Early detection of leaks in hazardous materials pipelines is essential to reduce product loss and damage to the environment. Small undetected leaks can result in very high clean-up costs and have the potential to grow to more serious failures. There are a variety of methods that can detect leaks in pipelines, ranging from manual inspection to advanced satellite based imaging. Typically, most operators opt for a combination of CPM where available, and direct observation methodologies including aerial patrols, ground patrols and public awareness programs that are designed to encourage and facilitate the reporting of suspected leaks. Permanent monitoring sensors based on acoustic or other technologies are also available. These methods can be costly, and none can reliably detect small leaks regardless of their location in the line. SmartBall is a radical new approach that combines the sensitivity of acoustic leak detection with the 100% coverage capability of in-line inspection. The free-swimming device is spherical and smaller than the pipe bore allowing it to roll silently through the line and achieve the highest responsiveness to small leaks. It can be launched and retrieved using conventional pig traps, but its size and shape allow it to negotiate obstacles that could otherwise render a pipeline unpiggable. The SmartBall technology was originally developed and successfully implemented for the water industry, and now refined for oil and gas pipelines over 4-inches in diameter. SmartBall has been proven capable of detecting leaks in liquid lines of less than 0.1 gallons per minute where conventional CPM methods can detect leaks no smaller than 1% of throughput. Development work is continuing to reduce the detection threshold still further. Whereas traditional acoustic monitoring techniques have focused on longitudinal deployment and spacing of acoustic sensors, the SmartBall uses only a single acoustic sensor that is deployed inside the pipeline. Propelled by the flow of product in the pipeline, the device will record all noise events as it traverses the length of the pipeline. This allows the acoustic sensor to pass in very close proximity to any leak whereby the sensor can detect very small leaks, whose noise signature can be clearly distinguished from any background noise.

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