You are on page 1of 13

OTC 23070

Fiber Optic Leak Detection Systems for Subsea Pipelines

Benjamin Eisler, Genesis and Glenn A. Lanan, INTECSEA
Copyright 2012, Offshore Technology Conference

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas, USA, 30 April3 May 2012.

This paper was selected for presentation by an OTC program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Offshore Technology Conference and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Offshore Technology Conference, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Offshore Technology Conference is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of OTC copyright.

This paper summarizes leak detection technologies available for use on subsea pipelines and the potential role of fiber optic
cable (FOC) integrity monitoring systems to improve leak detection capabilities. Available systems which monitor offshore
pipelines for potential leaks based on internal flowrates and pressures are described along with their limitations for rapidl y
detecting small leaks. Alternative pipeline leak detection technologies which have been used on some specialized subsea
pipeline projects to supplement the capabilities of these flow-based systems are also described along with their limitations.
The potential for modern FOC distributed sensing technologies to fill the remaining leak detection capability gaps is then
There is increased interest in improving leak detection system capabilities throughout the pipeline industry. However, the
primary application of this paper is for offshore pipeline projects which may not be adequately covered by conventional flow-
based leak detection systems and supplemental monitoring for potential oil sheens visible on the sea surface. These
applications include deep water pipelines, where potential oil leaks may not reach the surface until miles away from the
source, and subsea arctic pipelines, which could slowly lose significant oil volumes under the cover of winter sea ice. Other
potential applications include subsea field developments and pipelines installed in unusually sensitive marine environments.
Distributed FOC sensor systems can monitor real-time temperature, acoustic noise/vibration and strain along many miles
of pipeline. Changes in any one of these monitored parameters can indicate a leak event or other potential integrity threat s to
a pipeline. An overview of FOC systems already installed on offshore pipeline projects and the current testing status of FOC
systems for pipeline leak detection are provided. Recommendations for installation and implementation of the available FOC
technologies for subsea pipeline leak detection are summarized.
The limited applications of distributed fiber optic cable (FOC) monitoring systems on subsea pipelines have not yet been
used specifically for leak detection purposes. The leak detection thresholds defined for FOC systems and the procedures for
design, installation and system repair will facilitate the use of FOC systems to help ensure leak free pipeline operations.

Internal leak detection systems have historically been used for permanently installed, long-term leak detection monitoring of
subsea pipelines. These systems monitor internal parameters, such as internal pressures and/or flowrates based on internal
pressure, temperature, density, and/or flowrate instrument measurements. Discrepancies between the measured parameters
and the operating trends or calculated operating predictions are used to alert the pipeline operator of a potential leak event.
However, the instruments are typically located only at the ends of a pipeline segment, remote from an actual leak location.
This has some effect on sensitivity. Instrument inaccuracies also introduce error in the measured parameters. Selecting the
alarm settings of these internal type leak detection systems for very small leaks may result in an unacceptable number of false
alarms (nuisance alarms) due to their achievable sensitivity and this inherent error. Therefore, alarm settings for these
systems are set-high enough (for large enough leaks) to minimize false alarms. Leaks that are smaller than the alarm settings
(minimum leak detection thresholds) may continue undetected by these systems. Periodic over-flights or vessel observations
from areas with subsea pipelines are then relied upon to observe oil sheens from potential leaks that fall below a systems
minimum detection threshold.
A chronic leak from a deep-water pipeline may manifest as an oil sheen on the water surface miles away from the leak
source due to currents. There may be a time delay in determining the source of the oil sheen, especially if multiple pipelines
are located near the observed oil sheen or if there are local subsea field developments.
Subsea arctic projects are unique in that ice covers the oceans water surface for several months or more during winter
[Ref. 5]. A chronic leak that falls below a systems minimum leak detection threshold may persist undetected under the ice,
2 OTC 23070
accumulating a large volume of oil before the leak is discovered by alternative means when the ice breaks up. The oil
volume from a chronic leak may exceed the volume released from a complete pipeline rupture by several orders of magnitude
[Ref. 5].
For these reasons, it is desirable to improve the detection coverage for small chronic leaks that may be smaller than the
minimum leak detection thresholds of internal leak detection systems. Localized parameters that can occur outside of a
pipeline include noise, temperature changes, presence of hydrocarbons, and pipeline strain. External leak detection systems
and technologies, which locally monitor conditions occurring outside of a pipeline, may improve sensitivity and achieve
reduced leak detection thresholds compared to internal leak detection systems.
Factors affecting external leak detection technology applicability include: commercial availability, cost, installability,
maintainability, length limitations, depth limitations, and defining / verifying the actual achievable minimum leak detection
threshold of distributed fiber optic systems.

Commercially Available leak Detection Systems
The numerous commercially available leak detection systems can be categorized as either internal-type leak detection
systems or external-type leak detection systems. Some require periodic survey inspections of the pipelines in the form of
periodic pig runs with an acoustic sensing tool or periodic ROV surveys of a pipeline route. Others are more suited for
onshore applications. The following is a summary of the technologies that can be permanently installed with the pipelines
and are considered suitable for subsea leak detection applications. External leak detection systems in the general category of
remote sensing are not addressed in this paper because of their reduced applicability for deep water and subsea arctic

Internal Leak Detection Systems

Mass Balance with Line Pack Compensation
Pressure Trend Monitoring
Real Time Transient Monitoring
Pressure Safety Low (PSL)
Periodic Shut-In Pressure Tests
Pressure Wave / Acoustic Wave Monitoring

External Leak Detection Systems

Vacuum Annulus Monitoring
Hydrocarbon vapor Sensing Systems
Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) Fiber Optic Cable Systems
Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) Fiber Optic Cable Systems
Distributed Strain Sensing (DSS) Fiber Optic Cable Monitoring Systems (not necessarily a leak detection system)

Internal Leak Detection Systems
Internal leak detection systems rely on internal pressure, temperature, flowrate, and/or density measurements. They are
sometimes referred to as computational leak detection systems. However, there are also external leak detection systems that
rely on computations to monitor pipelines for leaks.

Mass Balance with Line Pack Compensation (MBLPC)
MBLPC is an accounting method that compares the flow entering a pipeline system to the flow leaving a pipeline system.
The flowrates are adjusted for temperature and pressure measurements at the inlet flow meter, outlet flow meter, and any
flow meters in between. This type of system works well and can achieve leak detection thresholds that are less than 1% of
flow within single phase pipelines, especially if daily accounting over multiple days is performed. The system does not
provide as low of a minimum leak detection threshold limit capability for multi-phase pipelines as it does on single phase
pipelines. Multi-phase meters have worse flow measurement accuracies than most single phase flow meters, and multi-phase
pipelines have greater variations of liquid hold-up. Pressure trend monitoring or real time transient analysis monitoring may
provide better leak detection threshold limits for multi-phase pipelines.
MBLPC is currently being used in combination with pressure trend monitoring (Pressure Point Analysis) to monitor the
BP Northstar pipelines [Ref. 5 & 8]. To detect leaks below the leak detection thresholds of this combined MBLPC/PPA
system, the LEOS vapor sensing system was installed as a secondary external leak detection system for the detection of small
chronic leaks.

OTC 23070 3
Pressure Trend Monitoring
Pressure trend monitoring uses pressure measurements to monitor operating trends in the pipeline. If a set of parameters does
not match historical trends, an alarm is triggered. Pressure trend monitoring systems tend to catch larger leaks faster t han
MBLPC on single phase liquid pipelines, but pressure trend monitoring systems may have larger (worse) leak rate detection
threshold limits than MBLPC systems for single phase pipelines. EFA technologies Pressure Point Analysis (PPA) is an
example of pressure trend monitoring. It is being used in combination with MBLPC, and is supplemented by the LEOS
vapor sensing system.

Real Time Transient Monitoring
Real time transient monitoring involves analyzing flow conditions based on flowrate, pressure, and temperature data obtained
from instruments and meters to estimate flow conditions along the pipeline. These estimates are performed on a real-time
basis and are compared to the flowrate, pressure, and temperature measurements at the various instruments and meters. If
estimates differ enough from actual measurements, then an alarm is triggered. These systems are still prone to accuracy
limitations of instruments, and there is a limiting leak detection threshold. Real time transient monitoring may be a good
choice for multi-phase pipelines.

Pressure Safety Low
Pressure safety low (PSL) monitoring is one of the more common leak detection monitoring methods employed on non-arctic
pipeline projects. Although a formal leak detection software system is not part of the system, logic controllers linked to
pressure transmitters are used. Pressure alarm settings are set below the normal operating pressure ranges that occur at
locations where a pressure transmitter is acquiring pressure measurements (usually near the inlet and outlet of a pipeline). A
large enough leak may cause the pressure at the inlet and/or outlet of the pipeline to fall below the normal operating pressure
range and the low pressure alarm setting, thereby triggering an alarm that a leak may have occurred. To avoid false alarms,
PSL alarm settings are set low enough below the normal operating pressure range of a pipeline. A leak must be large enough
to drop the pressure at one or more of the pressure transmitters in the pipeline below the PSL alarm setting. Typically, large
leaks have been detected with PSL systems, and very small leaks have gone undetected until sheens on the water surface
were visually observed during over-flights of the pipeline routes.
PSL monitoring is a relatively imprecise monitoring option. Between the years of 1990 and 2001, there were 21 leaks
reported from Gulf of Mexico pipelines that used PSL monitoring as a primary means of leak detection. Of these 21 leaks, 5
were detected and alarmed by the PSL monitoring systems. The remaining 16 were primarily small leaks that were
discovered by some other means, such as a visual observation of an oil sheen on the water surface [Ref. 4].

Periodic Shut-In Pressure Tests
Periodic shut-in pressure tests are sensitive tests that can have a leak detection threshold that approaches zero. It may catch
all leaks, including chronic leaks. It can be utilized for pipelines that have periodic batch flows where the flow requirements
allows periodic shut-down of the pipeline over a period of time that can support shut-in pressure tests. However, pipeline
shut-downs are not compatible with most oil and gas applications, and this is especially true for deep-water and arctic
developments. The cold temperatures and their potential impact on hydrates, increased wax deposition, and oil pour point
issues may economically and technically limit the ability to perform periodic pressure tests on a developments pipeline

Pressure Wave / Acoustic Wave Monitoring
Pressure wave / acoustic wave leak detection systems monitor the pipeline for the rarefaction wave generated by the onset of
a leak. When a leak starts, a drop in pressure occurs locally at the leak and travels at the speed of sound through the fluid to
both ends of the pipeline. Monitoring this pressure change when it reaches the pressure transmitters at each end of a pipeli ne
allows for detection and location of a leak. Pressure trend monitoring systems can also detect this event. However, pressure
wave monitoring systems that solely rely on the pressure wave, as opposed to more subtle changes in the historical pressure
trends, may not detect as small of a leak as pressure trend monitoring systems. Once the wave passes, pressure wave /
acoustic monitoring systems can no longer detect the leak. Therefore, pressure trend monitoring systems may perform better
for detection of small leaks than pressure wave / acoustic monitoring systems.

External Leak Detection Systems
External leak detection systems rely on detecting fluids, gases, temperatures, or other data that may only be present outside of
a pipeline during a leak event.

Vacuum Annulus Monitoring
Vacuum annulus monitoring involves monitoring the vacuum pressure within the annulus between an inner and outer pipe for
a pipe-in-pipe pipeline. To minimize the number of sensors, sensor connections, and cabling along the length of an offshore
pipeline, monitoring of a continuous annulus at one end of the pipeline is desired. While this system does not have a limiting
4 OTC 23070
leak detection threshold, the application of this technology is limited by distance and the ability to lift and install larger pipe-
in-pipe pipelines that may be bundled to other pipelines.
Heavy pipelines and pipeline bundles may require heavier installation equipment, modifications to installation equipment,
and/or may not be able to be installed.
In terms of distance, 6 to 10 miles may be the approximate limit of application. Water-tight isolation bulkheads are
installed at regular intervals in pipe-in-pipe systems. The goal is to isolate sections of a pipeline annulus that might be
damaged and flooded during installation or operation so that the majority of the pipeline, which remains undamaged, can
continue to provide the design-intended thermal insulation performance. Isolating and limiting the amount of pipeline
annulus length that gets flooded typically allows continued operation of the pipeline. However these isolating bulkheads
limit the ability to monitor pipeline lengths that exceed the maximum tolerance level for bulkhead spacing, which may be on
the order of 6 to 10 miles, or less, depending on the project specific flow assurance requirements for thermal insulation.
Loss of insulation performance may increase wax deposition, may cause hydrates, and/or may significantly reduce flowrates
if the temperature falls below oils pour point temperature.
Although monitoring an annulus that is maintained at atmospheric air pressure may be just as effective as monitoring an
annulus that is maintained at a vacuum in determining whether there is a leak on the inner, product carrying pipe, a vacuum
annulus offers several benefits over an annulus that is at atmospheric pressure. First, for shallow water pipelines, the
condition of the outer pipe can better be determined and assured. Second, a vacuum will reduce moisture in the annulus.
Third, a vacuum will provide better thermal insulation performance than an annulus maintained at atmospheric pressure.
Finally, for near-shore arctic pipeline sections installed during winter off the ice, a vacuum can ensure that snow and ice that
may enter and remain in the annulus during handling can be removed to avoid false alarms for the integrity of the outer pipe
once the snow and ice thaws after start-up.
Vacuum annulus monitoring is currently being used as the primary subsea leak detection method for the Pioneer
Oooguruk and Eni Nikaitchuq three-phase production pipelines [Ref. 5, 7, & 8].

Hydrocarbon Vapor Sensing Systems
Vapor sensing system technology involves a semi-impermeable tube installed along the length of a buried pipeline route.
The tube allows the passage of hydrocarbon vapors into the tube from the surrounding environment while keeping water and
other liquids from passing into the tube and flooding it. At scheduled intervals, either daily or weekly, a vacuum pump is
used to draw air and any gases or hydrocarbon vapors that pass into the tube to a vapor sensor for analysis and alarm
generation. Based on the timing of passage of the vapors, the location of the leak along the route can be determined.
The LEOS system is a vapor sensing leak detection system, which has been installed on one arctic subsea pipeline project
(BP Northstar, Ref. 5, 8, & 12). However, there are limitations associated with using this system on some projects. There is
an offshore pipeline route length limitation of approximately 25 km [Ref. 2]. The water depth limitation for this system is
approximately 15m (50ft). Also, both ends of the tube must be located above water. One end is used to draw dry air into the
tube, and the other end is used to draw air into the vapor analyzer. While it is very sensitive in detecting very small, chronic
leaks, the water depth limitation and the above-water access requirement for both ends of the LEOS system generally limit
applications to near-shore, shallow water pipelines.
Alternative electrical cable hydrocarbon sensing systems and point sensing systems are not well suited for subsea pipeline

Fiber Optic Distributed Sensing Systems
Fiber optic technologies rely on the fiber optic cable, itself, to act as a continuous, distributed sensor along the length of a
pipeline. This is different than using discrete, single point instruments spaced along a pipeline. There are three distributed
fiber optic technologies that are available for monitoring a pipeline. They rely on the backscatter of different light bands that
are available for fiber optic sensing (Figure 1). They are:
Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) Raman or Brillouin Backscattering (depending on vendor)
Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) Rayleigh Backscattering
Distributed Strain Sensing (DSS) Brillouin Backscattering
Spacial Resolution.
Although the fiber is continuous and acts as a continuous sensor, the fiber optic distributed systems are limited by spacial
resolution, which is analogous to the spacing increment along the fiber at which data is obtained. There may be
measurements that are acquired at intermediate points within the spacial resolution length, but these measurements may get
averaged over the spatial resolution length for the final measurement data point at each spacial resolution node. This has an
effect on accuracy and sensitivity of fiber optic distributed sensing systems. This means that if the event being monitored
(temperature, noise/vibration, or strain) only causes a change over 0.5m of cable length for a system / project that has an
associated spacial resolution of 1.0m to 1.5m with one intermediate measurement in between, then the change would have to
OTC 23070 5
be theoretically twice the minimum change required to trigger an alarm because of the averaging that may occur. More
detail is provided below for each type of fiber optic sensing system.

Figure 1: Fiber Optic Bands and Associated Monitored Parameters
(Light Intensity on the Vertical Axis & Light Wavelength on the Horizontal Axis)
T = Temperature
= Strain

Monitoring Lengths.
All three systems, Brillouin-based temperature (DTS), Rayleigh-based acoustic (DAS), and Brillouin-based strain (DSS),
have length limitations of 25 to 50 km, depending on the fiber optic systems optical power loss budget and the amount of
optical loss within the fiber optic system. These monitoring distances can be extended in a variety of ways, such as:
A. Using two instruments (one at each end of the pipeline) as shown in Figure 2 for twice the achievable 25 to 50 km
coverage associated with one instrument
B. Use of optical repeater / amplifier using remotely pumped light from a remote, above water source through non-
monitoring fibers to amplify the signal (power) in the monitoring fiber loop for greater than 25 to 50 km of coverage
C. Electrically powered repeater / amplifier that uses electrical power to boost the signal (power) in the monitoring
fiber locally at the repeater / amplifier for greater than 25 to 50 km of coverage
D. Use of remote units to interrogate 25 to 50 km sections stemming from additional fiber terminations for additional
intermediate fiber loops extending from each of the remote units (Figure 3) for greater than 100km of coverage
E. Combination of A with D for greater than 200km of coverage
There are two drawbacks with implementing length extension options B and C, above. First, success in using either type
of repeater / amplifier has not been tested or proven for pipeline monitoring purposes. This is especially true for option B,
which is only at a conceptual development level. Second, as the monitored cable length increases, the variance in
repeatability increases (gets worse) as shown in Figure 4 for a temperature (DTS) monitoring application example, resulting
in potential loss of sensitivity and expected leak detection performance. Thus far, only options A and D have been proven
with benchmarked testing. Marinization of the remote interrogating units (remote modules, option D) with subsea electrical
power supply is still required. However, repeaters / amplifiers with signal (power) gain equalization and electrically powered
laser sources have been marinized into compact units as small as a 6in diameter and a 9ft overall length, including bend
restrictors. Also, telecommunication fiber optic cables have been manufactured with a copper conductor tube that is
centralized within the cables around the outside of the optical fibers and their stainless steel or polybutylene terephthalate
(PBT) tubes. The copper conductor supplies power to the telecommunications repeaters / amplifiers. Therefore, marinization
of remote interrogating units into a compact package in line with the fiber optic cable, complete with subsea power supply, is

Water Depth Limitations.
There is no water depth limitation associated with distributed fiber optic cable systems.

6 OTC 23070

Figure 2: Length Capabilities Using an Instrument at One End vs. Two Instruments at Two Ends of a Pipeline Route

Figure 3: Use of Remote Interrogating Units to Extend Monitoring Distance

Ch1 (25km)
optical cable
Pipeline Pipeline
125 km
optical cable
Ch2 (25km) Ch3 (25km) Ch4 (25km) Ch5 (25km)

Length = 25 to 50 km
Onshore or
System Instrument
System Instrument
System Instrument
Length = 50 to 100 km
Onshore or
2 fibers looped for
remote interrogation
in multi-fiber cable
OTC 23070 7

Figure 4: Trend in Repeatability with Distance for Temperature (DTS) Measurements

Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS)
Distributed temperature sensing utilizes a temperature analyzing instrument to measure temperature and two or more fibers
within a fiber optic cable installed along the length of a buried pipeline (or within insulation of an above ground pipeline) to
form a fiber loop to and from the instrument (Figure 2). Standard communications type, single mode (for Brillouin systems),
glass optical fibers act as the thermometer and provide distributed coverage with a typical spatial resolution on the order of
2m or less, depending on the project. When a localized temperature change occurs, a leak alarm is triggered, and its location
is determined.
There are two backscattered light bands that react to temperature and are available for DTS monitoring. One is Raman,
and the other is Brillouin. Light in the Raman band responds to temperature changes by an increase or decrease in intensity.
Light in the Brillouin band responds to temperature changes by a shift in wavelength. Although both bands have been used
by different vendors successfully for different applications, Brillouin based DTS systems are more appealing than Raman
based DTS systems for long distance pipeline leak detection. Offshore length limitations are currently 25 to 50 km using
Brillouin-based monitoring, one instrument at one end of the pipeline and no repeaters/amplifiers or remote interrogating
units. With Raman-based systems, this length is limited to approximately 8km.
The technology is successfully used for fire detection in buildings/structures, for which a fire will cause significant
temperature changes (T). However, for pipeline leak detection, temperature changes may not be significant enough to
detect chronic leaks. A temperature change generated by a leak must raise or lower the normal operating temperature of the
DTS systems armored fiber optic cable that is installed within the soil surrounding a pipeline or bundle above the DTS
temperature resolution/sensitivity. Although the in-situ seabed temperature may be cooler than a warm operating pipeline
temperature, the soil around a pipeline will approach the pipeline operating temperature, and temperatures will vary along the
pipeline length. Additionally, a single cable may not register a detectable temperature change from a small leak associated
with bundled pipelines or multiple pipelines within the same trench.
DTS performance in detecting small leaks will be affected by the following parameters:
Spacial resolution (Figure 5). Averaging occurs over the length of spacial resolution, and this affects sensitivity.
With a special resolution of 1.5m, Figure 5 shows how a chronic leak may be missed. If for example, a rise of 2.5C
is required to trigger an alarm, a leak size that only raises the temperature by 2.5F across a 0.5m section of cable
will be missed. This is because only a 1C temperature change may be registered by the system. Similarly, a
slightly larger chronic leak that raises the temperature by 2.5F across a 1m section of cable may also be missed,
because the temperature increase registered by the system may only be 2.4F. This accuracy (and sensitivity) issue
is related to averaging within the spacial resolution length.
Length of coverage (impact on sensitivity, see Figure 4).





0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000 16000 18000 20000
Distance (m)







8 OTC 23070
Interrogation times for small chronic leak detection and other integrity monitoring in the arctic, 15 minutes to an
hour or longer is acceptable. This contrasts with the desire for rapid detection of large leaks in conventional or
environmentally sensitive areas (e.g. aquifer recharge zones or marshes), which can rely on weekly over-flights to
detect small chronic leaks. In the arctic, a chronic leak that persists undetected for the entire winter ice cover season
may result in a an oil volume that is 20 to 30 times greater than if the leak is detected within one week of onset [Ref.
Steady state operating temperature of soil around the monitoring cable (which changes from the in-situ temperature
prior to pipeline start-up).
Temperature at which a leaking fluid reaches the monitoring cable.
Position of the fiber optic cable(s) with respect to the pipeline leak. Oil and gas are typically lighter than seawater
so the preferred cable position will be on top of the pipe.
Fluid type (oil, gas, water, or multiphase).
Presence of pipeline thermal insulation Insulation can increase the temperature differential between the fluid and
soil, making it easier to detect leaks in some short distance, insulated oil pipeline applications. However, with
Joules-Thomson cooling, detection may be more challenging for some short distance, insulated gas pipeline
Pipeline burial - the fluid leaking from unburied pipelines is less likely to contact the monitoring cable(s).

Figure 5: Spacial Resolution Effects on Accuracy (and Sensitivity) for 1.5m Spacial Resolution [Ref. 10]

Applications and Testing
DTS systems have been installed to monitor the subsea arctic pipelines for the Pioneer Oooguruk and Eni Nikaitchuq
developments. The Oooguruk and Nikaitchuq systems are intended to monitor the integrity of the soil backfill protecting the
0 3 6 9 12 15 18 21 24 27 30 33 36 39 42 45 48 51 54 57 60 63 66 69 72 75 78 81 84


Length of Fiber - Normalized (m)
DTS Spacial Resolution Example Using Five (5) Fiber Sections Dipped in
Controlled Temperature Baths @ 5m Spacing Between Sections
Plus 22.5F Delta T = 65F Bath Temperature
Plus 2.5F Delta T = 45F Bath Temperature
in Bath
in Bath
in Bath
Fiber Length
in Bath
Fiber Length
in Bath
OTC 23070 9
pipelines from offshore arctic loading mechanisms, as opposed to being used specifically for leak detection [Ref. 5, 7, & 8].
Flow assurance simulations and 3D thermal finite element modeling were used to estimate the minimum and maximum
temperature profile envelope around the fiber optic monitoring cables exterior to the bundled pipelines for expected operating
conditions over the life of the developments. Comparing the minimum temperature profile to the potential river water
temperature showed that there would be sufficient temperature change (3C minimum T) to trigger an alarm.
DTS systems have been installed for leak detection monitoring of several onshore pipelines. One leak in a cooled onshore
brine pipeline was discovered by its DTS system 6 months after start-up [Ref. 13]. However, details about the size of the
leak and the long term operating temperature history, warm-up history of the pipeline, and the timing between the excavation
that was thought to have caused the leak and the detection of the leak itself were not reported.
There have been multiple demonstrative tests performed by several DTS system vendors independently and in
cooperation with pipeline operators. However, most of the testing was limited such that the testing conditions may not
necessarily represent actual subsea pipeline conditions that may govern during a 20-year plus pipeline operating life.
However, one test was promising in terms of long distance gas pipeline transport. This test was conducted by Sensornet
[Ref. 18] and detected the Joules-Thomson change in temperature of a compressed gas leak. The results showed that for an
un-insulated gas pipeline, DTS systems may potentially be sensitive enough to detect small leaks. The reported leak rate
was 120 l/min (4.24 ft
/min = 6,100 ft
/day) from small diameter piping. However, there was only a 2C (3.6F)
temperature reduction measured, and the cable length used in the test was approximately 200m, as opposed to 25 to 50 km.
The un-reported spacial resolution is assumed to be very small. A grid of fibers was also used to monitor the area
surrounding the pipe, so the chance for detecting the full extent of temperature change was improved. The test was also
conducted in dry onshore soil. For a larger 12 diameter pipeline offshore, the leak at the same low flowrate could
potentially go undetected, depending on the location of the leak relative to the fiber optic cable(s).
Therefore, there is value in further testing to determine the limits of DTS systems, which may vary by vendor, in terms of
the minimum leak detection threshold for comparison against other leak detection technologies available.

Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS)
Distributed acoustic sensing utilizes a monitoring instrument at one end of the pipeline and two or more fibers within a fiber
optic cable installed along the length of a pipeline to detect acoustic emissions. The fiber optic cable acts as a distributed
acoustic sensor (microphone) that picks up the vibration due to sound along the pipeline. When a distinguishable acoustic
event that may be associated with a pipeline leak is detected by the system, a leak alarm is triggered along with information
regarding the events location.
The Rayleigh band is used to monitor acoustic vibrations picked up by the fiber optic cable. Light in the Rayleigh band
responds to acoustic changes by an increase or decrease in intensity. Rayleigh based acoustic systems have monitoring
capabilities up to 25 to 50 km without amplifiers/repeaters for monitoring with one instrument at one end of a pipeline.
The technology has been used for airport perimeter security, because the technology can detect footsteps in the area of the
fiber optic cable. DAS is also being investigated by BORDERS (Dept. of Homeland Security Center of Excellence for
Border Security and Immigration) with the University of Arizona for border protection monitoring [Ref. 9]. This research
shows that a weak signal, such as a 35 lb dog strolling at a slow pace, could not be detected by the system with a cable
buried 18-inches in the ground. Detection of stronger events, such as the same dog running, could be detected. A 200 lb
person running behind a moving pick-up truck was difficult to detect due to the background noise of the truck. Effective
signal classifiers and/or pattern recognition algorithms are required to help discern the person from the truck.
Therefore, the system may still have a limiting leak detection threshold, because background noise of a flowing pipeline
may hide a small chronic leak. However, distributed acoustic sensing does not require the cable to contact the hot/cold
leaking fluid, and it may therefore be more promising than distributed temperature sensing.
The detection capability (sensitivity) of DAS systems to detect small chronic leaks will be affected by the following:
Spacial resolution.
Length of coverage (impact on sensitivity).
Interrogation times.
Size of leak.
Strength of the leak - detectable and discernable recognition of a leak event from the existing background noise.
Background noise, such as fluid flow through the pipe, subsea production systems, pigging, waves, currents, vessel
traffic, noise generated by ice (ridge formation, cracking, etc.), marine life, etc.
Soil conditions for buried pipelines (loose versus hard soils) although sound/vibration may be transferred through
some soils better than in seawater, the sound / vibration from a small chronic leak may also be muffled by the soil.
Cable position and distance from the pipeline (and leak) For example, a 0.027 ft
/min. (38 ft
/day) leak from a
pinhole in a high pressure scuba hose in air (internal pressure of 900 psig) can be heard and recognized by a person
10 OTC 23070
if the hose is within a proximity of 6-inches or more, depending on background noise. In water, the same size leak
can be heard and discerned from marine background noise if the leak is positioned within 20-inches to the side or in
front of a diver. The same leak may be heard but not recognized with the leak positioned behind the diver,
underwater. Also, cupping (using an amplifying device) the leak with PVC pipe [Ref. 9] or a hand will increase the
signal strength (sound) that is detected.
Fluid type (oil, gas, water, or multiphase).
Internal pressure relative to external pressure.
Applicable for detecting leaks from both unburied and buried subsea pipelines, because the fluid does not need to
contact the cable(s).
Applications and Testing
Installation of Rayleigh based acoustic systems has been limited. There have been no offshore pipeline installations. There
may be only one onshore piping application. In August 2011, FoTech commissioned its system on above ground refinery
piping at Enis Gela Refinery in Italy [Ref. 21]. All the piping is accessible and available for visual inspection. One other
recent installation of acoustic technology has been within a coal-bed methane well in the UK in 2009 for monitoring flow,
water level, pump condition, and vibrations.
Several onshore above ground tests have been performed with various nozzle sizes and internal pressures. One simulated
offshore test was performed by Optasense with a submerged pipe at an internal pressure of 145 psig [Ref. 14]. The pipe was
not buried, but other details of the testing were not published. Optasense reported their DAS system detected simulated leaks
with a FO cable located 5 m from the pipe.
Other types of acoustic technologies are used to detect small pipeline leaks [Ref. 3], but it is not known if these discreet
acoustic sensors are more sensitive than FO leak detection systems. For example, Col Mars Acoustic Leak Detector (ALD)
sensor is deployed by ROV, diver, clump weight, or towed hydrophone. It has been used to find small leaks that may not be
visible to the naked eye or camera, even when dyes are used. Example water and gas leaks have been detected from buried
and exposed subsea pipelines with leak rates as small as 1 liter/minute and hydrophone separation distances from the pipeline
up to 100m [Ref. 3].
These successes indicate that monitoring acoustic parameters associated with a leak may be promising for detecting small
chronic leaks in both arctic and non-arctic subsea pipelines. Therefore, there is value in conducting further testing to
determine the limits of DAS systems in terms of the minimum leak detection threshold for comparison against other leak
detection technologies available. Because DAS system performance does not rely on the thermal performance of the
pipeline, DAS systems may have a broader range of application than DTS systems. The focus of any distributed fiber optic
system testing could start with DAS systems before testing DTS systems.

Distributed Strain Sensing (DSS)
Both axial strain and temperature affect the Brillouin band of backscattered light in a fiber, and the effects on the signal can
be used to measure longitudinal strain and temperature exterior to a pipeline. Distributed axial strain measurement requires a
bonded fiber within a cable, which ultimately gets bonded directly to the pipe. To distinguish between strain and temperature
information, a second un-bonded (strain-free) fiber provides temperature data for use in subtracting out the temperature
component from the combined strain and temperature data measured by the bonded fiber.
DSS applications have been limited to short sections of onshore pipelines, which can be accessed in the trench after
installation. An offshore pipeline would need the strain measuring cable bonded to the pipeline before passing over
installation equipment (rollers) before reaching the seabed or bottom of trench. The cable must also be protected from
damage that may result from passing over rollers and other installation equipment.
The cable must be oriented longitudinally along the length of the pipeline at a circumferential position where the
maximum strain/loading condition is expected to occur. This is challenging for several reasons. First, the cables must be
bonded to the pipeline prior to reaching the rollers. Second, fibers may be damaged if the cable passes over rollers.
However, there may be some J-lay or reel-lay vessels that have a potentially available work platform after the final roller on
the vessel. Finally, a pipeline can twist before it reaches the seabed, and the cable position could rotate with the pipeline to
which it is bonded. If this occurs, a single cable may end up in a position around the circumference of the pipeline that may
not experience the maximum bending strain. Therefore, multiple cables installed at multiple positions around the
circumference of the pipeline may be required so that the maximum strain can be estimated even if the pipe rotates.
Brillouin based DSS systems have monitoring capabilities of up to 25 to 50 km with one instrument at one end of the
pipeline and no repeaters/amplifiers or remote interrogating units. However, they may have limited offshore application for
the following reasons:
There is no direct correlation between pipeline axial strain and leak formation. Therefore, DSS systems are more of
a pipeline integrity monitoring system than a leak detection system.
OTC 23070 11
Interrogation times because some load conditions, such as bending of subsea arctic pipelines due to ice gouging,
may occur over a relatively short period, the interrogation time interval for DSS systems will need to be selected on
a project-specific basis. DSS interrogation times are generally too long for effective use in monitoring pipeline
longitudinal strains from vortex induced vibrations.
The reliable breaking strain of standard glass optical fibers may be on the order of 1%, compared to design strain
limits for arctic pipelines on the order of 1.5% to 4%. Polymer fibers (plastic optical fibers POFs) may have
higher breaking strain limits than standard glass fibers. However, the optical power loss per length is approximately
700 times greater for POFs, compared to standard glass fibers, which means closely spaced repeaters/amplifiers may
be required. POF fibers are also approximately 100 times larger in diameter than glass fibers [Ref. 15 & 19].
Bonded cables can have extraordinarily high optic losses resulting from micro-bending and matrix shrinkage during
the manufacturing process for some bonded fiber cables. These losses may limit the bonded cables to a distance of
200m to 250m without repeaters/amplifiers [Ref. 16]. The onshore SNAM Rete pipeline in Italy had 500m of strain
coverage for one section of pipeline, but this section was comprised of three sub-sections with a maximum
continuous fiber length of 132m for any one sub-section [Ref. 20].
Multiple cables may be required. Equipment and procedures for bonding the cables to the pipeline need to be
developed. The bonding process could slow pipelay progress.
Fiber Optic Cable Dimensions, Attachment, and Installation
Additional fiber optic cable design and installation considerations for subsea pipeline DTS, DAS and DSS leak detection
applications include:
Optical fibers for DTS or DAS systems must be in close proximity to the pipeline. They are typically supplied as
subsea armored cables with diameters ranging between 22mm and 30mm or between 30mm and 35mm if they have
an integrated copper conductor. The cable can be either bundled to or layed adjacent to the pipeline based on the
installation and sensing requirements.
The pipeline may shield the acoustic signal of a leak from a DAS sensing fiber optic cable on the opposite side of
the pipeline leak. Therefore, more than one cable may need to be installed for optimum DAS leak detection
Because oil and gas fluids are typically lighter than seawater, the optimum position for a single DTS cable will be at
the top of the pipe. However, the pipeline may rotate, so having more than one cable for DTS monitoring, will help
provide optimum DTS leak detection coverage.
Application of DAS systems for monitoring buried pipelines may be impacted by the trench and soil conditions.
While the soil may transmit sound better, it may also insulate (muffle) the sound or reflect the signal back to the
leak, as opposed to onwards to the sensing cable for small chronic leaks.
DSS strain condition monitoring systems require a bonded fiber cable to be bonded directly to the pipeline. An
unbounded DTS cable is also required. The DSS cable does not have to be armored but can be a tape type cable
(e.g.: SMARTape) with protective material strapped over it for mechanical protection. Because of the optic power
loss for bonded fibers, multiple repeaters/amplifiers may be required along a subsea pipeline.
The pipeline with the sensing cable(s) must pass over rollers on installation vessels, subsea trenching equipment, or
onshore based roller equipment for winter on-ice installation in the arctic. The cable(s) must be protected from
crushing. For bundled pipelines with only one cable installed for seabed erosion monitoring, such as Pioneer
Oooguruk and Eni Nikaitchuq, the cables were protected within the perimeter of multiple bundled pipelines, so
additional protective materials were not required. For multiple leak detection cables attached to a pipeline,
protective material may be required to avoid crushing or snagging on the rollers.
Winter or late open water season installation temperatures for arctic pipelines may be below the minimum rated
installation temperature for cables (approximately -10C). This can require heating of the cable during unspooling
and installation.
Reconfiguration of the lay barge to allow for simultaneous installation of the cables and pipe will be required for the
attachment equipment, the reel equipment, cable handling equipment between the a reel and the pipe, and cable
heating equipment (arctic).
Cable splices offshore and mechanical cable connections onshore or at offshore facilities should be limited as much
as practical by maximizing the cable reel size. Splices and connections introduce optic losses that will affect the
maximum coverage length for the fiber optic monitoring system, and repeaters/amplifiers may be required.
12 OTC 23070
Summary and Conclusions
Commercially available internal leak detection systems provide good capabilities to rapidly detect large leak rates from
subsea pipelines. These systems can be combined with external leak detection systems to further detect smaller leak rates
over longer time periods. The general relationship between leak size and detection time (Figure 6) shows that internal leak
detections systems have a minimum detectable leak rate below which a small leak cannot be detected. This detection system
performance is acceptable for conventional subsea pipeline systems because there are supplemental means (e.g. observing an
oil sheen on the sea surface) which can help avoid releasing large spill volumes. However, this may not be acceptable for
offshore arctic pipelines, deepwater areas, or for pipelines in unusually sensitive areas because of the potential for significant
environmental damage before these leaks are detected by supplemental means.
There are also multiple external leak detection systems which offer the potential to limit total spill volume from small
leaks such as may occur under winter sea ice for an offshore arctic pipeline. Application of these external leak detection
systems is subject to project-specific conditions such as pipeline type, location, length, water depth, installation procedures,
costs, environmental damage potential, difficulty of potential clean-up operations and regulatory requirements. The
challenge is to install and operate a supplemental external leak detection system which is cost effective, reliable and able to
detect very small leaks in a time span which will allow pipeline shut-down, repair, and clean-up without excessive
environmental damage. Because of the small leak rates involved, this time span may be weeks, rather than the more typical
minutes or hours required for detecting larger leaks.
One of the most promising new technologies available for detecting small leaks from oil and gas pipelines is the use of
fiber optic cables. Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) and Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) have the potential for
use as pipeline external leak detection systems through monitoring abnormal pipeline conditions on 1m-long pipe sections
over route lengths of 25 to 50 km, or more. There are currently no established configurations for positioning the cable(s) or
estimates of the minimum leak detection thresholds for distributed fiber optic sensing systems. Further testing of DTS and
DAS systems is recommended to establish the minimum leak detection threshold for systems supplied by various vendors
under simulated leak conditions for as-installed subsea pipelines. The tests do not have to actually look like a subsea
pipeline, but the conditions tested / simulated must represent pipeline field operating conditions, as best as possible. The
results would help in determining if the DTS or DAS systems have significantly improved minimum leak detection threshold
limits compared to existing internal leak detection systems.
In addition, development of some components of distributed fiber optic systems may be required. Marinization of remote
interrogating units with integral repeaters/amplifiers is required to extend distributed fiber optic systems beyond the 25km to
50 km limit. Installation equipment, materials, and procedures are required for protecting the cables from rollers on
installation vessels and cold air temperatures during installation.

Figure 6: Example Leak Detection System Sensitivity Curve [Ref. 1]

Leak Rate
Response Time
Minimum Possible Time for Detection of a Leak
(Leak Detection Response Time)
Leak Rate
OTC 23070 13
1. API Recommended Practice 1130, Computational Pipeline For Liquids, American Petroleum Institute, First Edition,
September 2007.
2. Areva NP GmbH, LEOS Leak Detection Technical Description,
3. Barbagelata, L., ALD (Acoustic Leak Detector) Underwater Acoustic for Leak Detection, Subsea and Arctic Leak
Detection Symposium (SALDS), Houston, TX, November 8 & 9, 2011.
4. Dunn-Norman, S., Erickson, K.T., Stanek, E.K., Miller, A., Reliability of Pressure Signals in Offshore Pipeline Leak
Detection Final Report to Department of the Interior, MMS TA&R Program, Program SOL 1435-01-00-RP-31077,
November 3, 2004.
5. Eisler, B., Leak Detection Systems and Challenges for Arctic Subsea Pipelines, Arctic Technology Conference, Paper
22134, February 2011.
6. Hou, S., Cai, C.S., He, J., Zhang, G., and Ou, J., Seismic Damage Monitoring for Steel Structure Using Smart
Distributed Fiber Optics, Proceedings of SPIE, Vol. 7292, 2009.
7. Lanan, G.A, Cowin, T.G, Hazen, B., Maguire, D.H., Hall, J.D, Perry, C.J., Oooguruk Offshore Arctic Flowline Design
and Construction, Offshore Technology Conference, Paper 19353, May 2008.
8. Lanan, G.A., Cowin, T.G., Johnston, D.K., Alaskan Beaufort Sea Pipeline Design, Installation and Operation, Arctic
Technology Conference, Paper 22088, February 2011.
9. Momayez, M. & Moffit, K., The Helios System and Border Security An Independent Evaluation of the Helios System
as Applied to Border Security Monitoring in Southern Arizona, Lowell Institute for Minerals Resources at the
University of Arizona and BORDERS (Dept. of Homeland Security Center of Excellence for Border Security and
Immigration), December 2010.
10. Nikls, M., Greater than 120 km Distributed Temperature Sensing Using Optical Amplifiers, SEAFOM Meeting,
Woodlands, TX, Sept. 15, 2009.
11. Northern Report, Northstar 2005 Performance Leak Detection System is Tested, Volume 8, Issue No. 1, December
12. Northern Report, Another Safe, Productive year for Northstar - Northstars LEOS Leak Detection System is Tested,
December 2008.
13. Omnisens, Pipeline Leakage Detection Monitoring System 55 km Brine Pipeline/Berlin Germany.
14. OptaSense (Qinetiq) website:
15. Polishuk, P. Plastic Optical Fibers Branch Out, DRAFT 6, May 30, 2006.
16. Ravet, F., Brifford, F., Glii, B., Nikls, M., and Inaudi, D., Submillimeter Crack Detection With Brillouin-Based
Diber-Optic Sensors, IEEE Sensors Journal, Vol. 9, No. 11, November 2009.
17. Scott, S. L., Liu, L, and Yi, J., Modeling Effects of a Deepwater Leak on Behavior of a Multiphase Production
Flowline, SPE/EPA Exploration and Production Environmental Conference Austin, TX, SPE 52760, Feb. 28 March
3, 1999.
18. Sensornet, Sensornet White Paper Digital Pipeline Leak Detection Using Fibre Optic Distributed Temperature
Sensing (DTS), July 13, 2007.
19. Silva-Lpez, M., Fender, A., MacPherson, W. N., Barton, J. S., and Jones, J. D. C., Strain and Temperature Sensitivity
of a Single-Mode Polymer Optical Fiber, Optics Letters, Vol. 30, No. 23, December 1, 2005.
20. SMARTEC, Pipelines: SNAM Rete Gas Gas Pipeline Monitoring Case Study: SOFO, ADAM, DiTest System
Pipeline Distributed Strain Monitoring DiTest Compatible SMARTape and SMARTcord, website
21. Walker, I., Leak Detection Using Distributed Acoustic Sensing, Subsea and Arctic Leak Detection Symposium
(SALDS), Houston, TX, November 8 & 9, 2011.