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Note

Technical
Department
Networks

Object: leak search using tracer gas (helium) in live pipes

This technique applies when the acoustic


method cannot be implemented.

Reminder on the principle of the acoustic method:


The pressure energy of water in the pipeline is dissipated in a leak and is transmitted as vibrations
into the pipe network, water and soil.
The acoustic method captures this vibration energy by an accelerometer, usually placed on a
valve, or by a hydrophone placed in the liquid stream. The signal collected is analyzed to
determine the location of the leak.
This method has its own limitations and cannot be applied to the entire network. The main
obstacles are:
energy loss is too small to be captured (the case of very low pressure systems, "embedded"
parasite leaks, constant noise from the network or outside)
dissipated energy does not diffuse over a great length, it is absorbed by the pipe in synthetic
material (PVC, PE)
dissipated energy cannot be captured due to the absence of sufficiently close contact points on
the pipe
This method also has constraints
inability to prioritize the flows of leaks to be repaired
obligation to check after repair if a existing leak of lower noise levels could not be heard
The acoustic method has an advantage: ease of implementation: a single opening/closing the
valve box or chamber is enough for the leakage searcher to capture the vibrational energy.
Principle of the tracer gas method
A gas lighter than air is injected into a pipeline in service. Dissolved and uniformly distributed in the
liquid stream it is driven out of the pipe by leaking water. Being at atmospheric pressure, it
resumes its gaseous form and rises slowly to the surface, where it will be detected by an
appropriate analyzer.
Helium is the gas used
for its difficulty to dissolve in water (and thus its ability to regain its gaseous form)
for its very low concentration in the atmosphere at a constant level (5 ppm)
for its persistence in the soil for several days
for its non-toxicity to humans and non-degradation of the quality of drinking water.

Conditions of injection into the pipe


The use of tracer gas is particular to implement: the introduction into drinking water for an external
element can degrade its quality. This injection of gas demand, therefore the greatest care and
cleanliness strictly observed in these operations.
The gas can be injected directly into the pipe upstream of a disruptive hydraulic element to be
homogenized in the liquid stream. It is injected in proportion to water flow rate at 1% in the pipes
and at a lower rate in the transfer lines.
The minimum pressure in the network must be 0.8 bar and speed 0,2 m/s.
Injection is carried out for 4 hours. The water flowing in the pipeline is "marked" with helium and
forms a "plug" that is divided and distributed to the network by subscribers only or by consumption
by a purge made for this purpose.
The pressure in the network must be maintained for at least 12 to 24 hours after injection in order
to "push" helium as far as possible into the soil.
After about 12h the plug of water marked with helium will not be present in the network, it will have
been distributed to subscribers. They will not realize the presence of helium dissolved, except in
case of high pressure in the network. The white water that could be created by releasing the gas
will not remain visible long.

Diagrams of helium diffusion in water under pressure.

Water marked with helium


Helium Injection

Diffusion of helium in
the ground

t=2 h
Water marked with helium advances in the network and diffuses into the soil
at the first leak

t=5h
marked water advances in the network with the consumption

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t= 12h
there is more water marked with helium in the
network
t= 4jours
there is still helium in the ground

Injection of tracer gas directly to a branch


created for this purpose.

Helium detection
The presence of helium gas is sought in the soil itself and not in the atmospheric gas.
A vacuum pump draws air from the ground through a disc tightly fitted on the ground. The soil air
is sent to a mass spectrometer to detect the presence of helium in a precise way.
This operation is made along the pipe every 5 m, preferably in small cracks in the ground,
pavement connections. If the surface is waterproof, it will be pierced using a perforator.
This air is filtered before being made available to the pump on the mass spectrometer.
The rate of helium is displayed and a buzzer also reveals its presence.
Helium detected can only come from the drinking water system, it is not at levels above 5 ppm in
the atmosphere.
In the presence of helium, a more constricted search (every meter) will be made to clarify the
position of the leak.

Two people are needed for this detection:


a person withdraws the soil gas
Another drives a vehicle carrying equipment and producing the electricity required for the mase
spectrometer, the vacuum pump and, if necessary, the perforator.
This team can search for leaks over about 3-4 km of network per day if the network is traced and
there is little leakage. The precise location of a leak takes time. If they are numerous, length
inspected daily decreases.

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Gas withdrawn from soil


by a plate fitted to the
ground

Piercing a road in reinforced concrete (50 cm thick)

More precise search each


meter to locate the leak.
Rates are written on the
ground
to
facilitate
research.

Leak repairs
This technique ranks the leaks by flow rate. Only the most "interesting" from flow and repair cost
aspects will be repaired.
The gas is dissolved homogeneously in the liquid stream. The amount of gas located outside the
pipe is proportional to the amount of water and thus the leak rate.
Les Repairs will be made in descending order of rate of helium, leakage rates which are lowest
may not be repaired, depending on the value of the measure, the local context .
Results obtained
Example: campaign to detect leaks in Riyadh in January 2010.
The leak check was made on 10 km of PVC, without valve chambers. The network pressure is 0,8
bar.
Only one leak was detected with the acoustic method.
The use of helium led to detect 18 points with rates ranging between 50 000 ppm and 15 ppm.
Only the 9 leaks rated above 100 ppm were repaired. Distributed volumes decreased from 1,000
m3/d before repairs to 600m3/d after of repair, a gain of 40%.

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Arqah volume ditribu en m3/j


1100
1000
900

Gain of 400
m3/d

volume en m3/j

800
700
600
500
400
300

samedi 6 fvrier 2010

samedi 30 janvier 2010

samedi 23 janvier 2010

samedi 16 janvier 2010

samedi 9 janvier 2010

samedi 2 janvier 2010

200

date

Equipment required
Helium injection
The injection is made from a bottle of helium gas, posed near the injection point. the bottle has a
regulator, a helium mass flow regulator meter, check valve, hose and connecting parts, pressure
control according to the diagram below:
Injection into the pipe will be made on a pipe saddle, a meter branch, a tap preferably upstream of
a disruptive element to promote mixing of the gas in the liquid stream.

Helium injection into drinking water network

The gas will be of food quality and provide for traceability of cylinders. Otherwise, its quality will
be as pure as possible, without being medical grade or ultrapure. An analysis of each bottle,
requested of the supplier at ordering, will enable the quality check.
The progress of helium in the network will be checked at different points a few hours after the start
of injection, especially at the ends of the area to inspect. This control is done by sampling water
from the network and analyzing for helium.

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Detection equipment
The equipment required for injection and detection of helium is a collection from different
manufacturers, some specific to helium, others to the technical implementation, and the rest is
"mainstream".
We can send you details of suppliers in France and the equipment characteristics.
The flow diagram below shows the various elements required for this technique: withdrawal of gas
from soil , gas filtering and detection of helium.

Intake pipe

Link pipe

air filter with negative pressure


measurement

Link pipe

Vacuum pump

Gas collection jar for spectrometer probe

mass spectrometer by inhalation


AMS 102 S He

Gas measurement and filter head loss


recorder. Monitoring graphs

The mass spectrometer is a


laboratory device that can be
installed under certain conditions in
a vehicle. It is powered by AC
current 220V or 110V, 50Hz or 60
Hz depending on local provisions.

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Withdrawal of gas from soil :


Withdrawal nozzle
Piping and filter
Vacuum pump (220V, or 110V
supply)

This equipment will be placed in a vehicle sheltered from weather and dust.
Power comes from the vehicle battery, from another battery and a cabinet comprising a converter,
guards, power sockets .
The suction tube has a length of about 20 to 50 m.
The high capacity vacuum pump is equipped with a vacuum gauge to quantify negative pressure,
an indicator of the impermeability of the soil.
A drill with 50 cm long bits completes equipment.
Note: the vehicle travels on the highway at a very moderate speed, it stops frequently. Its safety
must be ensured and that of the person walking nearby.

Working conditions, choosing a network.


Length to be inspected per injection, per working week
The helium gas remains about 4 to 5 days in soil.
The speed of detection is about 3 to 4 km per day for an identified network.
The organization of the working week can be considered as follows:
gas injection early in the week (Monday or Saturday)
detection following days (Tuesday-Friday or Sunday-Wednesday) or for 4 days.
Such that about 12 to 16 km network can be inspected after a single injection of helium, which
corresponds to about a week's work.
Hydraulic operating conditions on the network
Pressure, flow rate and speed of the water
The pressure at the injection point must be a minimum of 0.5-0.6 bar, and the water velocity of 0.2
m / s, to allow the dissolution of helium and/or its being drawn into the network. Cases of helium
bubbles going in the opposite direction of the water may exist, especially at the foot of a low tank
prohibiting any use of this technique.
The water flow at the injection point must be known with as much precision as possible.

Water circulation
Before any injection it is necessary to know the water flow in the network.

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The search for helium is above lines in which all or part of the plug of water marked with helium
has passed. It is useless to look for helium over a pipe in which it has not circulated!
The network to be inspected should preferably be a permanent or temporary section, or a
transmission line.
The section will have a single entry point for the duration of the injection followed by about 12
hours of identical water circulation to soak the soil with marked water. After this time, there is no
more helium in the network and the temporary section will be returned to the prior hydraulic
configuration.
In case of distribution network with around 24 hours of water return every 3-4 days, it is necessary
to maintain the distribution of water for 1 additional day.
Section with several input points
The injection will be at a single point, with a fine monitoring of the presence of helium in the
network. The operation will be renewed for each input point. The "border areas" of each entry point
will be the subject of special attention for the presence of helium, even temporarily reduce the
water supply on several points to enhance the dissemination of the plug beyond usual hydraulic
limits.

Limits of use of this method


Like any method leak search using tracer gas has its limits:
presence of electric sheath, communication sewerage, stormwater near the drinking water
system: The gas will take the easiest way to move and not rise to the surface. Its presence will
be detected at chambers distant from the desired point. Systematic drilling the ground to the
pipe to be inspected facilitates the direct ascent of the helium to the surface
unsatisfactory flow and/or pressure in the network, not allowing the gas to dissolve quickly and
go in the direction of flow of water
strong presence of water in the soil after rain
difficulty in delivery of gas to the atmosphere in a swamp or shallow aquifer
not knowing the exact position of the network: the gas is present over a width of 1 to 2 m along
the pipeline: to be sure it was detected, the withdrawal points should be very close.
physical access to the pipe with a vehicle. The distance between the disc placed on the ground
and the vacuum pump may be 100 m but of a large section. The operator must remain on site to
draw gas for a sufficient time to ensure that the soil gas has come to the analyzer.
physical access to the operator in all safety (pipe under a road with heavy traffic for example)
pipe in private property
difficulty (technical, administrative) in drilling of the surface layer of impermeable soil
Others cases of using this method
Spot search on a short section
A very large amount of helium is injected into a live pipe upstream of the leaky area. The detection
of helium can be made after only 30 minutes to an hour. If that fails, a second pass is
recommended: helium can rise more slowly than expected.

Total investment
The investment costs of this package is 27 k ht delivered in France. This amount does not
include the supply of helium, or the perforator, neither the vehicle nor its layout to accommodate
the whole.
TD demonstration missions
Missions can be organized according to current tariff conditions.

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The TD has its own equipment for demonstration. The complete equipment is transportable in
metal trunks traveling by airplane luggage. Customs formalities for temporary importation are
required.
Before each mission, technical preparation is required by exchange of emails, telephone calls, or a
preparatory mission on site. These exchanges will help prepare the mission effectively, examining
closely the critical points:
helium injection,
knowledge of the network to be inspected,
circulation of the plug in the network,
potential difficulties of gas suction above the pipe.
All material points raised during the exchanges must be resolved before the start of the mission,
otherwise they should be during this trip to the detriment of the mission itself.
The agency should provide:
detailed plans of the network;
the pipe trace;
the supply of high quality helium gas with a regulator adapted to the cylinder;
a helium injection point on the network to inspect;
water flow, speed and pressure at the injection point at a given time;
effective means of perforating the road surface;
a vehicle of van type style with cover for equipment (weather, security.);
a second battery to be connected to the vehicle and the enclosure of the inverter by an auto
electrician;
a vehicle driver;
the staff who understands the network to inspect;
the safety for persons doing the detection and drilling;
a works team to repair the leak found and thus validate the technique, the size of the leak and
the distances between the location and actual;
any other necessary equipment or personnel that could be determined during the preliminary
discussions.
The mission can be organized in a week as follows:
first day D1: making contact with the team, setting up equipment in the vehicle available
(electrical connections, checking the general operation of equipment), helium injection, verifying
its arrival at the end of the network, general recognition of the network to inspect the, overall
presentation of this technique. These operations could be carried out over two days
days D2 (D3) to D4: Leak detection by gas suction above pipes, detailed explanations.
The length of the network inspected will depend on the preparation made by the agency.
Last day, J5: operation report, equipment packing.

At Saint-Maurice, 10/10/10
Jean-Paul GUILLAUME
VEOLIA EAU, Technical Department, Networks

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