A SAR-based Approach to Pipeline Monitoring

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How can pipeline operators monitor construction activity taking place in close proximity to their infrastructure?

It’s a daunting task when you consider the size of land that must be covered. Oil & gas pipelines cover thousands of miles, making it very difficult to monitor their flanking right-of-way corridors by simply walking or driving.

In severe weather, like flooding, traversing the ground by foot or vehicle may be impossible. Bad storms can also limit the ability to fly an aircraft (e.g. airplane, helicopter, drone) that would otherwise be used to monitor a pipeline.

A more cost-effective solution utilizes satellite imagery, a topic we discussed earlier.

In this blog, we dive deeper into pipeline monitoring through an example of our work.

The specific type of satellite technology leveraged in this case was synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which has all-weather, 24/7 capabilities. This backgrounder explains more about how SAR works.

At Ursa Space, we’ve created the world’s largest network (“Virtual Constellation”) of commercial SAR satellites, which we leverage to process SAR data that is turned into analytic outputs used to solve a range of problems, including the difficulties associated with pipeline monitoring.

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Pipeline operators must be aware of anything happening in the pipeline’s right-of-way, including urban encroachment, construction activity, illegal building activity, overgrown vegetation, flooding and land deformation, all of which could spell disaster if left unchecked.

It’s also critical to have a high-level understanding of the area just outside the right-of-way, because people nearby may have to be notified for various reasons, including in the event of an emergency.

The example below demonstrates how we applied SAR data analytics to monitor a pipeline in Texas, north of Houston. The footprint includes a quarter-mile wide buffer on either side of the pipeline.

What are we doing exactly?

  1. Ingest SAR imagery at a regular cadence over an extended period of time.
  2. Apply SAR data analytics to identify any significant infrastructure changes that may have occurred along the pipeline footprint.
  3. Create a dashboard to visualize these changes.
  4. Identify any clusters to investigate
  5. Utilize optical imagery for a more detailed examination

Why is it useful?

This method involves using SAR over a broad area for initial detection, coupled with optical imagery covering a smaller area for more granular analysis. Imagery resolution and collection cadence can be customized to fit any requirement or budget.

A crew may then be dispatched for ground-level inspection, thereby allowing operators to allocate resources more efficiently.

The videos below show our Texas pipeline monitoring dashboard. In the first clip, we scroll across the footprint to get a sense for where the most change has occurred along the route.

TX Pipeline Change Detection - Clip 3 V2-resized-1280x720

In the Map Legend, you’ll see two features called Possible New Construction (blue trapezoid) and Possible Deconstruction (red trapezoid).

That allows us to visually identify significant clusters of change in 2020 (i.e., places where new construction or deconstruction likely occurred). On that basis, we honed in on two areas labelled Example 1 and Example 2.

The next clip takes a closer look at Example 1, and shows change on a quarterly basis.

TX Pipeline Change Detection - Clip 1 FULL SCREEN V1-1280x720

There is clearly activity taking place, which could include land clearing, material staging lots and actual construction. Indeed, the optical imagery on the right reveals new buildings that were not present before 2020, confirming our SAR-based analytics detected significant change worth further investigation.

Example 2 revealed a similar scenario — a cluster of activity was confirmed via optical imagery, revealing the construction of a new building on the site.

TX Pipeline Change Detection - Clip 2 FULL SCREEN V2-1280x720

Are you interested in learning more about this product and how Ursa Space can help you monitor pipelines?

Let us know! We’d love to hear from you and get started.

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