Pipeline technology is fallible

We often hear from industry, governments and individuals who support pipeline development about how technology has improved.

We often hear from industry, governments and individuals who support pipeline development about how technology has improved to the point where there should be no concern by the general public about the safety and security of these installations.

In fact, when the original technology is questioned, often the solution is to add yet another layer of technology to the system to guarantee its safety.

Of course, with any technology, there is no guarantee and if you listen carefully to what the officials are “guaranteeing” it’s that there is a very low probability of failure, but nevertheless failure is still possible for any number of reasons. For example:

• The more technically complex a system becomes the more you reach a tipping point where system reliability actually decreases due to the increased number of failure points.

• If human operators truly think a system is fail safe they may not provide the due diligence required to monitor the system properly and can react slowly during a crisis situation.

• We human beings are incredibly arrogant to think we can build something that can resist the forces of nature for an indefinite period of time.

There are many examples of man made ocean liners, structures, and pipelines that were supposed to be indestructible. As the Exxon spokesperson said in response to the recent Arkansas oil spill: “We did everything according to the book to maintain this pipeline,” which somehow seemed to alleviate the company from any responsibility for this disaster.

A pipeline or tanker spill may not be inevitable but it is certainly possible. This is what must be considered when evaluating the risks and rewards of such a venture.

Anthony Grice


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