Natural gas leakage from unmanned facilities, such as compressor stations, gathering sites, and block valve locations, can pose significant economic and safety impacts. Additionally, methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas with 84 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide on a mass basis over a 20-year period (IPCC 2013). Due to the remote location of many of these facilities, fluid leaks can persist for extended periods of time. Continuous leak detection systems would facilitate rapid identification and repair of leaks. However, existing technologies, such as infrared cameras, are cost-prohibitive to be installed at a high number of sites and are instead used in periodic monitoring as part of leak detection and repair programs. Such periodic monitoring does not provide for quick detection of “fat tail” leaks that dominate the emissions from gathering and transportation systems (Mitchell et al. 2015, Subramanian et al. 2015).

A unique and innovative arrangement of various stakeholders was utilized to initiate a technology development and testing program aimed at expedited deployment of low-cost technologies at high numbers of sites. The technologies targeted for this work were low enough in cost to economically justify the installation of such sensors at every gas gathering and transportation site. This work was driven by an environmental advocacy organization under a partnership with eight different oil and gas companies and technical oversight from various universities, non-profits, and government agencies to give a wide perspective on the needs of such technology.

Four different technologies were developed and tested in realistic release environments. The technologies ranged from sensors modified from automobile-based technology to laser-based systems used for monitoring gases in coal mines. The systems were treated as “end-to-end” units whereby all components (e.g., sensor, data acquisition, enclosures, etc.) needed to perform according to the provided specifications. The testing involved controlled releases under numerous environmental conditions and with different gas compositions. The largest focus of the testing was on outdoor releases where the systems had to detect the transient nature of gas plumes.

The primary objectives of the testing were to determine the readiness of the technologies for pilot testing in the field and identify continuous improvement opportunities. The project demonstrated that there are newly-developed technologies that could be deployed as low-cost continuous monitoring solutions for the gas industry.

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