The Wall Street Journal reported that pipeline monitors in the country only report a small portion of total pipeline oil spills. As the WSJ has pointed out, oil companies always herald their oil spill detection, creating the appearance of strict oversight and environmental concern.
The WSJ reviewed 1,400 accident reports in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and discovered that out of 251 spill reports, energy company spill monitoring systems only discovered 19.5 percent of all reported pipeline leaks. The majority of pipeline oil spills were reported by residents or on-site, pipeline workers.
Energy companies boast about their safety implementations: control room monitoring, alarms, sensors, and leak-detection software, but it has proven not enough. There are other, more effective means of oil spill detection that companies could have at their disposal. They could implement infrared imaging technology, and equipment that monitors temperature change and acoustics, as changes in either can signify a pipeline leak.
Companies, like TransCanada, can easily afford the extra expense of better detection equipment, but they would rather save money, “fearing higher costs and false alarms.” TransCanada said it will refuse using state-of-the-art detection equipment on the Keystone XL pipeline.
The leak-detection equipment currently planned for the Keystone XL pipeline is expected to quite ineffective. The U.S. State Department determined that the pipeline would have to spill 12,000 barrels a day before signaling an alarm. Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Anthony Swift said “You’re talking about a system that isn’t going to be able to detect a leak that’s greater than half a million gallons a day.”
Oil pipelines were once thought by experts as the safest means of oil transportation, however, recent pipeline oil spills have critics questioning the assumption. Energy companies argue against heightened detection methods, saying that oil spills just happen and sometimes quick responses aren’t enough. But they have proven to completely abandon the simplest of preventative warnings and measures.
The PHSMA found in November that ExxonMobil knew of its Pegasus pipeline’s weak seam which ultimately led to a 210,000 gallon oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas. The oil spill happened in March. Upon completion of the investigation, the PHSMA found that ExxonMobil “had more than adequate information for the pipe to be considered susceptible to seam failure.”
Energy companies are also guilty of underreporting pipeline oil spills. From January 2012 to October 2013, companies and the North Dakota state government failed to publicly report over 300 pipeline oil spills.
Creating public ignorance of these sort of disasters and downplaying the risks associated with oil pipelines decreases the chance of public outcries for stricter oversight of pipeline operations, thereby allowing companies and governments to remain largely unaccountable for their malfeasance.