Wednesday, Oct 25, 2017 11:13 am
If a pipe dream is the kind of dream one has when high on opium, then my pipe dream is of a different sort. Because mine involves pipelines, especially limiting our reliance on them.
Let me be the first to acknowledge all the good things that pipelines do for us. They transport oil and gas to power our economy and our lifestyle. They carry water from large sources of fresh water—whether lakes, rivers, or even desalination plants next to the sea—to our homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses. Our buildings are fitted with pipeline systems, better known as “plumbing,” which bring us clean tap water and dispose of used water. And then there are municipal sewer pipelines, which are hooked up to our buildings, to take toilet and other wastewater, hopefully, to a wastewater treatment plant where the water is scrubbed clean of organic waste before being returned to a lake, river, or other water source. Unfortunately, dumping of raw sewage into natural bodies of water still exists. Ugh!
Did you know that municipal wastewater treatment systems are unable to deal with everything that gets poured down our drains? For example, pharmaceuticals and hazardous household products can cause treatment systems to improperly operate, or, worse, these harmful compounds can re-enter our water supply unchanged. Once I learned about this, I always think of fish and downstream neighbours before using or purchasing anything that will end up down my drains.
But, getting back to pipelines, there are a few downsides to them, too. One of them is that they hide some rather nasty stuff until it arrives at its next point of processing (or dumping).
As nice as it might feel to flush our problems down the drain, pipelines can make “out of sight, out of mind” all too easy a habit to get into. London’s sewer “fatberg” illustrates how “out of sight, out of mind” behaviours can cause massive problems. A conglomeration of fats, diapers, and wipes that should never have been flushed down London’s drains in the first place, the fatberg is estimated to weigh 130 tonnes and stretch for 250 metres. As hard as stone, the fatberg has to be chiseled off by hand as the combination of sewer gas and power tools could set off an explosion. Double ugh!
Oil and gas pipelines must be constantly checked and monitored for problems and leaks, partly because they are so important to our way of life, and partly because of the many things that can go wrong with them due to age, usage, or some external force like an earth tremor. Whether pipeline leaks are found quickly or not, they can create a lot of problems until identified and fixed.
Of course, fixing a pipeline in use is never an easy thing. If you’ve ever had to repair a frozen water pipe in your kitchen you’ll know what I mean. Inconvenience seems minor when compared to the potential for water damage to flooring, walls, cupboards, and appliances. Try extrapolating that potential for inconvenience and damage from the kitchen to the field, where oil and gas pipelines cross water sources and travel through communities and natural areas; then, see how comfortable you feel.
With insight into pipelines and all their pros and cons, wouldn’t you rather see toxic oilsands resources transported in a safer manner than a pipeline? Believe it or not, it may now be possible! A new technology from Calgary that creates “bitumen balls” means Alberta’s oilsands could safely make it to their intended destinations when transported as self-sealing and buoyant pellets by truck, rail, or ship.
Believing in pipe dreams—now that’s in our best interest.