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Improved Pipelines Could Stop Oil Spills Before They Start

The oil and gas industry may not see spills as a reason to stop drilling. But they're investing in better pipeline technology to prevent spills.


A rig operated by the Royal Dutch Shell company spilled 54,600 gallons of oil into the North Sea last week. The company knew the spill was happening on Wednesday but didn’t confirm it until Friday, and didn’t say until today how much oil had escaped. Reporters were quick to compare this spill to last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster and point out that the BP well released a far greater amount of oil. But while it's true that this event may not rank high on the all-time list of oil spills, it's still the largest spill in the North Sea in the past decade.

As Cord Jefferson wrote last month, one of the oil industry’s dirty little secrets is that its operations spill oil into waterways on a regular basis. And because spills mean lost time, wasted product, and negative publicity, the oil industry has a vested interest in stopping them before they start.

One of the ways to stop spills is to improve pipelines so they don't break. The North Sea spill began when a pipeline called a “flow line” broke. The oil that spilled this past summer in Montana came from a ruptured transport pipeline buried (perhaps not deep enough) beneath the overflowing Yellowstone River. And although the disaster at Deepwater Horizon began when the rig caught fire and started sinking, the oil that contaminated the Gulf of Mexico and its coast came from the broken pipeline deep below the surface.

With financial support from Royal Dutch Shell, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology have begun working to predict how pipelines like the one that broke in the Deepwater Horizon spill will perform under stress. Their work, the team reported back in June, fits into a slew of recent projects exploring the cause and effects of warped pipelines. The MIT team, led by Tomasz Wierzbicki, used a modeling system developed to predict how cars built of different materials would perform in crashes, conducting tests to determine a particular material’s characteristics and later using those results to create computer simulations of particular structures. In a preliminary exercise to prove their model could improve our understanding pipelines, the team simulated the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Their model showed cracks appearing in the pipeline in the same places that the pipe had fractured.

Now that the team has some confidence that they can apply their model to pipelines, different materials can be tested, and the team can one day recommend materials that have a better chance of standing up to strains the pressures of deep waters, the dangers of ice in Arctic climates, and even accidents like the fire that started the Deepwater Horizon spill.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Loozrboy

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The Increasingly Political and Defensive Koch Industries Twitter Feed

A chart shows just how punchy and on the ropes @Koch_Industries is feeling these days, taking their political message to Twitter.


The good folks at Oppose the Future (a project of Green For All) pay close attention to the official Koch Industries twitter feed (@Koch_Industries). Recently they noticed that it's been getting increasingly defensive and political. The chart above is a plot of all of the company's tweets since the account was formed in early 2009. As you can see, after the New Yorker's devastating investigative piece about the Koch brothers by Jane Mayer, a switch flipped. The company stopped tweeting about, well, corporate stuff, and get very political, defending the free market, and defending Koch Industries' environmental record. After Charles Koch's recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, you see a similar spike in self-defensive tweets and free market cheerleading.

I suppose this isn't all that surprising, but it is interesting to see it all laid out. I check out a fair amount of corporate Twitter feeds from time to time, and I think it's pretty rare for companies to be so outspoken about politics. Koch Industries is a privately held company, though. I wonder if a company beholden to shareholders would get away with such blatant political messaging on a public platform.

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Infographic: How the Koch Brothers and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Turn Democracy Into a Game of Monopoly

An easy-to-trace look at how the Koch brothers' millions are buying political favors in Minnesota.

The clever and righteous folks at The Other 98% put out this infographic on the rather clear connection between the Koch brother's plentiful dollars and the Wisconsin governor who is now busting unions and, more important to this discussion, insisting on no-bid sales of the state-owned power plants.

Quick background: It just so happens that the three companies best positioned to buy and operate those facilities, which they could get for pennies on the dollar through the no-bid sale process, are all subsidiaries of, you guessed it: Koch Industries. (We've covered and ranted about the Kochs a bunch in the past. Amongst many other horrible, terrible things, they're some of the worst polluters in the country.) This Walker-Koch "secret deal" rumor seems to fall more towards credibility than wild-eyed conspiracy theory when you look at all the details in place, as Rick Unger did on his Forbes blog last week.

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