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Fiber Optic Sensing Association Applauds Pipeline Agency for R&D on External Leak Detection

Fiber Optic Sensing Association
Contact: Mark Uncapher
(202) 423-5344

Fiber Optic Sensing Association Applauds Pipeline Agency for R&D on External Leak Detection
PHMSA takes first step toward Recommended Practice Document for External Leak Detection 

WASHINGTON DC - July 25, 2017 - The Fiber Optic Sensing Association (FOSA) today applauded the U.S. Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for promoting research and development on pipeline safety, including taking the first step in developing a Recommended Practice document for external pipeline leak detection. The PHMSA call for R&D papers also refers to installation methods for external leak detection systems, which is a current focus of FOSA's own technology committee.

In addition, PHMSA's R&D focus indicates a serious effort to establish safe and cost-effective methods to retrofit external leak detection systems for existing pipelines, which is significant because older pipelines often are at greater risk of leaking than newer pipelines.

"We are delighted to see the agency continue its R&D efforts in this technology space," said Mark Uncapher, FOSA Director. "Dramatic improvements in pipeline safety are possible today through external pipeline monitoring technologies like fiber optic sensing, with many systems already deployed and in operation. That PHMSA is taking this first step in the development of a Recommended Practice document for external systems is a clear indicator of the maturity this economical technology is gaining in the pipeline industry, as more and more operators embrace the benefits of real time monitoring and threat detection. This project will develop technology requirements and performance standards, increasing understanding and best practices on both the vendor and operator sides of the market."

PHMSA recently invited proposals for R&D projects in a number of topics relating to pipeline safety.  Some projects will be funded by the federal government up to 100% of cost, while other will be funded up to 50% of cost.

Fiber optic sensing uses laser interrogation of a fiber optic cable to create an array of thousands of sensors measuring changes in sound, vibration, strain or temperature. The resulting data pinpoints the exact location of events and conditions occurring near the cable, even when miles away from the interrogator.  Unlike point sensors, distributed fiber optic sensing utilizes the entire length of the fiber as one continuous sensor.  Fiber optic sensing is not constrained by line of sight or remote power access.  

"This technology dramatically improves pipeline safety," said Stan Fendley of Corning, chairman of FOSA's board of directors.  "It is extremely sensitive, detecting the faintest sounds, strains and temperature changes indicative of pipeline leaks.  It works 24/7 and pinpoints the location of leaks to within 10 meters.  Perhaps most importantly, it can help avoid leaks altogether by  alerting pipeline operators to errant backhoe work and other conditions that, if known, can be stopped before damage occurs."

"For a tiny fraction of total pipeline cost, you have a detection system that is constantly working for you," said Fendley.  "The system pays for itself by reducing costs and avoiding fines, not to mention the protection of communities and the environment."

Globally, an estimated 25,000 miles of pipelines are protected by fiber optic sensing.  One of the longest pipelines in the world, a 1000-mile pipeline carrying gas from Azerbaijan across Turkey and Georgia to Europe, is currently under construction incorporating fiber optic sensing.

Uncapher pointed to a January 2017 announcement by SoCalGas that it will include fiber optic leak detection on all new trunk lines as an indication that pipeline operators in North America are recognizing the exceptional value of fiber optic leak detection systems compared to current industry standards.  In addition, Uncapher noted, numerous pilot projects of the technology are underway in the United States and Canada.

"Pipelines are a critical part of modern infrastructure and North America's economic future," said Uncapher.  "As an organization whose members include the world’s foremost experts in fiber optic sensing technology, we stand as a resource to the industry in protecting pipeline infrastructure from activities and conditions that can lead to leaks.  We look forward to working with both PHMSA and industry to make pipelines safer and more efficient.”  

About the Fiber Optic Sensing Association.  The Fiber Optic Sensing Association is dedicated to accelerating the deployment and use of advanced optical fiber sensing technologies for monitoring pipelines, power lines, railways, borders, roads, and other critical infrastructure and facilities. FOSA members include Adelos, AFL, Asymmetric Technologies, Corning, Ditch Witch, Dura-Line Corporation, Fotech Solutions, Frauscher Sensor Technology USA Inc., Integrated Roadways, LIOS Technology, OFS, Omnisens, OptaSense, OZ Optics and Prysmian. For more information about FOSA, its mission, members and programs, please visit the Fiber Optic Sensing Association website. FOSA is affiliated with the Fiber Broadband Association.  

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