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Science Notebook

Leak Detection Using Remote Sensing

How do you repair a leak you can’t even see?

Some leaks are easy to detect – a dripping faucet, a trickle from an oil tank – because we can actually see them. But what happens when the leak is invisible to the human eye? This has been a huge challenge facing both petroleum refineries and government agencies over the last few decades. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) leaking from refineries are hard to detect using traditional methods which are expensive, time-consuming, and not always effective. Meanwhile, these “fugitive emissions” continue to leak from facilities, threatening human health and the natural environment.

What’s the answer?

Both the private and public sector are embracing a new method in leak detection: remote sensing. To find out more about the problem of “fugitive emissions,” why remote sensing is a great solution to catching these emissions, and how it all works, check out the slide show below!

Want to Learn More?

Watch this video and fly over barges along the Mississippi River with an IR camera.
Listen to Myron Knudson describe these boats’ emissions. (Running time = 47 seconds)

A video showing VOCs escaping from river barges.

To view graphic, please install the Adobe Flash player plug-in

Watch this video taken with an IR camera to see what escapes from the pump
when you’re filling up your gas tank. (Running time = 6 seconds)

A video showing VOCs escaping while refueling a pickup truck.

To view graphic, please install the Adobe Flash player plug-in

Meet a member of the Action Team

Myron KnudsonName: Myron Knudson
Location: Region 6, Dallas, TX
Job title: Senior Policy Advisor
(Running time = 4:17

View Audio Transcript

Testing, 1, 2, 3…

A key step in developing a new technology to protect human health and the environment is verifying its performance. Through its Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program, EPA works with technology experts to create efficient, quality-assured testing procedures that verify the performance of innovative technologies. ETV operates as a public-private partnership, mainly through cooperative agreements between EPA and private nonprofit testing and evaluation organizations.

ETV operates six centers covering a broad range of environmental technology categories. One of these centers, the Advanced Monitoring Systems (AMS) Center, developed the test plan for verifying portable optical and thermal imaging devices for leak detection at petroleum refineries and chemical plants. The AMS Center is analyzing data and writing reports on 2009 laboratory and field verification tests for two technologies, and will finalize these reports early in 2010.

Click to learn more about the ETV Program, verified leak detection technologies, and testing procedures.

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