North Dakota energy regulators want to see more crude and natural gas traveling through pipelines to market, but they want that done safely.
They're funding $10 million in research, including an initiative to make sure pipes don't leak.
The Intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program, or iPipe, tries to bring some of the state's best minds in energy together for innovation in the oil field.
"We say that's not working for us; that is working for us. Do more of this; do less of this. And it's really a way to hone those products into something that industry will actually want to purchase at the end," said Principal Engineer Jay Amlmie.
Among the successes are Pipers, golf ball sized sensors that flow in the pipeline. They detect pressure, position and even the sound the pipeline makes. They collect that data to detect leaks in pipeline. That project is already on a commercial scale.
"Is it corroding? Is it failing? Are the joints weakening? It can tell us location of the pipeline if we didn't already know it. It can listen for leaks; it's got ears on board and it's listening for the whistle of leaks as it passes through,” Almlie said.
After one year of piloting with active pipelines, operators are putting the pipers in numerous gathering systems. Now, the industry is looking to expand its role.
"This technology, that particular technology, we're hoping, can take the leap to be really intelligent for detection or contamination. They've developed algorithms to look at vegetation,” North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.
Pipers are just one of the products in IPipe's $4 million product development portfolio. They're also developing drones to fly over pipeline systems as another way to prevent leaks from spreading.
The iPipe program is in its second year.