Rising to the challenge with oil-on-water sensor project

Piping Up For Technology Series (Part 3)

Innovation never stands still – there’s always a new advancement coming down the pipe. Enbridge is constantly testing commercially available technologies, and looking for opportunities to enhance existing technologies, in the areas of design, prevention, monitoring and leak detection, to keep our pipelines safe.

Our Piping Up For Technology Series, on the @enbridge blog, offers a glimpse of various research projects we’re engaged in, and the efforts we’re making to adapt and harness technology for safety’s sake. These proactive investments in innovation are intended to add another layer of safety and security to our pipeline network – and, ultimately, to the energy transportation industry as a whole.


The creek is so small that it doesn’t have a name.

But an Enbridge pilot project being conducted on this tiny body of water, which flows through Edmonton’s Edmonton Terminal near Sherwood Park, AB, could provide a big boost in the area of water quality monitoring – inside or outside our facilities.

PUFT oil-on-water for blog
MINIMIZING RISK: Since the spring of 2015, Enbridge's Leak Detection department has been conducting an oil-on-water detection pilot project on a creek within our Edmonton Terminal, testing multiple sensor technologies for potential use with our projects and operations.

“It’s considered a creek, although it’s more of a storm-water overflow for Strathcona County,” says Jim Mason, operations manager at Edmonton Terminal, where we have 33 crude oil storage tanks on site.

“Still, we always have to be on our toes to minimize any risk of petroleum product entering that canal, and potentially reaching any major bodies of water.”

Enbridge’s Leak Detection department is accountable for researching and assessing commercially available technologies, with the overarching objective of improving safety of pipeline operations.

Since the spring of 2015, our Leak Detection department has been conducting an oil-on-water leak detection pilot project on the creek within our Edmonton Terminal – testing the sensor technology of three separate vendors for potential use with our projects and operations, says Ray Philipenko, senior manager of leak detection at Enbridge.

“Each sensor detects oil on water in a different way,” adds Tania Rizwan, an Edmonton-based senior research engineer with Enbridge. “One is based on direct contact with hydrocarbons; the second emits low-level microwaves; and the third views the surface of the water from above to detect reflections of light caused by very thin layers of oil on the water’s surface.

“In all of these scenarios,” says Rizwan, “any liquid hydrocarbons that contact these sensors would raise an alarm.”

Currently, Enbridge is required to regularly sample storm water within our facilities, such as terminals and pump stations.

“Any oil-on-water sensors that we potentially put to use within our facilities would augment the sampling work we do, not replace it,” notes Les Miskolze, a senior manager with Enbridge’s environmental operations. “But these electronic sensors would certainly add a layer of protection – timely protection, because they would allow us to respond immediately.”

The oil-on-water pilot project will continue through 2016, so our Leak Detection researchers can monitor data collected by the trio of sensor technologies through all four seasons. The technology could pay enormous dividends – potentially supporting environmental water testing with sensor readings at multiple locations within an Enbridge facility, or enhancing the level of monitoring at unmanned sites or water crossings.

“Oil-on-water sensor systems could become another valuable addition to our leak detection strategy,” says Philipenko. “Depending on the success of this pilot project, and the value of the technology to enhance existing methods, our next steps would be to engage future pipeline projects and operating regions to see where it makes the most sense to apply.”

Watch for upcoming posts from our Piping Up For Technology series on the @enbridge blog channel.