Some Calgary engineers say they can put an end to oil and gas pipeline spills for good. The catch: their solution costs a lot of money.
To Google the words “pipeline spill Canada” is to find about 496,000 links in half a second. In Alberta, pipelines leak more than once a day on average, and America experiences roughly the same incidence of “significant” spills and leaks. Most are due to corrosion in the metal from which pipelines are made.
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Now, University of Calgary engineering professor Martin Mintchev and masters student Thiago Valentin de Oliveira have a patent pending on a solution. Their design “double bags” the conventional pipeline, sheathing the metal conduit inside a second pipe made of plastic or metal. The gap between the two pipes holds monitors that alert operators of any leak in the main conduit, while the outer sheath serves to contain any product that does escape.
“All [existing and proposed] monitoring systems, they only detect leakage after it has happened,” said Valentin, “Our technology not only detects a leak, but also prevents it from happening. That is more important than anything.”
The researchers believe their design would add at least 25% to the price of every length of pipe. But they would like to see it mandated for water crossings and other environmentally sensitive locations.
“Compared to the cost of a leak, and public relations damage that this leak causes, combined with further difficulties developing further pipelines, we find the cost very easily bearable,” Mintchev said. The design’s price might also come down if the outer layer were made from plastic or composite material instead of steel, he added.