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Detecting Leaks in Pipelines

ISA recently published Detecting Leaks in Pipelines by Edward J. Farmer, PE. In this Q&A feature, Farmer highlights the focus, importance, and differentiating qualities of the book.

Note: A brief author biography is included at the bottom of this page.

Edward J. Farmer

Q. What is the core value of your book? What are the key messages/points of emphasis it is intending to communicate? Please explain. 

A. There are three major aspects of pipeline leak detection as a tool for enhancing the safety of pipelines.  First, there is the societal need for petroleum products and the utility that dense energy provides.  It must be balanced with the impacts from developing, transporting, and using these resources.  There are also the societal impacts of a previously unimaginable manifestation of portable energy that has been important in the development of human society.

Petroleum products are essential to the way our society and economy work.  Their use inherently involves transportation from production to processing and into markets.  This is normally done by pipelines, long established as the safest (most accident-free) method.  Building safe pipelines is crucial.  Ensuring the continuing safe operation of them, day by day, is essential for maintaining confidence in them, and promptly reacting to damage from failures and accidents.  All of this requires planning, risk analysis, preparation, monitoring, and response.

A key component of risk management and mitigation is the prompt and reliable indication of abnormal operation.  A component of this is a monitoring system that, among other things, is intended to promptly and reliably detect hazardous conditions or operation.  How such a component is designed and deployed depends on the operating company's assessment of the risk sources and exposures; and upon the requirements of an agency or jurisdiction with governmental responsibility for assuring the public that operation is safe.  There are various ways this can be approached and they are discussed in the book.

Monitoring systems are based on applicable science and implemented with the productive use of appropriate technology.  There are many issues that arise in designing, deploying, and sustaining the effectiveness of these monitoring systems, all described and discussed in this book.  There are ancillary issues, such as maintenance and periodic training, that are also important issues in any monitoring program.

This book covers this spectrum of issues in a broad but readable way.  Science is balanced with lucidity and subjects are developed cohesively, usually from first principles.  Anyone with appropriate educational background or relevant experience should gain understanding of and utility with the key issues.

Q. Why were you inspired/motivated to write it?

A. Looking back, these have been exciting times.  Over my lifetime, the earth's population has increased three-fold.  Petroleum consumption has increased about four-fold.  Depending on where and how you look, productivity has increased by over eight-fold. 

When I started college there were no computers capable of doing this kind of work.  We could dream, imagine, and even visualize but the solution just wasn't there.  Over the course of my business life, impossible things became commonplace, the frontiers evaporated, and dreams became reality-in fact,  they became the trailheads of paths we could only imagine back then.  This era in process design, monitoring, and control reminds one of the growth in theoretical physics a half-century earlier. 

I spent my time and effort in exactly the right place at exactly the right time working on expanding the scope and understanding of process operations.  Span-of-control and more importantly, quality of control, increased at least ten-fold.

There were many capable and interesting people on this path. I learned a lot from them.  Our industry's understanding and capability grew enormously because of their efforts.  As I look back, I see how far we have come, and how much more we have yet to do and know.

The age of petroleum is but a flyspeck in the sweep of world history yet the impact on people and our world has been without precedent.  There has been no other time in the history of mankind in which it has been this enlightening and expanding to be alive.  It is worth reflecting upon, and passing forward, what has been learned-to show by example, how to see "the next big thing."

There is also opportunity to help visualize a synthesis of effort among those that produce energy, desire energy, and hope to manage the acquisition, management, distribution, and use of energy.  Hopefully there can be some common vision of us all in it together, striving for a better world by finding the best way forward.

For me personally, my career began with writing articles in magazines like InTech and the ISA book, Modernizing Control Systems.  Then came refinery process control work, off-shore development, the North Slope of Alaska development, West Coast off-shore and on-shore projects, and performance-setting work around the world.  After hundreds of projects in almost that many places it has clearly been a wild ride.  For me, my other ISA book, Modernizing Control Systems, and this book are bookends.  I have a shelf of other things I've written in between, but these, for me, mark an important part of my life.

Q. What in your background/field of expertise/education makes you the right person to write on these matters?

A. I started college in the fall of 1963 to study electrical engineering.  By the time I walked out the door, for the last time, I had studied a lot of things including theoretical physics and lots of mathematics.  My interests were piqued in the direction of melding science, mathematics, measurement, and process control.  Calculus had a role and statistics had a role, but bringing it together in a useful way needed a human.  I found that to be very engaging and easy to embrace.

I did a lot of work in process automation and instrumentation including work on some significant refinery processes.  Some of my refinery friends and acquaintances moved onto exploration and development as the industry recovered from the doldrums of the 1970s. I found my experience and training in signal processing and the information science aspects of cryptography to be useful in developing and applying monitoring equipment for these disciplines.

I set out to design the best possible leak detection solution for the preponderance of the leak detection applications in industry. My goal was to craft a suitable product for 85 percent of them.  As it turns out, my original designs and approaches derived from them, are now used in more applications that probably all others combined.

Q. What challenge or set of challenges is the book trying to address or solve? What practical knowledge and applications can be gained by reading it?

A. It's my  fondest hope that this book produces greater synergy and more realistic assessment of the risks and mitigative methods across the spectrum of interested parties:  the public, regulators, operators, and equipment and support suppliers.  A focus on achievable goals, objectives, and meaningful performance assessments could improve operation and safety management for all involved.

Q. What makes this book different than other books on the subject? What differentiates it?

A. Petroleum fuels the society we've built on our journey into industrialization, and will continue to do so throughout this century.  Safe and productive use involves cooperative and synergistic efforts of all concerned.  The benefits of and need for cooperative effort are exposed and explored, illustrating that achievable and measurable goals and objectives are important for achieving safety.

Successful leak detection depends on a productive confluence of several situationally dependent technologies.  Explanations of the science and technology begin first with principles and move logically through the issues required.  This facilitates the broad understanding necessary for success.

This book addresses: 

  • The positioning of petroleum in our economy, and the societal factors affected.
  • The assessment of risks, including sources of hazards, mitigative methods, and risk analysis using both an inductive approach and the deductive approach promulgated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • The monitoring technology involved as well as how it will most likely develop.  This provides an opportunity to develop a fundamental understanding of the methodology and technology as well as an appreciation of what is and isn't possible.
  • The implementation and sustainment requirements necessary to attain and maintain appropriate and reliable operation.
  • Project guidance and management for implementing a leak detection project regardless of the technology involved.

In the end, a reader should understand: the role of petroleum in society; the process of making its production, transportation, processing, and use as safe and clean as possible; the methods available to analyze and assess the effectiveness of risk-mitigation methods; and the selection and deployment of the technology and equipment required to monitor for safe and beneficial operation.

Q. Are there any specific sections/aspects of the book do you feel are the most compelling to highlight in the press release?

A. There are several areas of the book that I would highlight.

Section One opens a discussion, in a somewhat Socratic way, into the needs and desires of the public for petroleum products, and the government's desire to promote public health and safety.  Among other things, it compares the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration and its library of regulations and catalogs of procedures for relevance with the expectations for pipeline operations found in the Hazardous Pipeline Safety Act.

Appendix H presents deductive risk analysis using the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "fault tree" methodology, useful as an assessment tool, and for broadening understanding of the risk-assessment process.

Appendix I includes a previously published and well-reviewed analysis of the causes and impact of pipeline leaks over a 10-year period.  This provides perspective on the various issues involved and serves as a starting point for risk analysis.

Chapter 13 in Section Three includes explanations of risk analysis from both the inductive and deductive approaches.  The more complex deductive approach is covered in even more detail in Appendix H.

In general, the science involved is treated in a fundamental way-as close to first principles as possible-with only minimal attention to manufacturer-specific methodology or terminology.  To enhance readability, discussion of the critical science and technology issues is complete in each instance, thus providing readable, understandable, and cohesive explanations.

The glossary helps with understanding the terms used in various discussions and related publications as well as suggesting language that is mathematically and scientifically consistent with related work in closely related fields.

Q. Do you have any other comments to make about the book that can help highlight its value, benefits, advantages?

A. Public, operator, and environmental safety depend on properly focused regulation, insightful risk assessment, and the reliable application of appropriate technology.  These have not always been well-focused nor synergistic endeavors.  Hopefully, this treatment of this important subject will bring benefit to all, thus providing enhanced return on investment, more utility, and safe operation.

Obtain your copy of Detecting Leaks in Pipelines
To get your copy of this informative reference manual, order it today on the ISA website.

Meet the Author

Edward J. Farmer

Edward Farmer has over 40 years' experience in the "high tech" part of the oil industry.  He originally graduated with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from California State University - Chico, where he also completed the university's master's program in physical science.

Over the years, Farmer has designed SCADA hardware and software, practiced and written extensively about process control technology, and has worked extensively in pipeline leak detection.  He is the inventor of the Pressure Point Analysis® leak detection system as well as the Locator® high-accuracy, low-bandwidth leak location system.  He is a Registered Professional Engineer in five states and has worked on a broad scope of projects worldwide.  His work has produced three books, numerous articles, and four patents.

Farmer has also worked extensively in military communications where he has authored many papers for military publications and participated in the development and evaluation of two radio antennas currently in U.S. inventory.  He is a graduate of the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College.

He is the owner and president of EFA Technologies, Inc., manufacturer of the LeakNet family of pipeline leak detection products.