Go-ahead for smart oil pipelines

Oil and gas pipes equipped with sensors to check pipeline status in real-time have been successfully tested by Norwegian researchers and could soon be installed offshore.

SmartPipe, the six-year programme, has been developed to transmit data to shore from submerged pipes as oil production moves into deeper and more environmentally sensitive waters.

After 200 metres of pipeline were laid in Orkanger harbour, Norway last year to find out whether the sensors remained intact and succeeded in transmitting the data, the researchers announced “the tests were successful”.

“Pipes are stretched and deformed during such tests, and because the electronics are vulnerable to bending, some of the sensors were destroyed,” Ole Oystein Knudsen, project manager, said.

“But now that we know what happened we can make some small modifications to better protect the electronics.”

Condition monitoring is traditionally based on safety measures and inspections made sporadically and the aim of the SmartPipe project has been to obtain real-time continuous information.

Belts were installed around the pipelines packed with numerous sensors which measure pipewall thickness, tension, temperature and vibration. The sensor belts are located at 24-metre intervals along the length of the pipeline.

A thick insulating layer of polypropylene covers the outside of the steel pipe construction and this is where the electronics are concealed. It is also through this layer that wireless data transmissions can be sent either onshore or to the production platform.

Another important consideration is the monitoring of free-span sections of pipeline. In areas of undulating seabed, free-span sections may start to swing in response to marine currents.

“The new pipes mean that we can measure fatigue development and thus get accurate estimates of pipeline lifetimes,” Knudsen said.

The SmartPipe project was initiated in 2006 when the Research Council of Norway and a consortium of oil companies joined forces to fund the research programme.

The project partners are Sintef, Force Technology, Bredero Shaw, ebm-papst, Siemens Subsea, Technip, Eni, ConocoPhilips, Petrobras and Total.

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