Kitimat councillor pitches leak detection plan for Enbridge pipeline

Councillor Phil Germuth wants to see Enbridge answer questions regarding leak detection on their proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

Councillor Phil Germuth wants to see Enbridge answer questions regarding leak detection on their proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

He moved that the District of Kitimat write a letter to the company, inviting them to a public meeting and requesting that they provide a detailed description of their leak detection strategy and their leak management strategy.

That motion passed unanimously.

Germuth is seeking more details on that subject after researching leak detection technologies himself and finding what he believes is an ideal complement to Enbridge’s existing plans.

What he found was a hydrocarbon sensor from a company based in Texas, which is basically a cable in PVC pipe, buried in the back fill while the pipeline is being constructed.

A radio signal is used to transmit a leak signal to the control room, and the cable can detect a leak within one metre, and at a volume of only one litre.

The leak system Enbridge is currently proposing, called SCADA, can detect a leak at 1.5 to three per cent of nominal (average daily) flow, said Germuth.

His math estimated that a leak of that size would equal between 100,000 and 200,000 litres in a two-hour window. In a day that could translate to 1.2 to 2.4 million litres without being detected, he said.

To illustrate, he said that the District’s council chambers would hold about 299,000 litres, which means that five to 10 ‘council chambers’-worth of diluted bitumen could leak undetected in one day.

At $100,000 per kilometre to install the hydrocarbon sensors, he said that to install them in the 80 km of pipeline within Kitimat’s watershed would be less than one per cent of the project’s cost of an estimated $5.5 billion.

Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway responded to Sentinel inquiries about the company’s knowledge and plans for such sensors.

“We are currently undergoing a large research initiative to identify and test complementary leak detection technologies suitable for underground transmission pipelines.  One of our initiatives includes an evaluation of fiber optic and odor sensing cables to ensure the technology actually performs as vendors claim,” he said.

“In addition, Enbridge is actively investigating and testing a number of other leak detection technologies that are complementary to the current leak detection system and aimed at detecting smaller leaks. If performance is acceptable, Enbridge would plan to implement new technologies on the Northern Gateway pipeline.”

He noted the application of such technologies would be for the entire length of the pipeline, “providing that it contributes to a measurable improvement to leak detection performance.”