Now comes word, via Bloomberg News' Rebecca Penty and Mike Lee, and published in the Lincoln Journal-Star, that despite its unverifiable boast, TransCanada won't be using the latest and best technological advances to detect spills along the Keystone XL's 2,000-mile path to Texas from Alberta.
Despite availability of new leak detection technology, including infrared equipment on helicopters or acoustic sensors that can identify the sound of oil seeping from a pinhole-sized opening, TransCanada will instead look for leaks using centralized software and traditional flyovers and surveys that cannot pinpoint the smallest leaks.
Pipelines spilled an average 112,569 barrels a year in the United States from 2007 to 2012, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous five-year period, according to U.S. Transportation Department figures compiled by Bloomberg.
The department is studying leak detection as it considers new rules to improve safety. Equipment available to spot spills more quickly would have cut 75 percent off the estimated $1.7 billion in property damage caused by major incidents on oil lines from 2001 to 2011, consultants said in a December report prepared for the department.
The figure doesn't include cleanup costs in environmentally sensitive areas, fines, lost life and the potentially much bigger financial impact to operators related to investor concerns.
...Keystone XL would have to be spilling more than 12,000 barrels a day -- 1.5 percent of its 830,000 barrel capacity -- before its currently planned internal spill-detection systems would trigger an alarm, according to the U.S. State Department, which is reviewing the proposal.
Tar Sands oil leak, Plymouth, Arkansas, 2012
...It would cost TransCanada an additional $705,000 to add a fiber-optic cable to the parts of Keystone XL that may affect ecologically sensitive areas, drinking water or populated regions, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg. The line has 141 miles in high-consequence areas, according to the State Department, and the cable costs about $5,000 a mile, December's Transportation Department report estimated.
Among sensitive new technologies to test for leaks is a 200-pound device the size of a garbage can that's mounted on the outside of a helicopter. The sensor, made by Synodon Inc. in Edmonton, Canada, detects oil vapors in the infrared rays of sunlight to find leaks flowing at rates below 10 barrels a day, according to the company.
Pipeline operators also are considering using aluminum balls that flow along the conduit with oil or gas, listening for leaks. Pure Technologies Ltd., which makes the balls, says its acoustic systems can spot leaks as small as 0.03 gallons a minute.
In its original comments on a State Department assessment of Keystone XL, the EPA recommended TransCanada install some of the latest leak detection technology. But in a later report, the State Department questioned the reliability of the gear for use on the entire length of the line, noting its high cost and variable effectiveness.
...Internal systems, such as the one planned for Keystone XL, have a spotty record for catching leaks, according to the Transportation Department's report, prepared by the engineering firm Kiefner & Associates Inc. of Worthington, Ohio. Members of the public reported 23 percent of the 197 oil and liquids pipeline leaks between January 2010 and July 2012, according to the study, compared to 17 percent identified by the pipeline companies.