Detection tech pre-empts pipeline problems from many angles

By Sean Corbett

Between the hysteria of eco-doomsayers and the rosy optimism of pipeline execs, there sits a measured concern for pipeline safety.

Obviously there is no such thing as zero risk when you're pumping millions of gallons of oil across vast expanses of land.

So what’s the good news?

Like most things, technical innovation inches us ever closer to that 100 per cent safe ideal. Since there is no one perfect method of leak detection, the latest and greatest is to have many working at once.

Defense In Depth

Several pipeline monitoring systems work together to give extra layers of security.

Enbridge’s Material Balance System (MBS) creates real-time models of ideal pipeline conditions. When it finds a difference between the ideal and what’s actually going on, it trips an alarm to alert supervisors.

Atmos Pipe is another industry-standard system. It works on volume balance, using pressure and flow analysis to detect operational changes in a pipeline.

These two foundational systems work side by side with other automations to monitor pipeline rupture patterns, pressure, flow, temperature, and more.

New Dynamic Sensing

Now, Hifi Engineering of Calgary is even monitoring sonic changes in pipelines.

The company’s HDS (High Fidelity Dynamic Sensing) fibre optics sense changes in acoustic energy, thermal energy, and kinetic energy. These elements come together to monitor not only bad events (like leaks), but conditions that could lead to events.

An ounce of prevention, and all that.

Or to put it a different way, like a self-improvement guru, the industry can look itself in the mirror each day and say (without irony):

“Day by day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”


Sean Corbett is an Okanagan-based writer and filmmaker. He runs the marketing agency Repria Multimedia Corp (


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