Methane is an important source of energy for homes and businesses around the country. A vast network of pipelines traverse thousands of miles and connect these premises to methane repositories, ensuring everyone can heat their property, access hot water and cook their food when they wish to do so.
Unfortunately, maintaining such a complex infrastructure necessarily entails logistical issues, especially as time progresses and the pipes in question begin to suffer from wear and tear. For those reasons, leakages are inevitable and can never be completely prevented, but rather managed and minimised as best as possible. Leak detection and repair (LDAR) technologies can play a vital role in mitigating the damage caused by such events in the energy sector.
While a leakage might not sound like it would incur a significant volume of emissions, the fact that they occur so regularly and so widely means that they add up to a substantial cumulative impact. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that methane emissions from the energy sector are equivalent to around 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, highlighting the scale of the issue.
Meanwhile, these kinds of leakages are not just damaging in ecological terms. By allowing product to escape into the atmosphere, the companies which extract and distribute them are losing billions of dollars on an annual basis. And that’s even before the human cost is factored in, since methane leaks can precipitate catastrophic disasters like the Buncefield gas storage facility explosion in 2005.
It’s for this reason that methane monitoring is a must in the energy sector. Via adequate sensing and analysis hardware, plant and pipeline owners can keep tabs on where and when leaks are arising and take appropriate action to repair them in a timely manner. In recent years, implementing these kinds of monitoring systems has become a legal requirement in many countries around the globe.
In the USA, for example, last year saw the introduction of the ‘Protecting the Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act’ (PIPES). This landmark piece of legislation obliged companies in the States to conduct regular LDAR programmes and adopt the latest technology aimed at identifying, managing and preventing leaks from happening in the first place.
This technology has become increasingly sophisticated in the past few years. One of the most exciting developments has been the advent of mobile analytical technology, which could provide the answer to effective natural gas leak detection. That’s because static systems can help to ascertain whether a leak has occurred, but they are less effective in pinpointing its exact location.
Mobile analytical technology, by contrast, can move freely along the length of the pipeline and detect the root cause of the leak with relative ease. This is achieved either by attaching a high-sensitivity analyser to a vehicle or airborne platform and analysing the airways as it moves, then cross-referencing those findings with data collected by other technologies, such as GPS monitoring and mapping software. In this way, forward-thinking LDAR technologies can minimise the time that a leak is allowed to go undetected and prevent emissions from reaching an unacceptable level.