There are 200,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines and 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines in America.
Traditionally, the only way to maintain these miles of pipeline was to completely shut them down and flush it with a cleaning agent. This slowed production and would sometimes contaminate the oil or natural gas, which would then have to be disposed of.
Today, producers can use smart pigs, or pipeline intervention gadgets.
Without interrupting flow, pigs travel through the pipeline scraping the sides and pushing debris out of the flow. Smart pigs can perform a number of important functions — from simply clearing debris to gathering terabytes worth of data on pipeline condition, including diameter, curvature, temperature and metal corrosion. This information is transmitted to operators, who then dispatch a crew to fix problems as needed.
Pigs are launched into the pipeline through pig traps, or canisters that runs parallel to the pipeline. Through these canisters, pigs can be inserted directly into the flow of oil or natural gas.
Product bypasses the launcher, but runs into the trap prior to launch in order to raise the pressure enough to push the pig into the pipeline, where it can accomplish its mission.
Smart pigs are used to inspect pipelines for safety and integrity. If a problem is found, the pig immediately signals the operator, who can then send a crew to address the problem.
As the smart pigs move through the pipeline, they collect and transmit terabytes of vital data back to the operator, ensuring any irregularities are caught and addressed.