Reliable detection of small potential leaks is a topic of significant interest for remote offshore pipelines. Potential leak cases of interest are pinhole leaks out of the bottom of the pipe due to corrosion, weld or seam cracks, or damage due to third-party contact. There are several emerging technologies that may have the potential to provide a means of detecting such leaks over long segments of underwater pipe. These technologies include distributed acoustic and distributed temperature sensing.

A key element of evaluating the applicability of these systems is to characterize the behavior of leaks. It is critically important to understand how leaks behave when employing a technology that has only been previously used for other conditions. A joint-industry program was initiated to evaluate the thermal and acoustic behavior of hypothetical underwater leaks. The environments studied range from shallow, Arctic applications to deep offshore installations.

Analytical models were assessed to predict the jetting behavior of simulated leaks and their near-field thermal response. This analysis was performed for both liquid and gas media. These models were validated by means of laboratory experiments. Acoustic characteristics of hypothetical liquid and gas leaks were determined by means of testing with hydrophones.

This information can be leveraged by a number of technologies as the data are independent of the measurement mechanism. While the motivation of this work is to evaluate distributed fiber-optic systems, the data on leak characteristics may also provide indications on applicability of other techniques for detecting potential underwater leaks. The data from this project will allow the industry to improve the understanding of potential leaks from underwater pipelines and, hence, lay the foundation for determining appropriate detection systems.

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