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How do you spot a leaking oil pipeline?

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Sue Ogrocki/AP/File

(Read caption) Miles of pipe intended to be used in construction of the Keystone Pipeline are stacked in a field near Ripley, Okla. Leak detection technology around pipelines is not modern, scientific or technical, Schaefer writes.

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Do you know how most leaks are found on oil and gas pipelines?

They get a shrill complaint over the phone from one of the landowners where the pipeline crosses.

It’s true, says Dr. David Shaw, one of the authors of a draft “Leak Detection Study” prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation, for a report that will go to the US Congress early in 2013. Dr. Shaw is a project engineer with independent consulting firm Kiefner & Associates, Inc., a high-end, Ohio-based consulting firm that specializes in pipeline engineering.

The Study – commissioned and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – analyzed several leak detection systems. What the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is to airlines, for example, PHMSA is to the pipeline industry. 

“Very often pipeline operators haven’t known they have a leak until they get a phone call from somebody saying there’s oil in my field,” Dr. Shaw said in a recent interview with the Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin.

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