Multiphase flow is one of the most difficult situations for leak detection in pipelines, due to several reasons: the existence of two different and independent flow rates at each phase, five or more possible flow patterns, different fluid velocities at the phases, and sometimes a non-Newtonian associated behavior, due to the formation of an oil-water emulsion. There are two main groups for leak detection techniques: the models (or CPM, as stated in [API_1130]) which monitor the flow in real time (CVB, RTTM, PPA, etc.) from inside the pipeline (the instrument sensor is actually in physical contact with the fluid), and try to model the flow using a state estimator; and those based on dedicated external sensors (thermal, mass dispersion, etc) along the pipeline. Most of the technologies at the first group rely entirely on volumetric flow rate measurements, which turn them quite ineffective for multiphase flow. It is also relevant to consider that in some multiphase flow pipelines, the flow pattern changes quite random and intensively, allowing from a bubble pattern, to a slug pattern. There is sometimes the situation where a gas slug is big enough to fill entirely a short line and allow it to behave similarly to a gas pipeline, during a certain time (in fact, this was the case of one of the field tests this work will describe). This will bring unpredictability to those lines, in opposition to a regular single-phase line. Within this frame, the systems based on prediction approaches (hydraulic, statistical, etc, i. e., CPM’s), will show a good probability to be unreliable, inaccurate and not sensitive. The acoustic system is an exception to those two groups of technologies previously mentioned. It has, on one hand, a sensor that really touches the fluid (which would suggest it to be within the first group), but there’s no flow model behind it, on the other hand, but an acoustic sign analysis algorithm, acting somewhat like a piece of hardware. This paper will describe, discuss and report data for tests using an acoustic leak detection system at three different multiphase flow pipelines in Brazil, managed by PETROBRAS Production & Exploration Department.

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