BSI to advance pipeline safety technology in Berkeley Springs - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

BSI to advance pipeline safety technology in Berkeley Springs

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Berkeley Springs International LLC opens a new research and development facility this week in Berkeley Springs.

"We signed a lease last Friday, and we move in this Wednesday," said BSI President Gene Silverman on April 1.

The expansion comes thanks in part to a $1 million loan, half from the INNOVA Commercialization Group and half from the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust.

Work at the new facility will focus initially on improvements to the company's Eagle Array pipeline and tank integrity sensor.

The Eagle Array Sensor combines several current technologies — solar power, ultrasound, microprocessors, wireless transmission of data and others — to monitor the thickness of oil and gas pipelines and tanks and make the data available to customers on the Internet.

Individual ultrasound units with transceivers are placed at strategic locations along a pipeline: elbows, transitions from larger to smaller diameter, intersections, Silverman explained.

"We program our electronics board, which we design and build ourselves, to take readings on a predefined schedule," he said. "The data goes through the wireless transceiver to the cell tower and from there we get onto the Internet. Customers can log on to our file server any time they want to look at all their pipes."

Because the units don't have to be welded or attached to the pipeline in any permanent way, the monitoring units can be moved from site to site if needed.

Customers buy or lease the units, Silverman said.

Although he did not want to put a specific price tag on an installation, he characterized it as affordable: depending on need, perhaps as low as a few thousand dollars a year for a lease.

The application relies on current technology, but Silverman sees those advancements mainly as a way to get the hardware out of the way of the information.

"What's really important is the way the information is gathered, consolidated and displayed to the user," he said. "Part of our job is, how do you select components and develop very fast installation techniques so you can reduce the price to where there's no excuse not to have these? Where they're almost expendable — like cell phones?"

Continuing to refine the hardware is part of what the new facility at Berkeley Springs, and the new financing, will allow the company to pursue.

Also in development at Berkeley Springs will be technologies for expanding the area of coverage, detecting the flow rate within a pipeline and determining the viscosity of a fluid inside a pipe.

BSI's current work builds on work Silverman did for decades in robotic devices for the inspection of above-ground storage tanks. He started the current incarnation of the company in 2007 in Paw Paw, moved it to Berkeley Springs in 2009 and to Cumberland, Md. in 2012. The company currently employs 10, and the new research and development facility will start out with three recent hires and two more technicians to be hired.

 "This critical technology could safeguard the use of approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines crisscrossing the nation," said INNOVA Director Guy Peduto. 

West Virginia JIT Executive Director Andy Zulauf expressed his satisfaction that the financing will enable BSI to place its new facility in West Virginia and to hire local, highly skilled workers.  

BSI already has customers that include major oil producers and refineries.

Although his company's technology is timely, Silverman attributes that in part to luck.

"Pipelines are everywhere in this country and they'll continue to be used for decades to come — so to me, the market was very clear," he said.

"But the fracking piece was serendipity," he said of the advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have led to a renaissance in U.S. oil and gas production. "We're just in the right place at the right time."

While pipeline explosions such as the one that took place at the Kanawha County community of Sissonville in December are relatively rare, Silverman feels BSI's technology will benefit the oil and gas industry, but also the public.

"I think this could be a very effective tool to provide the public with a little more confidence that the industry is doing its job to keep an eye on the mechanical integrity of their assets," he said.