Flow Level Pressure

When is an Oil Spill Classed as "Significant"?

Dec 18 2017 Read 933 Times

Stretching across Canada and the United States, the Keystone Pipeline has sparked one of the biggest environmental campaigns ever faced by North America. Despite major opposition from activists the pipeline is now in full swing, with just one phase left to complete. Now, pipeline owner TransCanada has admitted that the infrastructure has sprung a leak.

Keystone springs a leak

In late November analysts detected a pressure drop near a South Dakota town called Amherst. While the pipeline was shut down within 15 minutes it wasn't enough to prevent 5000 barrels of oil from seeping into the South Dakota countryside. It's the largest leak in Keystone history and has sparked major concerns over whether the pipeline will pose as a threat to the North American ecosystem.

While TransCanada maintains that the impact of the leak will be restricted to the grazing land on which it occurred, environmental experts are concerned that it's too close to the Lake Traverse Reservation aquifer. Even if the spill does not contaminate the natural aquifer, it will arm protestors with major ammunition in the fight against Keystone XL, the final phase of the pipeline.

The undocumented consequences of "minor" spills

At 5000 barrels, the Keystone oil leak is classified as a "major" spill. But what about other leaks? Currently, a spill is classed as "significant" if over 50 barrels of oil are unintentionally discharged. So, if a spill doesn't top 50 barrels it's not reported by the media, let alone the entity responsible. Furthermore, there's an alarming trend that sees companies underreport spills in a bid to play down the leak, disguise the level of damage and keep figures under 50 barrels.

Recent studies from Florida State University have confirmed that it's a major issue, with high resolution satellite images suggesting that "minor" spills are typically around 13 times bigger than the estimates reported to the National Response Centre by oil companies. This is a major concern for environmentalists as just 50 barrels of rogue oil can have a major impact on local ecosystems.

“There is very consistent underreporting of the magnitude of [oil] releases,” muses FSU team leader Ian MacDonald. “Sometimes it’s quite laughable.”

For pipeline owners like TransCanada, advanced equipment plays a critical role in minimising the risk of leaks and preventing system failures. For a closer look at the complexities of the task don't miss 'Non-Invasive Clamp-On Ultrasonic Flow Measurement of Crude Oil,' which spotlights the latest FLUXUS flowmeter technology.

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