Crude oil pipelines have become both an environmental and political issue, receiving extensive media coverage and vociferous opposition from increasing numbers of pressure groups concerned with the impact of a leak or rupture on groundwater.

It is universally accepted some spillage from a pipeline is inevitable. What may start as a small leak brought on by corrosion or hardware failure, can end up spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil and its accompanying chemical lubricants into fields, rivers and aquifers with breath-taking speed. Smaller releases though, can also have an impact and are more frequent than ruptures, as well as being harder to detect and potentially more difficult to trace to source.

Environmental Concerns


Whilst it is generally acknowledged that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, pipelines continue to face stiff opposition and little political support, due to their association with contamination of soil or groundwater from oil pipeline leaks.

Whilst pipeline routes can be changed to avoid vulnerable areas; the environmental impacts of pipelines cannot be entirely avoided.

The accidental release of crude oil or petroleum products to the environment can cause a number of problems to both wildlife and human health, and typically gains a very high profile in the public arena.

As well containing a variety of toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene, the physical properties of crude oil products can interfere with the normal functioning of organisms and lead to long-term health effects in humans.

As such, operators are under significant scrutiny to apply the best available techniques to ensure effective monitoring of leaks and initiate timely remedial action.

Proving Accountability

Synthetic DNA tracers to facilitate the monitoring process

It is considerably difficult to prove how long oil has been leaking from a pipeline when a spill is confirmed. Most pipelines are underground, where oil can seep into surrounding soils and potentially groundwater. If left unattended, a leak could contaminate thousands to millions of gallons of water.

Forecast Technology has developed and patented a synthetic DNA tracer which, when added into oil transported in a pipeline, can play a role in providing evidence of source and a timeline of events.

The synthetic DNA tracer facilitates the monitoring process by marking the contents of the pipeline with a unique identifier each month. Should contaminants subsequently be found in the water table or soil, it would become possible to confirm both by whom and when the contaminants were introduced into the ground.

Communities and Authorities can be assured that it will be possible to establish an operator’s accountability and even negligence in the event of identifying the presence of a tag in contaminated groundwater. This empowers authorities to hold operators to account for performing remedial measures, or for the liability of paying damages.

Conversely, this proof of guilt or innocence also allows operators to demonstrate that they are not culpable, in the absence of the marker in allegedly contaminated groundwater.


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