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InsideClimate News: "Remote sensors detected only 5 percent of the nation's pipeline spills"

1 min. read

To put it mildly, this is not acceptable.

...an InsideClimate News examination of 10 years of federal data shows that leak detection systems do not provide as much protection as the public has been led to believe.

Between 2002 and July 2012, remote sensors detected only 5 percent of the nation's pipeline spills, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

The general public reported 22 percent of the spills during that period. Pipeline company employees at the scenes of accidents reported 62 percent.

Anthony Swift, an attorney who has spent years researching pipeline safety for the Natural Resources Defense Council, was taken aback by the findings. Swift's organization opposes the Keystone XL, and he said he had always known that leak detection systems didn't catch most of the spills. But "the fact that 19 out of 20 leaks aren't caught is surprising, and certainly runs counter to a lot of rhetoric we hear from the industry," he said.

Industry experts, however, were not surprised. Pipeline specialists interviewed by InsideClimate News said the findings are consistent with what they have observed.

It's hard to say what's more disturbing here: a) the fact that remote sensors are so ineffective at detecting oil pipeline spills; b) the fact that industry experts aren't surprised in the least bit about this; or c) the fact that the Keystone XL's leak detection system "will be able to detect spills below 1.5 percent of the pipeline's flow," but that "[b]ecause the Keystone XL will carry so much oil, that 1.5 percent represents hundreds of thousands of gallons per day." Pick your poison.