Saturday, December 22, 2012

Study Finds Flaws in Pipeline Leak Detection Systems

Andre J. Jackson/Detroit Free Press, via Associated Press
Cleanup on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 after a spill. Despite alarms, a leak from an oil pipe went undetected for 17 hours.

A forthcoming federal report on pipeline safety has found that members of the general public are more likely to identify oil and gas spills than the pipeline companies’ own leak detection systems.
The report found that pipeline control rooms, which help monitor whether a line is functioning properly, identified leaks in hazardous liquid and gas transmission lines only 17 percent and 16 percent of the time. Control rooms identified leaks in gas distribution pipelines, like those that go into homes or businesses, less than 1 percent of the time, according to the report.
The study was commissioned by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Kiefner & Associates, a firm based in Worthington, Ohio, that specializes in pipeline safety, conducted the study by examining pipeline incident reports between Jan. 1, 2010, and July 7 of this year. Its results are currently in draft form and set to be completed early next year. The research was mandated as part of a series of measures passed last year by Congress intended to make oil and gas pipelines safer.
The study found that air patrols and ground crews used by pipeline companies, as well as contractors, were more likely to identify problems on a line than detection systems. And private citizens and emergency responders were typically the most likely to find evidence of a pipeline accident, it concluded.
“It has been clear for years that these computerized leak-detection systems don’t work,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust and a member of the pipeline agency’s hazardous liquid technical advisory committee, which has reviewed the draft report. “The question for me is why have regulators continued to allow the pipeline industry to keep selling the public on leak detection systems that don’t work as advertised?
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