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Image via Tracerco™

What lies beneath: A subsea CT scanner that could revolutionize pipeline safety

Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media

If the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 taught us anything, it’s that the functionality of underwater equipment is paramount. Failure of equipment involved in deep-sea drilling can result in massive amounts of pollution and tragic loss of life, both human and marine.

Tracerco™, an international company based in the UK, provides a variety of technological products and services specialized for the oil and gas industry. The company’s recent addition, the Discovery, is a CT scanner that operates underwater specifically directed at maintaining subsea pipelines.

The driving idea behind the Discovery is the ability to analyze the condition of the pipelines and risers carrying oil to the surface without invasive procedure. The CT scanner allows external examining of the lines without even removing the outer coating of the lines, saving significant amounts of work and extensive risk in further damaging the pipes.

The technology is particularly valuable for pipelines that are considered unpiggable. Pigging is the process of inserting a cleaning device called a pig into large pipelines. It is often used for diagnostic purposes, but not all pipelines can undergo this method of cleaning. Even for lines that are piggable, risk of the pig becoming lodged in the pipe could lead to further maintenance costs and a halt in production which can result in unforeseen losses. The Discovery does not carry these same risks.

Related: Keeping up with technology in oil country

The circular machine is lowered underwater and guided to the pipeline by a remote submarine where it clamps around the pipe. The CT scanner spins 360° using nucleonic technology, analyzing the conditions of the pipeline in question like it would analyze a human body, showing blockages and internal wear. The primary difference between the scan process of Discovery and a CT scanner that is used in a medical facility is the type of rays used to obtain data and create an image. While medical scanners utilize x-rays, the Discovery operates with gamma rays, a much higher energy source. The only piece of technology of its kind, the Discovery could revolutionize the way underwater pipeline maintenance is conducted, minimizing the risk of ruptures, breaks, and other calamities.

The results of a scan shows the operators what areas of the pipe are experiencing corrosion, allowing them to target repairs to a specific area. Scans can also identify the exact nature of blockages in the pipe, making it easier to clear those blockages in a timely manner and assuring maximized flow through the line. Discovery is the only machine that can analyze both pipeline integrity and flowline conditions in the subsea industry, with accuracy within millimeters. This resolution sets Discovery™ even further away from any potential competition in the industry.

This subsea diagnostic machine is a need-driven development. Scientific manager Emanuele Ronchi describes the development of the product as a “customer-driven project from the very beginning.” Discovery can do its job without so much as interrupting production and can be used at almost 10,000 feet below sea level. For comparison, the pipeline of the Deepwater Horizon only went down approximately 5,000 feet.

The development of Discovery has led to further projects for a family of instruments related to it that will expand Tracerco’s customer base, as there is already a significant amount of interest in this technology.

Discovery was tested at Fort Williams in the UK and a live demonstration of the instrument was also performed in Houston during the Offshore Technology Conference in May at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. However, footage of the tests have not yet been made public.

Click here to learn more about the Tracerco Discovery.

One comment

  1. Holy Cannoli! Whatever That Thing Is, It Is BIG!

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