Toward the end of 2017, Southern California Gas Company announced that it had begun installing new technology for pipeline monitoring. SoCalGas developed a fiber optic cable pipeline monitoring system that has never been seen before. The company, which has a number of high-pressure transmission pipelines, will be able to monitor events in real-time.
The first fiber optic installation project will occur with the installation of a new natural gas pipeline. Located in Bakersfield, CA, the pipeline is expected to stretch seven miles. The company anticipates that the fiber optic cables will be able to warn them of any unauthorized construction work that could result in damage to the line, in addition to warning them about pressure changes typically indicative of a leak.
Director of gas engineering for SoCalGas Deanna Haines said that the project was developed in an effort to:
• Modernize the company’s infrastructure
• Reduce the company’s carbon footprint
• Enhance customer safety
Haines continued to say that the fiber optic cable project provided an early warning system that would prove critical in preventing the development of more serious issues.
Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall added that live statistics of high-pressure lines are crucial in helping officials identify problems early. Not only will real-time data help SoCalGas avoid problems, but it will also help fire officials respond to an emergency and come up with a solution quickly.
How Do Fiber Optic Cables Work?
Fiber optic cables will run alongside the pipeline and take readings that will be transmitted back to data centers. Fiber optic cables allow data to be transmitted across long distances, which is crucial in pipeline monitoring. Fiber optics have been proven to excel in leak detection because of their ability to detect the three main variables that signal a leak, which include:
• Abnormal change in temperature
When a fiber optic cable is exposed to any of the above, its light signal will vary. This varying light signal is what will be used to indicate a potential problem. SoCalGas expects fiber optic cables to be able to pinpoint the location of a leak within 20 feet. Data about a potential problem can be transmitted to a data center within seconds.
SoCalGas will need to train crews to decipher information presented to them by the fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables will transmit data if its subject to any of the above changing conditions, but those conditions could also occur without a leak. For example, heavy equipment operation could cause vibrations, and a broken water main could cause stress or abnormal changes in temperature.
Most times, crews will have knowledge of a planned occurrence and can ignore the fiber optic transmissions. If not, swift action could prevent a larger catastrophe. It will be interesting to monitor the success rate SoCalGas has with the project, and whether fiber optic cables can be a reliable method of leak detection moving forward.