A type of infrared camera recently used by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to monitor air quality in Houston is now being used by industry leaders at refinery sites. The camera, called the Hawk, uses infrared technology to record images of gases leaking out of pipelines and alert the refinery of the leaks. David Furry is the president of Leak Surveys, the company that developed the camera. He says the idea came from military technology that was used to track rocket plumes.
Chemical refineries can mount the cameras anywhere in the plant to scan for one time leaks or perform ongoing monitoring of emissions. Chris Miller is with the East Harris County Manufacturers Association. She says one of the most significant uses is to track what are known as fugitive emissions.
Fugitive emissions usually come from a leak in a pipe or flange. Even after repairs are made, it can be difficult to make sure the leak is sealed, because small plumes of gas could go by undetected. Up till now, the industry has employed a small, hand-held device to sweep pipelines looking for leaks.
The TCEQ hired Leak Surveys to use the camera mounted on a helicopter to look for emissions in the Houston and Beaumont areas. The camera documented 175 previously unknown leaks. The technology is unable to determine the quantity or type of emissions released. Dozens of refineries in the area are on the waiting list for monitoring services.