Mobile Hybrid LiDAR & Infrared Sensing for Natural Gas Pipeline Monitoring

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CAIT project no.: RITARS-14-H-RUT

Fiscal Year: 2014/2015

Status: Final

Rutgers-CAIT Author(s): Jie Gong, Ph.D.

Sponsor(s): U.S. Department of Transportation/ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology


The natural gas distribution system in the United States comprises a total of 1.2 million miles of mains and about 65 million service lines (as of 2012). The network’s pipelines vary as far as material types, age, geographic location, and operational characteristics, which influences their vulnerability to a variety of threats.

Among other factors, natural disasters are raising threats to the integrity of natural gas systems. For example, natural forces (e.g., landslides, erosion, floods, earthquakes, and other environmental hazards) contributed to about 8.6 percent of these incidents in 2015. As weather systems become increasingly aggressive and natural disasters become more frequent, there is growing concern in the United States about managing this vast network of pipelines. During hurricanes and floods, pipelines can rupture and break due to permanent ground displacement, landslide, and collapsing building structures. The damage can cause significant post-disaster catastrophes such as fires, explosions, personal property loss, and environmental pollution.

Timely assessment of pipeline integrity is critical to prevent further post-disaster damages. However, such assessment is currently hampered by a) the lack of data sufficient for quantifying changes in pipeline conditions and their built environment, and b) the lack of data-driven risk models that identify high-risk pipe segments after a disaster. This project explored the integration of several remote-sensing technologies, and developing dedicated data processing and decision-support tools. These tools allow pipeline operators to monitor changes in the built environment (structures, terrain, etc.) on and around pipelines after a natural disaster and to assess the potential for increased risk of failure.

Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation and Gas Technology Institute collaborated on this project.

The overall goals of the project are to:
(1) provide new remote-sensing capabilities for pipeline performance after natural disasters;
(2) develop the ability to detect changes and anomalies in the environment which could indicate threats to pipelines; and
(3) develop GIS-based pipeline risk-assessment tools to identify and rank high risks.

The first stage of the project involved developing, deploying, and validating a mobile mapping platform that integrates commercially available high-precision global navigation, laser scanning, and infrared thermography technologies.

The second stage investigated fusion of remote sensing data from multiple sources including the mobile mapping system, airborne lidar, and UAV-borne imagery, to provide automated threat detection capabilities.

The last stage focused on evaluating and ranking risks for any given pipeline section based on its particular characteristics, historical pipe leak and corrosion data, and stressors from soil movement and flooding, to estimate the conditional probability of damage.

Information from this project can be used to enhance the safety of gas distribution and system and provide gas system operators with an improved ability to manage their pipeline systems. While research resulted in an integrated risk approach to natural gas distribution pipelines subjected to earth movement, landslides, and flooding (commonly associated with hurricane forces), the procedures developed in this project are also applicable to other threats and their associated risk parameters.