There are a lot of great things about running a huge metal tube filled with toxic sludge across the middle of the country and down to the Texas coast. There are the several dozen jobs that would be created, for one, and the scads of money earned by the Canadian tar-sands companies. And there are probably others, though I can’t think of them right now.

Well, I can think of one. The best thing about building Keystone XL (which is what we were talking about) is that it would create 1,897 miles along which anything could happen. It’s like Whac-a-Mole, trying to figure out if and where the pipeline might rupture — with the bonus that if it does rupture, any number of actual moles will be smothered in thick oily goo. And TransCanada is trying to make the game as fun as possible, by proposing to build the pipeline with relatively lax protections against leaks.

First one to spot a leak wins a prize.

freewineFirst one to spot a leak wins a prize.

From Inside Climate News:

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The leak detection technology that will be used on the Keystone XL, for instance, is standard for the nation’s crude oil pipelines and rarely detects leaks smaller than 1 percent of the pipeline’s flow. The Keystone will have a capacity of 29 million gallons per day–so a spill would have to reach 294,000 gallons per day to trigger its leak detection technology.

The Keystone XL also won’t get two other safeguards found on the 19-mile stretch of the pipeline over Austin’s aquifer: a concrete cap that protects the Longhorn from construction-related punctures, and daily aerial or foot patrols to check for tiny spills that might seep to the surface.

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Experts interviewed by InsideClimate News estimate it would cost less than $10 million–roughly 0.2 percent of the Keystone’s $5.3 billion budget–to add external sensor cables, a concrete cap and extra patrols to the 20 miles of the pipeline in Nebraska where a spill would be most disastrous.

So if you notice if the soil on your Montana ranch has suddenly turned black and sticky and is giving off fumes that cause you to pass out every 10 minutes, count up how much tar-sands oil you’ve got. If it’s 293,000 gallons or less, shrug and enjoy your new highly flammable lifestyle. (Is tar-sands oil, a.k.a. diluted bitumen, actually flammable? Let us know, rancher!)

I’m not a politician or a lobbyist or anything, but it seems to me that improving leak detection could earn a certain company from Canada a little bit of goodwill. “You know what,” this company could say (I’m referring to TransCanada), “we’ve decided that we’re going to go that extra step to ensure that we’re not destroying your drinking water.” That might not assuage the concerns of all Nebraskans, but the company can use all the support it can get.

They don’t, of course, because adding additional sensors is like cheating at Whac-a-Mole, and TransCanada is a stand-up, morally forthright company. Back in October, it had a spot of fun when it found an “anomaly” on its existing tar-sands pipeline and shut the thing down for a bit. That was exciting. But the all-time champion at tar-sands Whac-a-Mole is Enbridge, who — after only 17 hours! — spotted a massive leak that killed innumerable wildlife.

Save pipeline Whac-a-Mole. Oppose stronger protections for the Keystone pipeline. After all, we need something to do with our time before the atmosphere is so choked with carbon dioxide that we have to move to tropical northern Saskatchewan. Might as well stay busy hunting for pipeline leaks.