Where Energy Companies Test What’ll Happen if Their Oil Spills


By Omar Mouallem

Oil pipeline leaks are bad. And that means pipeline operators and companies developing leak-sensing technologies are in a bind—they need to test their inventions without actually letting gunk seep into the earth. So they turn to a Canadian company called C-Fer Technologies. “There are few spots where you can dump oil on the ground,” business development director Brian Wagg says. “We’re giving them a place.”

That place is a 24-foot length of pipe riddled with adjustable leak ports and embedded in a tank of dirt. The pipe bristles with gear the firms are testing—fiber-optic temperature sensors, hydrocarbon-detecting cables that “taste” for leaks, whatever. C-Fer engineers press a button to trigger a leak, letting diluted bitumen (one of the products pumping through the Keystone systems) or any other liquid hydrocarbon seep through specified ports. Manufacturers from all over spend a week at a time here, assessing their leak-assessment tools. Energy company execs are watching too—so they can gauge what’s next in the pipeline.

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