Pipe Crawling Underwater X-Ray Machines Find Leaks Before They Happen

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but when it comes to an underwater pipeline carrying oil or natural gas, staying ahead of leaks can actually help prevent a billion dollar cleanup. So researchers at GE are developing an underwater submersible that uses X-rays to check pipelines for signs of corrosion and deterioration before something catastrophic happens.

However it's not like researchers can simply toss a medical-grade X-ray machine off a boat and then move into position on a submerged pipe. Since those pipelines sit on the bottom of the ocean floor, there are tremendous pressures and temperatures to deal with that are usually far from friendly to most electronics.

So to make the company's X-ray hardware survive a trip to the abyss, engineers at GE's healthcare and oil/gas divisions, working with companies like BP and Oceaneering, repackaged the machine's delicate guts into a rugged case that can easily survive extreme depths and temperatures.

Their creation hasn't been put into service yet, but once perfected it will descend and attach itself to an underwater pipeline and then slowly slide along its length, taking X-ray shots of every inch. Those images will then be beamed to the surface where engineers and experts can study them and spot problems so they can be remedied before they turn into environmental disasters. [GE via Gizmag]