Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Silicon Meets Steel as Pipeline Operators Try Fiber Optics

Enbridge Inc. and TransCanada Corp., two of the world’s top pipeline companies, are starting to use fiber optics to avoid spills.

They’re piloting a system that can pinpoint leaks and other disturbances down to the centimeter (0.4 inch) in real time, using a fiber-optic wire that’s threaded inside or alongside a pipeline to measure acoustic, temperature and vibration data. The technology will even alert the pipeline operator if construction work is getting too close to a line.

Enbridge is deploying the technology on a 32-kilometer (20-mile) segment of the Norlite diluent pipeline in Northern Alberta. TransCanada plans to install the system on short sections near the start of the Keystone pipeline in Hardisty, Alberta, and around its terminus in Houston next year.

The technology was developed by Calgary-based Hifi Engineering, partly owned by Enbridge and Cenovus Energy Inc. It costs about C$10 to C$15 to install along a meter of new pipeline, which represents about 0.5 percent of the cost of a new pipeline construction, according to Hi-Fi Chief Executive Officer Steven Koles.

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