Leak Detection

Key Takeaways

  • Pipeline personnel monitor pipeline systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year using patrols, drones and state-of-the-art technology
  • Operators can quickly identify and stop a leak if one is identified using shut-off valves
  • Pipeline employees are regularly trained and tested to ensure they are qualified for their duties

How do pipeline operators detect leaks?

Pipeline operators have multiple ways to detect leaks, from computer-based leak detection systems to regular patrols of the pipeline right-of-way. Pipeline operators conduct physical inspections through regular aerial surveillance by airplane, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) or helicopter. On the ground, inspectors conduct visual evaluations by walking the line, performing maintenance, and inspecting equipment and valves.

The video above shows pipeline operators conducting routine inspections using unmanned aircraft systems.

Control Room

Pipeline engineers keep a constant watch over their pipelines in centralized control centers to know exactly what is happening along the pipeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Highly-trained personnel monitor pipeline systems 24/7/365 from control rooms.

Pipeline sensors and gauges feed data into central control rooms where operator personnel constantly monitor operations on computer displays, similar to Mission Control at NASA. These specially trained professionals monitor pipeline pressure, flow and volume to quickly react to equipment malfunctions, leaks, or other unusual activity along the pipeline. They are trained to shut down systems if they suspect a leak and not restart the pipeline until they can determine the pipeline is safe. Alarm systems also automatically notify control room operators to take action if there abnormal readings from pressure sensors along the pipeline.

How do pipeline operators prevent leaks?

Ongoing inspection and maintenance are the reasons pipeline incidents are so rare. Learn more about how pipeline operators prevent leaks here.

What do operators do if a pipeline is leaking?

Pipeline control rooms monitor safety indicators like changes in pressure, flow and volume along the pipeline. Control room personnel are trained to immediately shut down the affected portion of a pipeline if monitoring technology indicates a potential leak. Seventy-one percent of pipeline incidents were small-volume releases that were contained within operators’ facilities, such as pump stations or tank farms, without affecting people or the environment in 2022. In the event of a pipeline incident, operators deploy their emergency response plans and pipeline field technicians contact local emergency responders to begin coordination. Learn more about Emergency Response here.

How can you help with pipeline safety?

If you see signs of a pipeline problem including dead vegetation, discoloration of the ground or sunken soil over a pipeline or hear hissing or whistling noises, please call 911 and then report it to the pipeline operator at the number listed on the pipeline marker. If you see suspicious activity such as someone turning a valve or attempting to damage a pipeline, contact local law enforcement immediately. See something, say something.