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Gas safety from the air: RICE evaluates drone leak detection solutions for overhead and underground pipes

To ensure the safety of pipelines and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, GRDF and GRTgaz must inspect and detect leaks on their facilities. RICE evaluates innovative solutions for these gas infrastructure operators, operated from the air.

A study commissioned by GRDF and GRTgaz

To guarantee pipeline safety, comply with the Multi-Fluid Order as amended on July 3, 2020, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, GRDF and GRTgaz must inspect and detect pipeline leaks.

To date, leak detection on the networks is only carried out on foot or by network surveillance vehicles. At the request of GRDF and GRTgaz, RICE is studying the possibility of using drones. Their interest includes:

  • to more easily map potential leaks on a closed site (e.g. compressor stations, storage sites, LNG terminals).
  • to search for leaks on structures that are difficult to access (water court crossings, risers, etc.)
  • to carry out the detection on long lines of networks.
An innovative device tested by the RICE teams

The objective of the tests is to test a gas leak detection solution marketed by a drone supplyer and consisting of :

  • A methane detection sensor
  • A drone on which the sensor is fixed
  • An application developed by the manufacturer that includes all the information needed to carry out the mission

The trial was conducted at the Villeneuve-la-Garenne site in March 2021. The laser sensor was compared to other detection tools in an overhead leakage configuration and a buried leakage configuration (under sand).

Conclusive trials and planned deployment by 2022

The orders of magnitude of the values measured by the drone are now close to those of the reference tools, thus validating its relevance.

The solution’s performance meets expectations, particularly in terms of detection distances and sensitivity. They allow compliance with the aviation regulations relating to civil drones, which impose an exclusion zone for third parties, without requiring, for example, the interruption of traffic during the operation in most cases.

The application for this solution works efficiently for the control of the sensor and automatically records the results of the leak detection. This report contains the GPS track of the flight and the values recorded after a user-defined detection threshold has been exceeded.

Extract of the exports obtained with the application of the drone

In conclusion, the tested solution can be recommended for use in leak detection, whether for distribution, transport, overhead or underground networks.

The deployment of these new means of monitoring pipelines is expected in 2022. Drones should then be one of the new means of detecting gas leaks that can be used by operators of distribution, transport and storage pipelines.

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