TransCanada uses latest proven technology for detecting leaks

High-tech controls: TransCanada’s pipeline control centre uses the latest technology to monitor and operate its oil and natural gas pipeline networks across North America around the clock.
High-tech controls: TransCanada’s pipeline control centre (above) uses the latest technology to monitor and operate its oil and natural gas pipeline networks across North America around the clock.

A headline in the news this week suggested TransCanada may not be employing the latest, proven technologies available in the construction and operation of our new oil pipelines, Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast Pipeline. This is certainly not the case.

All technologies that can enhance the safety of our pipelines are given thorough consideration and certain technologies – such as infrared and fiber optic cable systems – may not be feasible to adopt at a particular point in time because they have not been fully proven in a broad operating application such as Keystone.

The fact is, industry-leading design, construction, maintenance, operating and technological features are being incorporated into Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast Pipelines. Our primary focus is always to prevent leaks in the first place. A perfect example of this is the great lengths and expense we are undertaking right now on the Gulf Coast Pipeline project to detect, dig up and repair the most minor imperfections even before the pipeline goes into service. This is just one of the many examples of industry-leading design and safety practices that are being applied on our oil pipeline systems. While there are many emerging leak detection technologies that are being developed for the oil and gas pipeline industry most are still in the developmental stages. TransCanada is working with industry and the vendor community on evaluating a number of these technologies, including acoustic detection systems, internal pressure wave based tools and external cable and fiber optic based systems as well.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Department of State and the U.S. Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have both stated that as a result of the 57 Special Conditions, Keystone XL will be safer than any other pipeline constructed and operated in the United States. These conditions go well beyond leak detection systems. They ensure that the most specific and stringent preventative measures are being used and that Keystone and the Gulf Coast Pipeline are built to the highest standards of any pipeline currently constructed. As such, the potential for a defect leading to a leak is much less than pipelines that do not meet similar standards. No other company has agreed to implement all of these special conditions before.

The pipeline monitoring and leak detection systems deployed on our Keystone oil pipeline system are based on proven technologies and represent the current state of the art for long distance, large diameter liquid pipeline operations. Our leak detection systems use the most advanced and proven technology available, and our highly-trained operators have consistently shown that they are able to notice very small changes that could be related to a leak and shut the pipeline down within minutes. This was demonstrated twice in 2011. Our monitoring system identified leaks of 10 and 500 barrels at above-ground pumping stations from very small fittings during two incidents in the U.S. On both occasions the pipeline was shut down within minutes and the oil was cleaned up with no environmental impact. The system worked as it was designed to do. Ten and 500-barrel leaks are extremely less than the 12,000 barrels our opponents claim would be the minimum amount our leak detection systems would be able to detect. We will continue to assess technologies that can further complement our current leak detection capabilities if and when the reliability and feasibility of those systems can be proven.

Reducing pipeline incidents to zero is our goal and we are actively involved in cutting edge research and development of new technologies that will allow us to get there. TransCanada has a long history and a successful track record of being an early developer and adopter of pipeline safety technologies including high strength steels, high performance coatings, automated welding, ultrasonic weld inspection technologies, in-line inspection tools and leak detection technologies. For example, TransCanada has been successfully using airborne remote leak detection equipment on our natural gas pipelines since 1999. The system we use is a laser spectroscopy unit (not infrared) that is capable of identifying tiny methane leaks at patrol altitudes. When technology that can improve pipeline safety has been proven and is verified to be reliable, TransCanada does not hesitate to implement it where it is feasible.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested by TransCanada and other pipeline operators in safety, prevention and detection technologies that have shown tremendous promise but still require additional testing and study. In 2011 and 2012 alone, TransCanada invested more than $1.4 billion in its pipeline safety, maintenance and integrity programs. This has nothing to do with a specific technology, but a long term-commitment to making sure that our pipelines operate the way they are designed to.

No one has a stronger interest than TransCanada does in making sure that our pipelines are designed, constructed and operated safely and reliably. The public and our shareholders expect it because it not only makes good business sense, it is just common sense.

Safety and reliability is key to ensuring TransCanada is able to continue operating and building the energy infrastructure North Americans need for years to come. When we say Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline ever constructed in the United States, we mean it.

For a more detailed response to the Bloomberg News story about leak detection on Keystone XL, visit our Keystone XL clarifications page here.

Vern Meier is TransCanada’s vice-president of pipeline safety and compliance.

About the author:

. Follow him on Twitter / Facebook.