Robotics-as-a-Service & Technology Deployment

Using Drones to Monitor Gas Main River Crossings for Leaks

Project Detail

ULC Robotics conducted an unmanned aerial pipeline inspection of a gas transmission main river crossing in order to identify signs of leaks, helping our utility client fulfill federal and state mandates. ULC’s US-built UAS provided a cost-effective means of monitoring a critical pipeline in one of New York City’s busiest transportation corridors.

Industry: Natural gas

Location: New York City

Business Areas Addressed:

  • Regulatory compliance
  • Transmission integrity management

Solution Improved:

  • Safety
  • Data quality


  • Delivery of high-resolution video and methane leak detection report
  • Utility exceeded regulatory requirements

Aircraft: ULC US-built multirotor UAS


  • Dual camera and thermal sensor
  • Methane analyzer sensor

Airspace: Class B


Gas line operators have traditionally fulfilled federal and state leak detection requirements by contracting an aviation or marine services firm to travel the length of the main using manned aircraft or boats, visually inspecting and monitoring the water’s surface for signs of a leak. These conventional methods are limited due to:

  • Nonoptimal vantage points
  • Access issues at points of the pipeline close to shore
  • Disturbances in the water caused by boat or helicopter rotor
  • Human error in visual identification of leaks
  • Lack of visual record post-inspection

In addition to these limitations, the location of the pipeline, in one of North America’s major ports, brought its own set of logistical challenges. In order to help ensure regulatory compliance, ULC’s Aerial Services team:

  • Conducted a detailed pre-mission site visit
  • Communicated with New York Port Authority to coordinate mission
  • Worked with the US Coast Guard to navigate high levels of vehicle, marine, and air traffic

Project Results

Using a dual camera and thermal sensor plus a methane analyzer sensor mounted on a custom-developed, US-built multirotor aircraft, ULC Robotics was able to effectively survey two 24” pipelines beneath The Narrows.

A crew consisting of a pilot and a visual observer was positioned on each side of the river, with another visual observer monitoring waterway traffic from within the US Coast Guard station. A total of four flights were conducted, one visual and one methane detection from each side of the river, while engineers from our utility client observed the visual imagery in real-time. The data captured serves as a visual record of the water surface, and helps provide proof of the absence of leak indications.

Drone Gas Leak Detection
Left: ULC US-built UAS taking off. Top right: High-quality video capture showing water surface. Bottom right: Methane detection coverage area.

During the methane detection flights, the methane analyzer sensor collected data using an advanced algorithm that combines gas concentration measurements, GPS coordinates, and wind velocity to estimate the location of any leaks while eliminating false positives. All data was recorded to an onboard computer and sent for processing immediately after landing, providing full analytics on the mission and gas-in-air data in just minutes and serving as a secondary data set to further validate the video collected.

It’s a really good technology that produces exactly what we need. The ability to visually inspect for bubbles in the water while using a unique methane detection tool helped provide us with very clear data.” -Principal Engineer, Gas Transmission Engineering

The reporting provided by ULC Robotics enabled our client to confirm the absence of leaks quickly and efficiently while meeting regulatory requirements based on the quality of this data. ULC’s UAS inspection also reduced the safety risks associated with deploying manned aviation or marine vessels in this busy corridor.

Interested in safer and more efficient inspections? Our team is available to discuss your leak detection and pipeline monitoring needs.

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