Data Analytics Leverages Pipeline Safety, Cost Reductions

By María José Goytia | Mon, 08/29/2022 - 09:00

Through the power of data analytics, leak management solutions can decrease functional risks at gas utilities and improve operational costs by creating savings in the company’s maintenance budget. In an effort to encourage utilities to apply technology in their favor, Picarro has created and developed its Risk Ranking Analytics, which is tailored to improve risk management and assessment of gas assets.

Methane plumes from natural gas leaks have unique, measurable signatures. This allows Picarro to rank indicators by potential risk. By combining data collected by a patrolling Picarro vehicle, Picarro’s Risk Ranking Analytics allows utilities to maximize operational efficiency by prioritizing leak indicators that are most likely to be Grade-1 and Grade-2 leaks. In addition, these analytics can screen out indicators from small, nonhazardous leaks, effectively prioritizing those that are urgent and, therefore, reducing leak backlogs and repair costs.

“The main criteria are gas concentration versus air ratio, which is directly related to the capability of a potential explosion, whether the leak is located inside or outside a confined area, and what is around the leak in terms of people and properties,” says Malvin Delgado, Director of Sales and Client Engagement at Picarro.

Traditional leak survey tools and processes often miss priority leaks, even when they are handled by the most skilled personnel. Applying highly sensitive technologies can identify excessive leaks, which can dramatically increase leak repair budgets. If there is no clear hierarchical system, leak backlogs may also increase because all leaks found must be scheduled for repair according to severity. While smaller leaks can become an issue, they are a second or third priority behind those that could potentially cause a major problem.

Picarro considered all these factors and designed its Risk Ranking Analytics, a leak management solution that leverages the power of data analytics to prioritize leak indicators by potential risk. Since the system can identify and locate the most important leaks quicker and more efficiently than other tools available, Picarro’s solution accomplishes leak survey cost reductions and improves infrastructure safety by isolating the most important leaks so crews can prioritize repair work.

“Picarro collects data using Advance Mobile Leak Detection techniques, employing a vehicle that conducts multiple patrols, taking in air from in front of it and measuring certain environmental variables along the pipeline infrastructure. The vehicle is equipped with an advanced analytics module, which uses laser technology to detect natural gas in the analyzed air. There is also an anemometer on top of the vehicle to measure the speed and direction of the air, together with a submetric precision GPS that provides real-time location of the measured variables,” says Delgado. Collected data is sent in real time to the cloud to be processed by specialized software that uses data science and expert systems over a digital twin of the pipeline infrastructure to determine and rank the risk associated with the leaks found.

To assign a risk score to an individual natural gas leak plume, Picarro’s Risk Ranking Analytics uses several measurable qualities of these plumes, such as methane concentration, methane flow rate (emissions rate), ethane-to-methane ratio and plume size and shape. Soon after, a mathematical model is able to use these measured plume signatures to predict the likelihood of a given plume being associated with a leak of a particular level of risk. This classification is achieved by using a training dataset from a particular utility to adjust the model parameters to properly predict risk for the specific leak grading criteria used by that utility and to account for specific details of that particular distribution network.

After all the data is collected, leak survey managers can run Picarro’s Risk Ranking Analytics, which transforms data into actionable results for leak investigators. This can be done on a schedule that avoids overburdening emergency response crews. Armed with the indications and locations that are most likely to lead to urgent leaks, crews can maximize their impact while keeping costs and backlogs under control.

Picarro’s solution improves operational safety in addition to creating relevant budget savings. By reducing construction costs associated with non-hazardous leaks, Risk Ranking Analytics is able to achieve significant reductions in a utility’s operational leak management budget. Since non-hazardous leaks may not require repair, they can be safely removed from the set of leaks that would normally be identified for investigation and repair without the use of analytics. Once non-hazardous leaks are removed from the tally, the overall leak repair budget decreases, leading to significant savings while simultaneously reducing risks.

Risk Ranking Analytics can also reduce labor costs by facilitating the prioritization of labor for investigation and repair. In most countries, regulatory bodies still require human validation or in-person investigation of leaks when they are found, regardless of what type of technology is used for detection. With the help of data analytics, resources are directed first to the most urgent leaks, minimizing unplanned work and reducing overtime costs. Analytics also allows utilities to transition to a risk-based survey framework, which increases survey frequencies in the highest-priority areas.

“The Picarro solution, which includes the Risk Ranking Analytics Module, requires a very low investment when compared to the liability associated with damages to people or properties due to potential effects of a Grade 1 leak,” says Delgado. “The opportunity cost of investment becomes attractive, as savings are immediately created and emergency response expenditure is also drastically reduced.”

While in-person evaluations are being modified in the US, Europe and Asia, human participation in leak assessments remains key. To transform the process into a more efficient experience, additional countries are starting to bet on data analytics and technology to improve safety and optimization in their gas operations. Picarro’s solutions, including the Risk Ranking Analytics Module, are being evaluated by gas utility companies in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, with specific plans by at least four companies in the region to start using this solution by the end of 2022. “In Mexico, one important company in the northern region of the country has finished a field trial of Picarro’s solution. We believe this technology will be actively serving the Mexican gas infrastructure in 2023,” Delgado said.

Photo by:   Picarro
María José Goytia María José Goytia Journalist and Industry Analyst