CONTRIBUTION · 1st June 2012
District of Kitimat Councillor Phil Germuth delivered a well researched presentation to his fellow Councillors regarding the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal at a recent Council meeting. It is reproduced in its entirety below.
Ever since details of the Northern Gateway Enbridge pipeline project were made public, one statistic has always concerned and to be honest, confused me. That statistic is the ‘theoretical leak detectability’.
Enbridge’s current plans are to use a leak detection system known as SCADA. It means supervisory control and data acquisition. Along with SCADA, also being proposed, is a material balance system or MBS as its known. Basically SCADA and MBS are fancy ways of saying pressure, temperature and flow meters with a computer program.
In response to JRP IR 3.12f, Northern Gateway indicated that the preliminary theoretical leak detectability for the oil pipeline will be 1.5- 3 % of nominal flow in a 2 hour alarm window. Generally 1.5 – 3% of flow would seem like a fairly insignificant amount.
However with 525,000 barrels per day flowing thru this proposed pipeline, all of a sudden a 1.5 – 3% flow becomes a major concern. 525,000 barrels equals just under 83 million litres per day. This translates to around 3.4 million litres per hour.
So using their numbers, theoretically between 100,000 liters at 1.5% of flow, up to 200,000 liters at 3% of flow could leak out of the pipeline every 2 hours and the control center would not be able to sense it. In one day that could translate to between 1.2 million and 2.4 million litres of leakage without being detected.
So how much really is 1.2 – 2.4 million litres? Well these council chambers we are sitting in now, if filled to the top, would hold approximately 229,000 liters. I know this because I came here one day and measured it out.
Apparently I have too much time on my hands.
Anyway what this means is that in 1 day it is possible for between 5 and 10 council chambers full of dil-bit could leak out undetected.
I thought there has to be a better way. Being in the automotive field myself I think most people have heard at some time that their vehicle is equipped with an oxygen sensor in the exhaust system. It is referred to as an oxygen sensor but really it’s a hydrocarbon sensor. So I started searching the internet for hydrocarbon pipeline sensors. And I believe I found a much better way to protect our watershed if the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is approved.
After hours of searching I emailed a company in the United Kingdom to see if they could help. They forwarded my request to a company called Tyco Thermal with their world headquarters in Texas. They are one of the, if not the, world leader with this technology.
How does the system work? In simplified terms there is a sensing cable installed in pvc pipe that is buried within the backfill while the pipeline is being constructed. Thru electronics if a leak is sensed a radio signal is sent to the control room immediately. While the current proposed system of SCADA and MBS can only determine, at best, a leak in between two pumping stations possibly many miles apart the sensor cable system can pinpoint a leak to within 1 meter on the pipeline. Obviously in the event of a leak the sensor cable system has a huge advantage and a much better possibility of minimizing the environmental impact of a spill.
Is the sensor cable system the only system that should be used? Absolutely not! While Enbridge’s SCADA and MBS system are not good at sensing small leaks they are better at sensing total failures or large leaks.
The sensing cable system can detect gasoline within 12 minutes however because of the high viscosity (thickness) of dil-bit it could take between 2-3 hours to permeate thru to the sensing material. The amount of product needed to activate the sensor though, is less than 1 litre.
However as the majority of pipeline leaks start off small the sensing cable system finds the problem before you have a potential disaster.
The sensors themselves have a lifespan of approximately 40 years. The cost of the sensor cable system is about $100,000 per km. With the projected costs of the NGE project at 5.5 billion dollars, to protect the approximately 80 km of pipeline within our watershed would only represent an increase of less than 1 % of the project. If the price per barrel of oil was increased just 10 cents, the sensor cable system would be paid for in under 5 months.
Where is it currently being used? Here’s a few examples;
Longhorn pipeline (currently operated by Magellan pipeline) has an 8 mile segment near Austin, Texas where the pipeline crosses over the Edwards aquifer.
Narita Airport Authority (Japan) has 35 km of sensing cable on a jet fuel pipeline where it crosses thru villages and rice growing lands.
Port of Townsville Australia. About 2.5 km of wharf pipeline where diesel fuel is unloaded from tankers to on shore storage tanks. The Great Barrier Reef is just offshore.
The Canadian Coast Guard uses the sensor cable in various locations to monitor diesel tanks and transfer lines for remote generator sites.
FMG mining in Northwest Australia has about 35 km to monitor a pipeline for fuel supply to an open pit mining operation.
The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and tanker refinery have equipped approximately 70 storage tanks with the sensor cable.
And in Ontario Canada two different sections of buried fuel line were equipped with the sensor cable as a prerequisite to allowing development rights near or above the existing line.
And there are many other locations including Chile, Spain, Belgium, France, United Kingdom, and the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean where this system is used.
Enbridge has stated they are considering Hydrocarbon leak detection but the fact is Enbridge is already fully aware of this technology as they are already using in to monitor buried isolation valves and other buried fittings along their west to east crude oil lines in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
So before putting in a notice of motion to insist that this technology be installed on all sections of pipeline within our watershed I would like to hear from Enbridge as to why they wouldn’t protect our fresh water supply with the best technology possible.
And the question we have to ask ourselves is do we really want a system that could leak up to 2.4 million liters per day without being detected or do we want a system that within 3 hours can detect a spill amount of less than this pitcher of water.
Comment by Gerry Hummel on 5th June 2012
Big Deal! If they detect a leak in the middle of a winter storm way back in some valley, It's still going to take days to get a spill response team in to attend to it! By then it will be WAY to late! Just say NO, or process this stuff in Alberta at the extraction point!
detecting oil spills
Comment by David Dickinson on 3rd June 2012
Does the same system work on super-tankers?
Doing Enbridge's Homework for them..
Comment by Michael Bruce on 3rd June 2012
Something is not right when a well informed lay person with a bit of internet savvy, a measuring tape, and "time on his hands" can do what the highly qualified engineers at Enbridge have not thought of or overlooked.
My confidence in Enbridge is now well past Zero and into the negative integers.
Detecting the inevitable spill is one thing....
Comment by Janice Robinson on 2nd June 2012
Cleaning the toxic mess up is another!
Not enough Phil
Comment by Karen Dedosenco on 2nd June 2012
"...or do we want a system that within 3 hours can detect a spill amount of less than this pitcher of water."
I don't want ANY kind of system that transports dil-bit through this fragile environment. Improving on the response capabilities of detecting a spill in the pipeline does nothing to reduce the risk on our coastal waters.
Comment by Elsa Murphy on 2nd June 2012
Thank you for your time and effort you have put into this research. It is much appreciated.
I am left wondering why refining the oil in Alberta, at the location of the tar sands is not talked about as an option to shipping our resources overseas.
Keeping jobs in canada makes sense to me.