When it comes to finding new ways to boost pipeline safety, there's strength in numbers. At least, that was our experience when we partnered with Enbridge and Kinder Morgan to bolster our already-rigorous pipeline integrity program.
By pooling resources, and with some additional funding from the Government of Alberta, we enlisted the services of Edmonton's C-FER Technologies to build an innovative test-bed for leak-detection technology - the External Leak Detection Experimental Research (ELDER) test apparatus.
ELDER, essentially a $1.4 million oil leak box, was designed to solve a major hurdle faced by every company in our industry.
"There are very few places you can dump oil on the ground to test leak detection technologies and not get in trouble, so we built one." - Brian Wagg, C-FER Technology's Director of Business Development
Since it was built in 2014, the ELDER test bed has allowed the joint partnership to evaluate a plethora of leak detection technologies.
"We've had 12 different [leak-detection technology] vendors in the [ELDER] box, testing five different technologies at one time," Wagg continued.
"At the start of a test we tell the vendors, there will be one or more leaks in the box between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Tell us what your equipment detects. We run the ELDER and vendors prepare a report indicating what their sensors picked up."
Based on C-FER's reports, leak detection companies can then refine their systems until they are suitable for implementation on live pipelines.
One exciting area of technology being studied on the ELDER system is leak detection by plane, helicopter and even unmanned drone. In Wagg's words, this is all about "Trying to spot leaks before they get to surface."
For TransCanada, tech being tested on the ELDER system will add new layers to our pipeline integrity program, which already includes a robust program of aerial inspections, 24/7 monitoring and ongoing analysis by smart pigs.
"Aerial leak detection has the potential to enable us to detect smaller leaks sooner. That’s important for the air and the land,” says Thomas Robinson, manager of Technology Management at TransCanada. "It's something we'll add to already wide suite of leak detection technologies. This is another string to our bow."
At the end of the day, why perform this much testing and research?
"For us, this is about much more than just the dollars we're spending," says Robinson. "We work hard to identify the most cutting-edge R&D initiatives that will move the needle for our industry, keep our communities and the environment safe and benefit the people who use the energy we transport.”
In 2016, TransCanada was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Corporate R&D Spenders List by Research Infosource.