Curbing Security Threats
The oil and gas industry rely on thermal cameras to discover methane leaks
- By Kai Moncino
- Mar 01, 2022
Oil and natural gas play a fundamental role in fueling the worlds’ economy. Combined, oil and natural gas account for more than two-thirds of the energy the United States relies on daily. In November 2021 alone, the globe consumed an estimated USD $99.7 million of petroleum and liquid fuels, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
An Essential Asset
On top of this, several key advances in technology, such as using carbon dioxide to extract more oil from older wells; building floating platforms and subsea production systems that expand the volumes of oil and natural gas resources recoverable from the deeper water areas of the ocean; and practicing approaches that enable oil and natural gas production in more environmentally sustainable ways, have enabled a dramatic increase in domestic oil and natural gas production over the past 20 years, according to the Department of Energy.
In effect, these developments have not only made oil and natural gas one of the most important resources to the United States and global energy markets; they have also made them some of the most vulnerable resources to (1) foreign and domestic terror attacks and (2) asset failure, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars of energy and widespread environmental damage.
The Most Glaring Threats
Recent attacks on Saudi Arabian facilities provide an obvious example of the vulnerability of large and often remote oil and gas extraction sites. Two years ago, when Yemen’s Houthi movement claimed credit for two attacks on Saudi facilities, the Saudi government had to shut-in 5.7 million barrels per day (Mb/d) of crude oil production, along with 0.7 Mb/d of natural gas liquids and 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. That amounted to more than half of Saudi oil production and about six percent of global oil production, according to Forbes.
Outside of physical attacks, when natural gases are extracted, transported, and refined, invisible gas leaks pose a quieter and consistently costly threat. In fact, the United States oil and natural gas industry loses approximately 1.4 to 2.3 percent of its natural gas from operations due to leaks, each year, according to the EPA.
Because the U.S. produces 33.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) per year, according to the EIA, these losses total anywhere from 4.69 trillion to 7.705 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas. Not only do these gas leaks pose a health risk to staff, they also contribute significantly to global warming.
Thermal Sensor Technology – A Valuable Solution
Perhaps it goes without saying: Oil and natural gas extraction sites require the best and brightest of the world’s technologies for perimeter surveillance, asset management, and optical gas imaging; oil and natural gas facilities cannot afford to ignore these threats.
Luckily, industry-leading thermal cameras are purpose-built to distinctly address these threats.
Providing End-to-End Security
The value proposition for thermal cameras is simple: They capture clear images in harsh environments, where conventional cameras simply cannot perform. While traditional visible sensors struggle to produce discernable images in adverse conditions, such as rain, fog, or complete darkness—conditions prime for nefarious activity and ones that oil and gas wells are subject to constantly—thermal cameras enable 24-hour monitoring and deliver high-contrast images, ideal for video analytics and accurate intrusion detection.
The best thermal cameras for perimeter security benefit from two features that set them apart from other security devices: (1) superior thermal sensitivity and (2) sophisticated edge analytics.
Not all thermal cameras are created equal. One factor that distinguishes a thermal sensor’s quality is its thermal sensitivity, or Noise Equivalent Temperature Difference (NETD). The lower the NETD value, which is measured in milliKelvin (mK), the better the thermal camera can register small temperature differences.
For example, a thermal sensitivity of <40 mK is considered great while <30 mK is excellent. Ultimately, a thermal camera with poor thermal sensitivity will also have poor performance in bad weather or rugged, outdoor settings. However, in these same conditions, a camera with superior thermal sensitivity will yield higher contrast images that result in greater visibility, more accurate detection rates and better performance.
Having reliable video analytics is critical. It is crucial to receive accurate, actionable alerts in intrusion detection applications. Today, first-class thermal cameras include those that incorporate AI-based artificial intelligence-based analytics such as Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) analytics. Running algorithms based on thousands of thermal images, CNN analytics have a track record of higher performance and have the ability to geo-locate threats for superior situational awareness.
Moreover, CNN analytics have shown to be more resilient against nuisance alerts caused by motion or wildlife. Ultimately, CNN analytics reduce false alarms, lowering the overall cost of ownership for operators in the field.
At the end of the day, the only perimeter intrusions that make the news are the ones that prove successful. But security teams in the oil and natural gas industry are consistently deterring potential threats using advanced perimeter intrusion detection systems.
Thermal Cameras Prevent Leaks
In the United States alone, there are more than 900,000 active oil and natural gas wells. It is estimated that within three years, 10,000 of these sites in the U.S. and Canada will be remotely monitored by artificial-intelligence (AI)-enabled devices for autonomous environmental compliance, field operations, and predictive maintenance. At the helm of these efforts are optical gas imaging (OGI) devices, powered by thermal imaging technology.
Since gas emissions are invisible to the naked human eye, the detection of methane, volatile organic compounds, and hundreds of other industrial gases is essentially impossible without the aid of powerful technology. OGI cameras allow users to rapidly scan a large area of equipment and survey locations that can be difficult to reach with contact measurement tools alone by providing detection from a safe distance, displaying gas leaks as visible clouds of smoke.
Whether placed on a pan-tilt unit allowing maintenance operators to surveil the whole property remotely, or deployed by hand—OGI cameras use thermal sensors to detect and visualize gas leaks, fully satisfying EPA Method 21 AWP and Quad-Oa (EPA 40 CFR Part 60, Subpart OOOOa) specifications and proactively detecting gas leaks, so that repairs can be made, reducing emissions, and ensuring greater situational awareness during physical and remote inspections.
In the field, fixed OGI cameras paired with specialized onboard software are also able to remotely monitor oil and gas well pad tanks, providing operators tank level telemetry data and notifying operators of leak locations and severity within minutes of detection.
By using these smart solutions that use thermal imaging, oil and gas facilities experience autonomous, 24/7 gas detection and non-invasive tank level monitoring for greater on-site safety and even streamlined production. This can provide a cost-effective approach to operations and is critical both for worker safety and Environment Social and corporate Governance (ESG) reporting.
When questions arise about sustainable oil and natural gas extraction practices, worker safety, asset maintenance, and perimeter protection - consider deploying thermal imaging cameras. Thermal cameras are valuable solutions with rich feature sets and capabilities that are purpose built for a variety of use cases including intrusion detection along the perimeter and preventative gas leak detection at oil and gas sites.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Security Today.