In addition to bringing the Internet to people all over the world, optical signals have a host of other lesser-known uses as well. Recently, the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) announced that it will use optical fibers to help monitor and maintain the subterranean gas lines that carry fuel throughout the state. The first phase of the fiber optic monitoring system will be installed on a seven-mile stretch of pipeline north of Los Angeles later this year.
The optical fibers will be buried 36 inches underground, and about 12 inches above the pipelines they’ll monitor. They will be connected to a remote station that will provide technicians with early warning alerts at the first sign of trouble. By interpreting changes in the optical signal, the monitoring system is able to identify and distinguish between different types of damage such as a leak or accidental dig-in by a third party contractor. It’s able to pinpoint the location of the damage to within 20 feet.
“The technology quickly detects when abnormal stress, movement or temperature conditions are present,” said a SoCalGas representative in a press release. “Continuous monitoring and measurement will help the company quickly identify threats to a pipeline from heavy equipment operation, unexpected earth movement or physical impact.”
SoCalGas plans to install the fiber optic monitors on all if its new and replacement pipelines in the future. The company is confident that the system will help to prevent leaks, and allow repair crews to respond quickly in the event of an emergency. Ultimately, this could make more than 100,000 miles of gas pipelines safer and more reliable for the communities they serve.