciate the invitation.
Alex: Thank you.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with JJ and Alex.
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