MIT researchers develop robot that can check for pipeline leaks

August 1, 2014

The oil and gas industry relies heavily on pipelines to transport fuel. This is particularly true now, as the domestic energy boom continues to heat up and place additional demand on existing infrastructure. However, some stakeholders are beginning to learn that this can cause problems.

For example, the Associated Press reports that flooding and erosion have exposed pipelines along the Tamarac River in Minnesota. The pipelines, operated by Enbridge Corporation, carry crude oil from Canada across the state. Now that they are exposed, some experts believe that the risk of a leak is significantly elevated.

The trouble is that even if a leak occurs, it can be difficult to identify the problem and pinpoint its location with accuracy. Pipelines are quite lengthy, and inspecting them can be time consuming. That's why researchers at MIT have developed a robotic system that can check for pipe leaks automatically.

According to an article released by the MIT News Office, the new system senses pressure changes with high accuracy, and can sense leaks as small as 1 to 2 millimeters. This is a far cry from previous leak detection methods that rely on acoustic tests, which work reasonably well on metal pipes but are ineffective on plastic, which quickly dissipates sound.

An improved detection system could prevent oil pipelines from experiencing toxic spills and natural gas pipelines from exploding. It is in the best interest of the energy industry to invest in this area and working with an environmental consultant can help stakeholders utilize this technology in the most effective manner.