Pipeline Safety

In the US there are approximately 2.5 million miles of pipelines.  Although the debate continues regarding whether or not to add pipelines, there are issues surrounding whether or not the existing pipeline structures are safe.

Pipelines are typically safer than trucks when it comes to transporting certain goods, however, when a pipeline malfunctions, it is disastrous.  Consider the Kalamazoo River oil spill in 2010 which leaked 840,000 gallons of crude oil costing almost $800 million.  Last February, a natural gas pipeline exploded in Allentown, PA killing five people.  As the age of the nations pipelines increase, many of which are over 50 years old, the issue of pipeline safety and monitoring is becoming a growing concern.

With limited government regulation and few resources to monitor potential issues, the extent to which issues can be fixed is a problem.  While additional safety measures and automatic tests would be a practical solution, not all companies can afford these options.  For those that can, there are automatic shut off valves which can stop the flow of gas or oil in case of an emergency.  This could have lessened the damage in the Kalamazoo River oil spill.  Another option is a robotic device that crawls through the pipeline and cleans out debris while taking measurements to detect problems.  With the potential expansion of US pipelines, it is important to maintain the existing infrastructure for safety and environmental reasons.

References:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-safe-are-americas-2-5-million-miles-of-pipelines

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/us/11allentown.html

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