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Acoustic sensing for fracking and pipelines by Fotech

Friday, September 13, 2013

Acoustic fibre optics company Fotech says that its technology is proving most valuable for pipeline monitoring and fracking monitoring. We interviewed CEO Chris Shannon

UK acoustic fibre optic company Fotech says it sees the biggest potential for its technology in pipeline monitoring and fracking monitoring.

The company makes technology which enables a standard fibre optic cable to be used like a string of hundreds of thousands of microphones, each one recording sound.

It works because light going through a fibre optic cable is altered slightly by the sound waves around the cable.

The technology can be used to monitor pipelines, allowing the pipeline operator to monitor all the sounds next to the pipeline, along its length, and analyse the sounds to try to work out what they are. This is useful in trying to stop leaks or terrorism.

The technology can be used in fracking, to see if the different parts of the well are making the noise which you would expect, to indicate that the rock is being forced open by fracking fluid, or nothing is happening.

The fibre optic cable and light itself are basic commodity technology. Fotech is developing the technology to analyse the returned light beam and get useful information from it immediately.

Fotech has engineering staff in Calgary and the UK, and sales staff in New Jersey and Houston.

Over the past 2 years, the company has taken on new financing, and a new management team, aiming to grow the business in these two sectors.

Chris Shannon, CEO, was previously CEO of Indigo Phonics, a UK optical components company. He joined Fotech in September 2011.


The technology is being used in fracturing, to provide immediate insight into what is happening downhole, by listening to where the noise is coming from.

A fibre optic cable is installed along the outside of the casing, and used to monitor the sounds along the casing.

You can use this acoustic information to work out if you need to keep fracking longer or increase the pressure, to make sure all zones get stimulated.

Or you can see if the job is already done and you can finish.

So this means it can improve efficiency and reduce costs of the frac.

You could also use it to make sure that the fluids are flowing where they are supposed to be - inside the casing, not outside it through leaks in the cement. You can also monitor valve movements.

It can work as a standalone tool, where you can display the data simply with an illustration of the well showing where there is sound. ''The production engineer can look at and understand it,'' Mr Shannon said.

But the biggest value will come from combining the fibre data with other sorts of data, such as temperature and microseismic, which can also be gathered with the same fibre optic cable, to get a bigger picture, Mr Shannon believes.

The company wants it to be so obvious what the benefits of using fibre optic cables to monitor fracs, that companies wouldn''t consider doing it without fibre.

There are many other potential applications from monitoring wells, including monitoring fractures, recording borehole seismic, monitoring valves, monitoring waterflood and looking for leaks.


Fotech''s biggest market is providing services to gather and analyse acoustic data recorded from fibre optic cables along pipelines for security purposes.

The system is proving most popular in more dangerous or security conscious parts of the world, including America, West Africa, Asian subcontinent, he said.

The system can analyse 40,000 different points along 40km of a fibre, gathering as much as 150 megabits per second of data.

If there is already a standard communications fibre optic cable the system can use that.

The big challenge is filtering out the noise recording so people can be provided with information which is useful, in terms of (for example) detecting theft, leaks or security concerns, rather than information about sheep crossing the pipeline.

Fotech aims to build up a library of different acoustic signals and what caused them - so you can compare your recording with the recorded signals. Noises can be categorised as (for example) vehicles, digging, walking, and farming equipment.

A customer might want to be alerted if they see a certain pattern of noise, for example a vehicle parking close to the pipeline, footsteps to the pipeline, and digging.

Customers choose what they want to hear about - which might depend on whether the pipeline goes through a heavily populated area, with all kinds of noise continously, or a remote area.

''If we are presenting false positives, that doesn''t happen too many times before the customer says, this is not usable,'' he said. ''We have to be very certain what we''re reporting is genuine activity.''

Associated Companies
» Fotech Solutions Ltd
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