Smart oil pipes equipped with sensors capable of reporting their condition in real time to onshore control rooms are being tested in a Norwegian sea.
Developed by a consortium of Norwegian and European companies and research institutions, the SmartPipe project is looking for a convenient pipe-inspection solution suitable for current oil production, which is moving into deeper waters and frequently crosses environmentally sensitive areas.
During the testing, a 250m long pipe will be deployed at Orkanger, to test the technology. In real operation conditions, such a pipeline would be more than 100km long.
"Today, all pipeline status monitoring is based on regulations. Everything is based on safety guidelines and five-yearly inspections," said Ole Øystein Knudsen, the SmartPipe project manager at the Scandinavian research institute SINTEF.
"The new self-monitoring pipelines provide us with a continuous data stream and will allow us to maintain the condition of a pipeline in an entirely different way, enabling us to respond to problems at an early stage", he said.
The pipeline is fitted with sensor belts every 24 metres. The sensors gather data about the pipeline wall thickness, tension, temperature, vibration and acceleration, which are then wirelessly sent to onshore control rooms.
The project, having been under development since 2006, has the ambition to become the world’s first available technology of its kind with global potential.
If the underwater testing is successful, companies supporting the project, including Siemens, will move towards commercialising the SmartPipes.
According to Knudsen, the system could be used, for example, to monitor small concentrations of anti-corrosion additives or detect errors in the additives to make corrections.
"Another important issue is the monitoring of unsupported sections along a pipeline", says Knudsen. "These sections may start to swing and incur fatigue fractures due to the undulating sea floor, but the new pipes will enable us to prevent this situation", he said.