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Stay up-to-date on innovations and new technology in the Canadian energy industry with our CPTI-International Energy Reports.

Energy Reports

November/December 2012


Space Technology Enhances Pipeline Leak Detection


There is a new Canadian technology that is in the development and testing stage that I would like to highlight to you – the realSensTM sensor.  This sensor is capable of detecting minute amounts of methane and ethane hundreds of metres away.  The commercial application for this technology is in aerial leak detection of natural gas pipeline.  Developed by Edmonton-based Synodon Inc. and financed by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, this sensor was successfully tested in Arizona this summer.  Since then, Synodon has partnered with TransCanada Pipelines for its first industrial use.


Leak detection is commonly accomplished by pipeline control centre operators who watch for anomalies in pressure and/or pressure trends; and by both foot and aerial patrol looking for the telltale visual signs of a leak.  With almost 500 million cubic metres of natural gas transported per year through Canada’s vast network of pipelines, a small leak can quickly become an environmental and public safety concern, and can cost the pipeline company in both product loss and downtime.  In addition, it is extremely difficult to identify small leaks, especially when aerial patrols are done typically once a week and foot patrols, using flame ionization detectors, are mandated to be conducted once every five  years.  The realSensTM sensor utilizes methods and instrumentation developed by the Canadian Space Agency and the University of Toronto for NASA’s Terra satellite, combining radiometry, inertial measurement, global positioning and gas detection to identify pipeline leaks from specially equipped helicopters.  The technology of the realSensTM sensor is explained on Synodon’s website (  Suffice it to say, you have to be an engineer or a scientist to understand it.


The realSensTM   sensor, mounted on helicopters that fly at speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour, is projected to identify 20% more leakage from pipelines than the current method of both aerial and foot patrols.  Control centre operators will still be required to monitor the pipelines for pressure anomalies, but their jobs will be greatly enhanced by this technology.


In addition to the benefits of reducing pipeline downtime and leak-related explosions, the technology is also expected to reduce Canada’s GHG (greenhouse gas) footprint.  The current estimates suggest a reduction of 3.3Mt CO2 equivalent annually by 2015 by eliminating the untraceable “fugitive” emissions from pipelines.


I urge you to take a look at this space-age technology, modified for leak detection.



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