Red Hen Systems helps pinpoint invisible escaping methane leaks from natural gas pipelines

By: Martha Roden Thursday October 16, 2014 Tags: Christopher Peter, Dallas White, Ellen Skinner, Fort Collins, geotagging, GIS, Neil Havermale, Red Hen Systems

By Martha Roden


FORT COLLINS-- How would a gas company find a single methane leak in over 1,000 miles of above-ground gas pipeline?

With Red Hen Systems' Pipe-I Kit and a helicopter, it's easy.

"Because methane is invisible, gas and utility companies have to use other means than sight to detect it. That's where our Pipe-I Kit comes in," says Ellen Skinner, director of marketing for Red Hen Systems, a Fort Collins-based GIS technology company.

"It discovers leaks and identifies their exact locations so they can be dealt with as quickly as possible."

The Pipe-I Kit consists of Red Hen's award-winning video mapping tool, VMS-333, along with a GasFinder laser by Boreal.

"Gas and utility companies regularly use helicopters to perform pipeline patrols," says Skinner. "With the Pipe-I Kit, the helicopter pilot and operator fly over the gas pipeline with a digital video camera and a Boreal laser mounted to the helicopter's belly--both connected to the VMS-333."

Christopher Peter, engineer at Red Hen Systems, spells out the process:

"The video camera captures the pipeline below. When the helicopter flies over an escaping plume of gas that is invisible to the eye, the methane molecules pass through the laser beam, interrupting its transmission. A detector measures the number of interruptions, and when they reach a pre-determined level, an audio alarm sounds."

Peter said depending on the concentration of the leak, the pilot can immediately call the gas company. As the helicopter continues along the pipeline, VMS-333 captures the gas concentrations and their exact locations by latitude and longitude and embeds that information in the video for later analysis.

Once the video and gas data are collected, the information is sent to Red Hen Systems for processing.

"Companies can send us the memory chip from their digital video camera or they can upload the digital files to a special Red Hen Systems server that is private and secure," says Peter.

After the data is processed, the customer uses isWhere -- another Red Hen product -- to watch the flight video while viewing the helicopter's flight path on Google Earth, complete with colored dots representing different methane concentrations.

Red Hen also provides customers with daily, weekly or summary reports that contain simple, relevant data so they can find what they need and understand what they see.

Red Hen Systems works with gas companies all over the world. Dallas White, a pilot with Remote Helicopters, Ltd. in Alberta, Canada, says his company was tasked with videotaping more than 1,800 nautical miles of pipeline (30+ hours of video) to produce an inspection report for compliance purposes for a large gas company.

White said the sheer volume of data to be collected for a pipeline of that length was daunting and Pipe-I was the perfect solution. Pipe-I efficiently geotagged the video along every foot of the pipeline, while simultaneously capturing methane gas concentrations at their correct locations.

White flew his patrols with the VMS-333 and Boreal laser, and then sent his data to Red Hen Systems for processing. The processed data was a big hit with Remote Helicopters' clients. With the gas data integrated into the video, clients could easily identify gas concentrations on the map. As a result, their own inspection reports were more complete and accurate and better met compliance requirements

Remote Helicopters now has a competitive edge over other helicopter firms by using the VMS-333. "VMS-333 is fast, efficient and amazingly accurate," White said.

With products such as the Pipe-I Kit, Red Hen Systems has maintained an excellent reputation as a media geotagging company, with a variety of innovative products that put the "where" (geographic location) and the "how much" (sensor data) into videos and photos.

According to marketing director Skinner, Red Hen Systems will soon be releasing new versions of two established products, MediaMapper Server and isWhere, each with an attractive and intuitive interface. The two products will enhance the usability of the Pipe-I Kit. With MediaMapper Server, customers will be able to use a new media distribution component, Project Loader, to easily upload and organize their patrol data on a secure server so they can store and compare the data over time. With isWhere, customers will be able to capture short video clips and still photos from the Pipe-I patrol video footage to highlight important areas of their pipeline patrol.

Red Hen Systems will also be adding a FLIR (forward looking Infrared) camera to the Pipe-I Kit. This means customers will be able to simultaneously "see" methane gas plumes that are invisible to the naked eye, and the locations and concentrations of those plumes will be automatically captured by the VMS-333.

Red Hen was founded in Fort Collins in 1997. "After 17 years in business, we are always looking for new uses for Red Hen Systems software and hardware to better meet our customers' needs, now and in the future," says Neil Havermale, CEO.
Martha Roden

About the Author: Martha Roden

 Martha Roden is a freelance writer and usability specialist with more than 30 years of experience working with high-tech, low-tech and no-tech companies. She and her husband moved to Colorado from Silicon Valley in 1990, trading the ocean for the mountains, and she's never looked back.
True to her tagline, she works hard to "make the complex simple," whether she's collaborating with developers to make an easy-to-use mobile app, helping a marketing team create engaging Web content or writing understandable articles, user guides and textbooks. Her specialties include technical, marketing and educational writing, along with user interface mockups and usability testing. So far, the only writing she hasn't done is fiction.
Martha's love of making complicated things easy to understand started early. Even in kindergarten, she loved explaining things to her fellow students. When she's not writing, editing or evaluating, she likes to do yoga, watch movies with her husband, David, enjoy nature and play with her super fuzzy kitties.