A Berkeley company has developed a new safety system that it says can more effectively prevent pipeline accidents such as last year’s explosion in San Bruno by using well-known medical technology.
The new tool uses magnetic-resonance imaging, or MRI, technology to remotely monitor the structural integrity of metal pipelines, and it has the ability to prevent the types of leaks, explosions and disruptions that have occurred all too often since the Sept. 9, 2010, fire.
"Our systems will lead the way to safer and more dependable pipeline operations for industry and the public," Glen Stevick, president and co-founder of 4D Imaging, said in a statement.
4D Imaging is an international company that provides inspection technology for the oil and gas industry.
The company’s staff are all connected to UC Berkeley, and the team includes physicist and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Jerome Singer, the co-inventor of MRI, which is used in hospital radiological departments.
While the pipeline industry is coming up with new technology all the time that is supposed to make pipeline safety better, the Berkeley company says its technology is different because it can monitor a pipe from the outside and provide a more longterm scope of the health of a pipeline, no matter what the age.
After the MRI monitoring system is installed, the status of the pipeline can be visualized through the Web. The monitoring is constant, and any change in the mechanical health of the pipeline is measured and transmitted immediately to operating officers and pipeline managers.
The MRI system has been used with Chevron already and is just starting to be marketed to pipeline companies, a 4D Imaging spokeswoman said.
, a pipeline safety expert based in Redmond, WA, said he has seen a lot of new technology get developed over the years to better inspect pipelines—most notably smart pigs, the robotic devices used by many utilities to detect the physical condition of a pipeline.
But he said it is always better to stay cautious of newer technology until it can be verified and validated.
“Everybody is looking for that magic bullet technology,” Kuprewicz said. “But I would caution that the more sophisticated the technology, the more reason it needs to be verified.”