Findlay, Ohio,
03:18 PM

How we added another petroleum detector to our toolbox

If MPC pipeline operations personnel receive data indicating a possible release, stopping the flow on a pipeline system is the first step. Once the system is in safe mode, they turn their attention to validating if a release actually occurred and where it is located.

On Monday, February 16, operators shut down the 14-mile pipeline supplying jet fuel from MPC’s Algonquin terminal to the United Parcel Service (UPS) hub at the Louisville, Ky., airport due to a suspected release. Further investigation validated the likelihood of a release, but the location was unknown. The business need to safely repair the line and resume operations was urgent, as supply to the airport was being managed by a fleet of tanker trucks running as many as a 100 loads of fuel per day. To further complicate the situation, the Louisville area had recently been blanketed by almost a foot of snow and temperatures plummeted, with sub-zero wind chills. All available resources were needed to help identify the release location.

Data analysis narrowed down the stretch of pipe in question to the first 7 miles. Physical signs of a release typically include puddles of product, sheening on surface water or odors of the product itself. The heavy snowfall, however, masked all of these signs such that personnel walking the line could not easily determine the release location. So Marathon Pipe Line (MPL – an MPC subsidiary) turned to another method. Project engineer Rob Knight wondered if dogs could be used, given their heightened sense of smell compared to humans. After some quick internet research, two dogs that are specifically trained to detect the smell of petroleum were located. Ninja, a black lab, and Honey, a yellow lab, were immediately dispatched to Louisville.

MPL field personnel had identified a general release area while the dogs were en route. The dogs were used for approximately an hour to continually show their handlers where they smelled hydrocarbons. When each dog would hit the scent, he would sit and wait for a treat, and handlers marked the spot with a flag. For the project team that implemented cleanup and remediation after the emergency response team completed their work, it turned out that the flags accurately indicated both the path and perimeter of the released product in the soil.

“It was a perfect storm, as the recent heavy snowfall had covered up all physical signs of a release, which made locating the leak and release zone extremely difficult,” notes Dan Gilfillen, MPL Hydraulics Controls and Communication manager. “We had more than a few skeptics initially, but the dogs really proved their worth.” MPL may never have a need for its own canine unit, but petroleum sniffing dogs proved they are another valuable tool for locating the source of a release.