The risk of pipeline rupture always exists, even for operators with the safest operating and maintenance standards. Third-party activities such as excavation digs and natural disasters like earthquakes and landslides are a threat to any pipeline and can cause severe damage at any time. In 2018, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reported 21 pipeline rupture incidents in the United States alone, some of them with external contractors implied. [1]

Pipeline ruptures require a rapid response. The operator needs to immediately spring into action when its system issues a rupture alarm and the pipeline operations team must be trained to follow the appropriate procedure. The American Petroleum Institute’s (API) white paper, Liquid Pipeline Rupture Recognition and Response, includes the following steps in their rupture response process [2]:

  • A shutdown of the pipeline to isolate the rupture
  • Investigation
  • Integrity verification
  • A return-to-service protocol

A pipeline controller needs total confidence in its rupture detection system to go through with the first step, meaning no false alarms. Using standard leak detections systems (LDS) to detect ruptures leave the operator vulnerable, as the LDS is configured to detect small, and it needs some minutes to collect the data and raise the alarm; whereas in a rupture scenario, each second is important. If there are false alarms, the operator will not have the confidence to shut down the pipeline when a real rupture occurs. A stand-alone rupture detection system gives extra protection by reducing false alarm rates using a different configuration and algorithms. This tuning generates confidence that allows the operator to proceed with the shutdown procedure rapidly.

Rupture vs leak

What size of a leak is a rupture? There is no easy answer. It depends on the type of pipeline, the operational envelope and other factors. One thing is that pipeline ruptures result in larger consequences than leaks for the environment, population and clean-up costs. Being able to detect ruptures immediately should be a priority for all pipeline operators and having the correct procedure will mitigate any damages.

While operators cannot wholly prevent a rupture from happening, they can be prepared with the correct response plan. This plan depends on a quick and reliable rupture detection system that the operator trusts.

For further details on rupture detection services speak to one of our experts here.


  1. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (2018). PHMSA. Retrieved from
  2. American Petroleum Institute. (2014, August). Liquid Pipeline Rupture Recognition and Response. Washington: API.

By: Atmos International
Date: 16 April 2019