Many different approaches have been adopted for identifying leaks in pipelines. Leak detection systems, however, generally suffer from a number of difficulties and limitations. For existing and new pipelines, these inevitably force significant trade-offs to be made between detection accuracy, operational range, responsiveness, deployment cost, system reliability, and overall effectiveness. Existing leak detection systems frequently rely on the measurement of secondary effects such as temperature changes, acoustic signatures or flow differences to infer the existence of a leak.

This paper presents an alternative approach to leak detection employing electromagnetic measurements of the material in the vicinity of the pipeline that can potentially overcome some of the difficulties encountered with existing approaches. This sensing technique makes direct measurements of the material near the pipeline resulting in reliable detection and minimal risk of false alarms. The technology has been used successfully in other industries to make critical measurements of materials under challenging circumstances. A number of prototype sensors were constructed using this technology and they were tested by an independent research laboratory. The test results show that sensors based on this technique exhibit a strong capability to detect oil, and to distinguish oil from water (a key challenge with in-situ sensors).

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