Ensuring Pipeline Safety: Monitoring Right-of-Way incursions using Hyperspectral Imaging

November 16, 2023
Amy Zammit
Ensuring Pipeline Safety: Monitoring Right-of-Way incursions using Hyperspectral Imaging

Hyperspectral imaging satellites have the potential to revolutionise pipeline monitoring. By providing timely insights into potential threats along the right-of-way, hyperspectral imagery enhances the safety and security of these vital infrastructure systems.

When it comes to transporting oil and gas, extensive networks of pipelines are the backbone of these operations. In the United States alone, these networks stretch over 3 million kilometres. Such comprehensive coverage, however, means that pipelines face various threats that compromise their integrity and safety. Furthermore, since these pipelines are often situated in remote areas, promptly detecting threats is challenging.

Advanced image analysis models, like those developed by Pixxel, have shown impressive results when applied to Sentinel imagery. This marks a significant stride in ensuring the safety and protection of these vital transportation networks for our early adopters. With the integration of the upcoming hyperspectral imagery, these promise to deliver unparalleled insights, marking a significant leap forward in the field.

The Hyperspectral Advantage in Pipeline Monitoring

Hyperspectral imagery offers unparalleled advantages over conventional imaging approaches. While multispectral imagery is limited to a handful of discrete spectral bands, hyperspectral imaging goes way beyond, capturing over a hundred continuous spectral bands across a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

This ability to capture so much information allows hyperspectral imagery to excel in providing detailed and precise analysis of the terrain, vegetation, and land cover, particularly in the context of monitoring the areas surrounding oil and gas pipelines. Analysing hyperspectral imagery is like having a warning system in near-real-time that detects any changes or threats along the pipeline’s route before they cause irreparable damage.

Hyperspectral imagery (right) shows more information when characterising different hydrocarbon products on the earth’s surface than those from a multispectral sensor (left). This is particularly useful in determining any hydrocarbon spills on land. The same is possible for spills occurring over waterbodies.

Urgency for Enhanced Safety Measures in Pipeline Monitoring

Surprisingly, despite being considered the safest way to transport oil and gas compared to trains and trucks, pipeline incidents have caused serious damage in recent years. In less than 15 years, over 8,000 pipeline incidents in the U.S. have resulted in the loss of lives, injuries, hundreds of explosions, thousands of displaced people, and billions of dollars in property damage. That’s why nailing down a top-notch monitoring system is vital in ensuring the safety and integrity of these extensive networks.

In this context, remote sensing techniques including hyperspectral imaging satellites offer multifaceted applications that enable comprehensive surveillance and assessment of potential risks along pipeline right-of-ways.

Monitoring Vegetation Encroachment and Clearing

The encroachment of vegetation poses a significant risk to pipelines. Their unmonitored growth can lead to physical damage and corrosion, potentially causing gas leaks and subsequent hazards including loss of life, serious injury, and significant property damage.

In 2020, a wildfire in California resulting from tree branches that infringed on Pacific Gas & Electric power lines caused the death of four people and the destruction of over 200 buildings. Such instances emphasise the importance of rigid regulatory measures to identify and prevent encroachment issues.

Hyperspectral imaging can detect changes in vegetation density, health, and species composition, allowing for the early identification of encroachment and the prompt implementation of preventive measures. Similarly, it can monitor vegetation clearing, enabling operators to assess environmental impacts and potential risks to the pipeline's stability and safety.

Pixxel’s models already display great success in determining excessive vegetation along pipelines right-of-way using Sentinel imagery. The future is promising for the application of these models on hyperspectral imagery.

Detecting Dead Vegetation and Fire Risks

Spotting dead vegetation is crucial in assessing potential risks along the pipeline. Dried vegetation is like a match waiting to be struck. When coupled with pipelines carrying highly flammable fluids, this poses a serious threat to ecosystems and communities nearby.

Hyperspectral imaging can detect changes in plant health and distinguish between living and dead vegetation, enabling the proactive mitigation of fire hazards.

Pixxel’s imagery analysis model also shows success in detecting dead vegetation along the pipeline right-of-way.

Pixxel’s image-analysis model has already proven successful in detecting fire in areas up to 3 km from the pipelines. This capability helps in preemptive planning and swift response to minimise the risk of fire-related incidents and potential damage to the pipeline infrastructure.

Fire events were detected using Pixxel’s in-house image analysis model.

Identifying Land Changes and Construction Activities

In March 2011, a critical pipeline explosion in Minnesota was triggered by the ignition

of a gas leak. Subsequent in-depth investigations of the disaster revealed that the couplings used along the gas pipeline were insufficient to bear the weight of the surrounding soil, roads, and traffic.

Hyperspectral imagery is a valuable tool in this regard, capable of detecting alterations in land cover with extreme precision, including unauthorised construction, excavation, and other human activities along the pipeline's right-of-way. This capability facilitates the timely identification of changes in the landscape, ensuring the early detection of potential threats to the pipeline's structural integrity.

By providing near-real-time data on land changes, the technology aids in effectively managing the pipeline's surroundings, minimising the risk of structural damage due to external activities.

Flames rose to six stories high as a result of the gas leak that occurred in South Minneapolis on March 17, 2011 (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson).

Assessing Natural Hazards and Exposed Pipelines

Hyperspectral imaging plays a critical role in assessing the vulnerability of exposed pipelines to a range of natural hazards, including earthquakes, floods, and mudslides. Through continuous surveillance of the terrain and identification of high-risk zones, this technology assists in developing robust mitigation strategies to safeguard the pipeline infrastructure from potential natural disasters.

Furthermore, hyperspectral imaging facilitates the ongoing monitoring of river bank conditions, identifying potential risks that may impact pipelines nearby, especially those arising from erosion and flooding. This proactive approach guarantees the resilience of the pipeline network, minimising the occurrence of disruptions and enhancing overall safety and reliability.

Risk zone (red) developed by Pixxel’s image analysis model showing areas susceptible to river washout.

Empowering Pipeline Security with Pixxel’s Solutions

Pixxel's state-of-the-art image analysis solutions offer a comprehensive solution for monitoring right-of-way incursions along extensive pipelines. Coupled with the high spectral and spatial resolution capabilities of our upcoming hyperspectral imaging satellite constellation, Pixxel empowers pipeline operators to proactively detect and address a range of potential threats, ensuring the safety, integrity, and sustainability of pipeline infrastructure.

Pixxel’s near-real-time data and analytical tools enable swift responses to emerging environmental risks, establishing it as a leading solution for secure and efficient pipeline operations in challenging regions.

Our early adopters are already reaping the benefits of hyperspectral imagery. Find out how Pixxel’s solutions can support your organisation today!

(Banner image shows oil fields consisting of oil pumps in the Permian Basin near Andrews, TX, captured and refined by Pixxel)