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Canadian researchers announce innovative leakproof pipeline

06 June 2017

University of Calgary academics claim a new design they have invented will prevent oil pipeline spills. Martin Mintchev and Thiago Valentin de Oliveira say their system, which combines real-time monitoring and an outer layer around an inner pipe, would better protect the environment and improve the reputation of the industry by eliminating leaks.

Oil leaks have damaged the reputation of North American pipeline operators
Oil leaks have damaged the reputation of North American pipeline operators

Mintchev, an engineering professor at the university, said they had a fully functional prototype that illustrates the feasibility of the technology.

The space between the inner and outer pipe contains any leaks and a wireless monitoring system immediately detects any spills, pinpoints the location and gauges the severity. The inventors claim adoption of this technology will enable pipeline operators to gain greater acceptance.

In recent years the pipeline industry has become a focus of environmentalists’ criticism because of the many serious leaks that have plagued both the USA and have eroded public confidence in pipeline safety. A poll last year found 40% of Canadians supported a moratorium on new oil and gas pipelines.

Mintchev said that although the new technology cost more than traditional pipelines, it was not that expensive compared to the cost of cleaning up leaks.

Husky Energy, for example, spent $107 million cleaning up an oil spill on the North Saskatchewan River in July 2016. Enbridge's 2010 pipeline spill poured 3.3 million litres of oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River and cost more than $1 billion to clean up.

Ideally, the researchers would like pipeline companies to use their technology on existing pipelines in sensitive areas, such as near rivers and lakes. They estimate their pipeline design could cost at least 25% more to build, but that could be reduced if the outer protective layer was made of composite material or plastic, instead of steel.

But if companies are not interested in licensing the system, Mintchev and de Oliveira plan to set up their own startup to produce, deliver and install the equipment.

They will be launching the new pipeline at the Global Petroleum Show in Calgary in July.

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