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Will leak detection end the oil pipeline impasse?

Adrian Banica, founder and CEO of Synodon, a company that builds systems to detect pipeline leaks, discusses how remote sensing technology can find little pipeline leaks before they become big leaks, in an interview with OilPrice.com.

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The challenge then is to convince pipeline operators to adopt external technologies that actually detect leaks rather than relying on the inconsistencies of visual detection, which sooner or later would see the pools of oil, but it might be a while.

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James Stafford: Is the market ready for this technology?

Adrian Banica: The market is ready, but not necessarily because of leak detection—it’s the overall basket we discussed earlier.

There is a tremendous need in the industry for remote leak detection. But we had to account for budget constraints within our potential clients. We think we’ve developed a technology that’s very capable of providing the information our customers are looking for and doing so at a competitive price they are willing to pay.

We’ve been operating on the North American market for the last 2.5 years. It’s a very large market that has lately been in the eye of the media and the environmentalists. We’re talking about over 55 companies in Canada and almost 700 pipeline operators in the US, where some 100 companies operate or control roughly 80% of the pipeline infrastructure. It is also a regulated market, and regulators require operators to perform some level of leak detection surveys. 

James Stafford: Will Keystone XL—or the San Bruno pipeline explosion—have any notable impact on the regulatory environment or the market for remote sensing technology?

Adrian Banica: Personally I don't think that either of these will impact the leak detection practices in the industry. Rather, the driver will be the aging pipelines which will continue to have incidents and spills which the public will not accept.

James Stafford: And how is this playing out on the regulatory scene?

Adrian Banica: Congress passed a new law a year ago on this topic. The US regulators have yet to act on new regulations based on this law, but the trend is indeed there. Pipeline companies are concerned about potential upcoming new regulations and are working with the regulators to try and come up with proactive solutions and preempt their moves. There are a lot of discussions going on in the US on this topic right now and the regulator has proposed a set of new rules which are out for comment and discussion in the industry. It is a slow and drawn out process.

James Stafford: Everyone is waiting for the Obama administration to make a decision on Keystone, and while most analysts seem to think it will be given the final green light, the protest movement shows no sign of letting up. How do you see this playing out? (Related article: Kenyan Oil, Hot and Getting Hotter: Interview with Taipan’s Maxwell Birley)

Adrian Banica: With the governor of Nebraska now approving it, I think the administration has no choice and no excuses for not approving it.

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