Proposed Solutions Spark Debate
How to adequately maintain the diversity of pipelines has proved to be a divisive issue – critics arguing for more automatic tests and safety measures and companies pointing to the high cost of such additions.
One such measure is the widespread installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves, which can quickly stop the flow of gas or oil in an emergency. These valves could help avoid a situation like that after the Kalamazoo River spill, which took operators 17 hours from the initial rupture to find and manually shut off. Operators use these valves already on most new pipelines, but argue that replacing all valves would not be cost-effective and false alarms would unnecessarily shut down fuel supplies. The CRS estimates that even if automatic valves were only required on pipelines in highly populated areas, replacing manual valves with automatic ones could cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
A worker on the Kalamazoo river, helping to clean up an oil spill of almost a million gallons from a ruptured pipeline in July 2010
Other measures focus on preventing leaks and ruptures in the first place. The industry already uses robotic devices called "smart pigs" to crawl through a pipeline, clearing debris and taking measurements to detect any problems. But not all pipelines can accommodate smart pigs, and operators don't routinely run the devices through every line.
Just last month, a smart pig detected a "small anomaly" in the existing Keystone pipeline, prompting TransCanada to shut down the entire line. Environmentalists pointed out that this is not the first time TransCananda has called for a shut down, and won't be the last.
"The reason TransCanada needs to keep shutting down Keystone," the director of the National Wildlife Federation contended in a statement, "is because pipelines are inherently dangerous."
Last January, Obama signed a bill that commissioned several new studies to evaluate some of these proposed safety measures, although his decision on extending the Keystone pipeline may come long before those studies are completed.
From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.