A researcher at a Norwegian university has developed a portable device which is capable of identifying leaks and other damage suffered by pipelines situated in turgid or inaccessible waters.

The device, developed by Jasper Agbakwuru during his PhD studies at the University of Stavanger, is small enough to be held manually by a single person, and can be conveyed via a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to pipelines located in rivers or oceans waters which are difficult to access.

The device comes equipped with a camera and light which permits human operators on land to closely scrutinize underwater pipelines in order to identify any damage, as well as a nozzle which jets out clean water to disperse any sand or debris.

Pipelines are an essential part of the energy infrastructure of industrialized economies and play an indispensable role in the transportation of fossil fuels such as oil and liquid natural gas over long distances.

Many are situated in waters which are less than ideal for human observation purposes, in either coastal areas beset by large amounts of sediment, or on the bottom of muddy riverbeds.

Up until now, the only solution for assessing and repairing damaged pipelines has been to send down human divers, whose operations are often hampered by the location of the pipes and extremely poor visibility.

Under such conditions human divers “can’t see the damage properly or decide how best to deal with it,” says Agbakwuru.

The divers are consequently unable to provide accurate or detailed information to engineers located on the surface, who have the final say in determining the state of the pipes.

The fruits of Agbakwuru’s research, which was sponsored by oil giant  Shell, could serve to remedy this problem by permitting engineers to view pipes directly from a remote location.

Helge Skjaeveland, technology adviser for Shell’s Norwegian branch, says the results are highly promising.

“The equipment he’s developed could potentially help to locate oil leaks from pipelines in muddy or unclear water at a very early stage, so that the discharge can be halted and cleaned up fast,” Skjaeveland said.

Agbakwuru is currently in the process of preparing a patent application for the device with the assistance of Prekubator TTO, the University of Stavanger’s technology transfer office.

Further development of the device is also ongoing with plans to add sensors which can detect leaks or sabotage of pipelines via acoustic emissions.