Gas companies using AI to predict leaks and disasters: The way forward?

Gas companies using AI to predict leaks and disasters: The way forward?

By Nishikant Gupta

With the rapid increase in urbanization, coupled with unpredictable climatic events (flash floods, landslides, and heat waves, to name a few), it is not surprising that gas companies are on the offensive to nip the associated risks in the bud and prevent hazardous episodes that can adversely impact the lives and livelihoods of hundreds and sometimes thousands and severely damage critical gas infrastructure.

The applications of AI in the gas industry:

It is important to note that the gas industry is a three-tiered, major operational mechanism involving up-, mid-, and downstream sections. From exploration and production, to transportation and storage, and finally, to refining and distribution, there are risks that can be mitigated through artificial intelligence (AI). AI is applied to analyze and decide on key resilient actions using a variety of tools. These AI tools can include identifying previous gas problems, satellite mapping, soil and weather data, and land use change near pipelines to pinpoint the “disaster zones.”

For example, if a climatic or anthropogenic (man-made) hazard has the potential to result in a pipeline leak, AI applications can predict machinery and equipment failures before it actually occurs, leaving the team plenty of time for proactive repair and identifying the optimal operational plans. This has multiple benefits at numerous tiers: monitoring the common causes of pipeline failure operations from halting, which eliminates the communication lag that results in costly spills; saving billions of dollars in maintenance costs to repair the leak; and preventing critical environmental damage— all in real time

An added benefit of AI is its ability to identify both where a specific preventative action could have been taken to avoid the failure in the first place as well as how to refine the existing strategies going forward. This can be achieved by digitizing gas company records and analyzing geological data charts in an automated way and with highly time-saving efficiency. Given the speed of the analysis and results generation, gas companies obtain that vital window of opportunity where they can accurately target areas with impeding pipeline corrosion or increased equipment usage. This allows for the formulation of critical safety decisions in real time to deal with complex engineering issues that might arise otherwise. The result is the improved, fast decisions to enhance both production and safety. Further, AI can assist geoscientists in obtaining critical and often difficult-to-obtain information on faults, unconformity, folds, and boundaries. 

What companies have started using AI-based technologies?

There are several recent examples of the application of AI by gas companies.

  • BP has recently invested in startup Belmont Technology to develop a cloud-based geoscience platform. This platform allows for the interpretation of holistic information (i.e., data comprising of satellite images, ground data, and possible projections), generating valuable analysis such as the pinpointing of hot zones for impending disasters based on the available and projected information that can be used for targeted strategies for dealing with probable leaks and pipeline defects before they occur and lead to widespread damage to lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure.
  • The UK Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has launched the country’s first National Data Repository (NDR) containing a plethora of valuable data from multiple fields covering pipelines. AI has played a critical role in the analysis of this data, thus helping to reveal new opportunities through the use of projected data coupled with existing information and improve existing setup of infrastructure for a more resilient system.
  • In addition, Aker BP has partnered with SparkCognition to enhance AI applications and timely monitoring of its offshore structures for optimum functioning and possible failures.
  • A similar approach was adopted last year by Shell, through a partnership with Microsoft.

Having access to timely information of an impending disaster (e.g, soggy soil with the potential to cause pipe corrosion and leaks) goes a long way in achieving resilient systems. Many in the industry believe that AI will allow gas companies to improve the efficiency and maintenance of their equipment and develop better schedules that will prevent failures in the field. So far, AI is a valuable tool used by companies with pipelines and plants, and it is slowly making its way as it is deployed at commercial scale globally. This is not surprising, given its potential for out- and upscaling to assist gas companies in becoming sustainable entities for communities across the planet. 

Featured image source: Mxmstryo on Flickr.

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