Creating a Better Oil Pipeline

Smarter pipeline technology can catch catastrophes before they happen

4 min read

Pipeline inspection technology was a ho-hum subject until August, when an oil spill from a leaking pipe forced BP Plc to shut down operations at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, cutting U.S. domestic production capacity by nearly 8 percent. Traders bid up the price of oil futures, environmentalists added sloppy maintenance to their list of reasons not to develop reserves in sensitive areas elsewhere, and pundits began bandying arcane terms of trade, notably pigs --machines that move inside pipes with flowing oil and inspect or clean as they go.

Separating the hype from the facts, it's plain that the Alaska incident points to serious lapses on BP's part. It also gives us a chance to analyze how up-and-coming technologies might help detect corrosion and other problems at other aging oil fields around the world.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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