Calgary-made oil leak detection tech may make pipelines an easier sell, minister says

The new leak detection system allows oil companies to deal with potential problems — and leaks — faster, the technology firm says.

Alberta has invested $2.4 million into research for problem-sensing system

The technology can sense leaks and send that information to the company quickly. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The Alberta minister of economic development and trade is lauding a new technology that may make pipelines safer — and so easier to sell.

Minister Deron Bilous told a crowd Tuesday morning he supports anything that makes pipelines safer.

"It's critical. We know that governments across Canada and around the world want to ensure that we keep our ecosystems safe," Bilous said.

"And this technology will help us do that."

Minister Deron Bilous says governments want to ensure pipelines are safe. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Alberta provincial government has had disputes in recent months with neighbouring British Columbia over the environmental safety of pipelines marked for expansion.

This new technology detects leaks quickly to allow oil companies to detect potential problems almost immediately, the engineering firm says.

HiFi Engineering, which is based in Calgary, has spent a decade developing the technology. It's based on ultra-sensitive fibre optics, and has already been used to detect leaks from oil wells.

Now, the technology is being tested on TransCanada's Keystone pipeline in Alberta and Texas, as well as Enbridge's new Norlite pipeline that runs north of Edmonton.

"We actually are sensing every centimetre of the pipeline asset, so we know exactly where an incident has occurred and exactly when an incident has occurred," company president Steven Koles said.

For the research, HiFi Engineering received $2.4 million in government-funding through the Alberta Small Business Innovation and Research Initiative at Alberta Innovates.

The intention is to make the technology, called high fidelity dynamic sensing, available for use on pipelines around the world.

"If we're going to get closer to 100 per cent safer in the pipeline industry, we have to get closer to 100 per cent accurate," Koles said.

Aerial view of the oil spill near Stoughton, Sask., taken on Jan. 23, 2017. (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

The limitations of existing pipeline leak detection technologies were highlighted earlier this year.

The Saskatchewan government launched an investigation into why the detection system failed to flag a 200,000-litre crude leak from a pipeline operated by a Calgary-based company.

With files from Dan McGarvey and Monty Kruger