The increase in U.S. oil production has pushed the country's oil reserves to their highest levels in 30 years, according to Industry Week. But while this is good news for mining companies and refinery plants, the industry is reporting several barriers to expanded production. The country's pipeline system was not designed to carry such high levels of oil and is preventing it from reaching certain markets as quickly and efficiently as it could.
"We are still waiting on pipeline capacity to be built out of the areas where this production growth is coming from [so it] can actually be accessible for refiners to use it," David Bouckhout, an analyst with TD Securities, told Industry Week. "But it takes some time."
Pipelines are the primary tool for moving oil, with 90 percent of distribution occurring this way, explained the news source. Most of the U.S. pipeline infrastructure was originally designed to move imported oil from the Gulf of Mexico to refineries in the U.S. Now, those systems are being reversed to distribute oil mined from areas in Texas, Oklahoma and in other parts of the country to the Gulf of Mexico so it can be distributed nationally and internationally.
Many pipelines are feeling this strain. A pipeline that runs between western North Dakota and northern Minnesota was shut down twice over the past few weeks because of leaks, reported The Associated Press. Approximately 10 gallons of oil leaked in one incident and 84 gallons in a second incident just southwest of Grand Forks, N.D. Although the leaks were contained and no environmental damage was reported, this caused significant delays across the region while the pipeline was repaired.
Refineries and other companies in charge of maintaining pipeline infrastructure should use tools like crack detection to monitor pipelines for problems that could result in leaks. This kind of preventive maintenance will allow companies to fix issues before they result in costly spills and delays.