Peoples Gas Experimenting With Drones To Detect Gas Leaks

Drones for natural gas pipeline inspection

[Editor’s Note: Peoples Gas is testing using drones to find methane gas leaks along 14,000 miles of natural gas pipeline.]

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Drones are not uncommon in the area, but what is unusual about this one is the purpose.

“We’re flying a drone to get a visual inspection of the pipeline that crosses the bridge,” says Peoples Gas spokesperson Barry Kukovich.

Peoples Gas is experimenting with new technology to find methane gas leaks along the 14,000 miles of natural gas pipeline they have in this region, and bridges are a key target.

“We have 400 bridges, many of them have gas lines underneath, and we have to inspect these bridges on a quarterly basis,” notes Kukovich.

With an infra-red camera, the drone can detect heat, a sign of a potential leak, along the pipeline — or, alternatively, the drone could be equippedwith a sniffer that can smell a leak in hard-to-get places.

“This drone could be helpful in a crisis, like in the middle of a forest.  Our territory extends well past Johnstown and Altoona.  You can imagine some of the elevations that we have to go up and down.  This drone could be much safer for our employees as well.”

Pipes along bridges are particularly vulnerable to leaks because of bridge expansion and contraction during weather and even salt run-off in winter.

While newer pipelines can be bored underneath a creek or river, many of this region’s older bridges like this Chartiers Creek Bridge in McKees Rocks have gas pipelines attached to them.

“Because of our safety inspections, we’ve had very few difficulties on our bridges.”

The key is to detect leaks before there’s a problem.

Kukovich says no final decision yet on using drones in the future.

“This is really an R & D (research & development) project, and we’re seeing where this new technology can take us.”


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