How Can AI Combat Oil Leaks?

16 September 2018

Lab Chat

The UAE has announced the opening of a new artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory. Working in conjunction with the Khalifa University of Science and Technology and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) plan to use the laboratory to bolster performance and efficiency in a number of areas.

One of these will be the prevention of oil leaks, which can cause environmental disaster and cost millions of dollars in damages. While bigger leaks are more easily and obviously identifiable, small leaks can sometimes fly under the radar but still result in massive losses and huge environmental impact. The AI laboratory aims to put an end to that profligacy and pollution.

An underestimated problem

Of course, major incidents such as the Keystone oil pipeline leak which occurred in South Dakota last year make the headlines, but smaller leaks can often go undetected for months, years or longer. A small leak is one identified as comprising less than 1% of the pipeline’s total flow rate, which might not sound like much – but cumulatively can add up to a significant amount of wasted fuel.

“Some of the largest pipelines carry about 800,000 barrels a day. 1%of that is 8,000 barrels a day, which is a lot,” explained Maria Araujo, Research and Development expert. “The technology that exists today, the primary one being computational pipeline monitoring, are unable to detect leaks that are less than 1% because it is below their detection capability.”

AI to the rescue

While traditional methods of pipeline monitoring might not be sufficient to detect small leaks, AI can fill that void. The advent of smart leak detection for both oil and gas pipelines uses highly sensitive cameras to detect leaks as small as 0.36m3/hr from a distance as far away as 60m. The sophistication of this technology allows industrial plant owners to safeguard their finances, assets and reputation in one fell swoop.

Looking to leverage the power of machine learning, the UAE AI laboratory will incorporate such smart leak detection into its operations. “The laboratory aims to protect the local environment by monitoring and analysing the available information accurately and using it in making the right decisions, based on the latest global technologies,” said Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the MOCCAE Minister.

A range of benefits

As well as isolating oil leakage points, the AI laboratory will also be responsible for optimising solar power generation, monitoring marine ecosystems and mapping environmental impact on land. Using solar photovoltaic mapping software, the lab will be capable of assessing which regions of the country are most suited to the placement of solar panels, as well as integrating all existing solar hardware into one unit.

The land and air monitoring system will track, record and predict pollution concentrations for six different kinds of contaminants. Meanwhile, the marine system will work in tandem with NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to provide information on water quality levels and better organise shipping routes.

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