The safety of the gas pipeline network is arguably the most important aspect of the gas transportation business. Pipeline installations, which are spread across large areas, are difficult to monitor and safeguard against various types of external risks. Attacks or leaks in such installations can lead to large-scale environmental and ecological damage.
To prevent these attacks and ensure the safety of its extensive pipeline network, GAIL (India) Limited, the biggest gas transporter in the country, has been taking noteworthy steps over the past few years. As of May 2017, the company has an operational gas transmission network of 10,977 km, and another 5,415 km is under construction.
In 2014, a section of GAIL’s pipeline network caught fire and claimed about 20 lives in addition to causing infrastructural damage. Thereafter, the company stepped up its efforts to ensure the safety of its pipelines. To monitor its pipeline
network, the company, in November 2015, announced its plans to deploy a satellite-based surveillance system as an alternative to the monthly helicopter surveys, and the plan was subsequently put into action. The application has been evaluated along the 610 km Dahej-Vemar-Vijaipur pipeline section, commonly known as the DVPL line, and its technological feasibility tested using various types of monthly data.
The technology application is a joint effort by GAIL and the National Remote Sensing Centre, a unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation. To assist in data capture through the satellite, a surveillance geo-portal has been put in place. The Bhuvan-GAIL portal uses space technology for the pipeline safety application. The portal allows online monitoring of the right of usage along the pipeline.
A mobile application has also been developed to aid the surveillance system. Pictures of incidents taken locally from any mobile showing the actual scenario can be uploaded instantly on to the portal. A report system integrated with the Bhuvan-GAIL portal can send alerts to relevant executives via text messages and emails (regarding the changes noted along the pipeline). The uploading of any new satellite pictures is notified in a similar manner.
Taking a step forward, the company, in 2016, announced its plans to deploy drones on a pilot basis over its main trunk pipeline. To this end, GAIL has floated tenders, and has received an encouraging response. The drones will be used to patrol the pipeline to detect encroachments or intrusions. As a part of the pilot project, a drone will fly over the pipeline, capturing pictures and other data using smart technology. The data will be analysed to detect any potential hazard. If successful, drones will be used on other key pipelines as well. GAIL currently uses foot patrolling to spot encroachments and seeks the local administration’s help in getting them cleared.
The way forward
While the initiatives taken by GAIL to monitor its network have been welcomed by the industry, their effectiveness will depend on their large-scale implementation. It is often seen that despite systems being in place, the desired outcome is not achieved. In some cases, this is due to problems associated with the skill set of the employees, while in other cases, the underutilisation of data/surveillance systems results in a failure. Thus, the upkeep and proper utilisation of surveillance systems is as important as their implementation.