Thinking back to 2016, many observant TV viewers likely recall the uptick in extreme weather events. And the facts check out: The number of floods reached a record high, and Live Science stamped 2016 as “The Year of the Earthquake.”

This is not to say rising water levels and high-magnitude quakes were the only disasters to strike in recent memory, as many parts of the globe were also afflicted by severe drought, historic wildfires and unprecedented tropical storms. In total, roughly $175 billion in damage occurred at the hands of these catastrophes, reinsurance firm Munich RE tabulated.

High risk = High consequence

Operators of production assets and subsurface infrastructure such as pipelines faced countless days of worry and concern in regard to the security and uninterrupted production of their operations and the stability of the terrain around them. In most instances, locations that are especially prone to damage from natural disasters are noted on pre-construction checklists as areas of high consequence. Additionally, production sites that are in close proximity to areas that could be heavily impacted by operational dangers, such as natural gas pipeline leaks, chemical spills or explosions, are overseen with an even keener eye due to the potential for outsized risks and loss of life.

In HCAs, geohazard events have an even greater capacity to inflict extreme casualties in terms of physical destruction of property and its impact on human beings. The federal government defines HCAs as “impact zones which contain 20 or more structures intended for human occupancy,” or a variety of areas or buildings that have already been marked as potential impact zones by proper authorities.

But beyond conventional HCA assignations, there is a large pool of additional ground and below ground hazards to keep in mind.

A few of these are proximity to:

  • Schools and heavily residential areas (that may be technically outside official HCA parameters)
  • Water resources and water tables
  • Other pipelines or subsurface production assets
  • Endangered habitats or prevailing ecosystems
  • Above-ground assets like electrical, cable or radio towers and wires

Perhaps a pipeline is poorly maintained or isn’t properly monitored on a real-time basis, and a leak, obstruction or mechanical failure occurs either within or connected to the line or its respective nodes – what then?

In an HCA, leaks can result in environmental destruction, severe demolition of infrastructure assets and untold impact on the future sustainability of animal and human life.

Combating these ramifications starts with understanding what is truly at stake with the assets in question and conducting a full-scale integrity management review. With the experts at Applus+, pipeline monitoring has taken the next step toward ensuring comprehensive security of assets, operations and at-risk areas, especially in reference to the expanding use of fiber optic technology.

Fiber optic monitoring provides unmatched sensing and data transmission benefits

Conventional monitoring techniques of the past relied on invasive testing and individual discrete sensors placed at specific points along pipelines, which required thousands of sensors to accomplish one job. Today, a single distributed fiber optic sensor has the capacity to monitor the entire length of a pipeline continuously, relaying important metrics back to operations.

These indicators include leakage and intrusion detection, temperature and performance monitoring and other types of risk-related strength concerns.

By rooting out and identifying corrosion, stress cracks, pressure fatigue or other abnormalities before they lead to highly dangerous effects in high-consequence areas, Applus+ RTD provides operators with the solutions they need to keep production moving forward as safely and efficiently as possible.

For more information on geotechnical instrumentation and subsurface mapping, reach out to the experts at Applus+ RTD.


Why pipeline monitoring is imperative in high consequence areas