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Tech

This high-tech robot is helping energy companies prevent oil and gas pipeline spills

It turns out that America's 2.5 million miles of pipeline are not all that safe.

Since 2010, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, operators have reported an average of 200 oil spills per year from pipelines. That equals 9 million gallons of oil spilled from pipelines in the U.S. since 2010.

Though the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone Pipeline face vocal opposition, the new pipelines aren't the biggest concern. The old pipelines installed decades ago are falling apart, and they are far more challenging to inspect because older pipes were not designed for inspections.

Energy companies are required by law to inspect their pipelines and they use a variety of technology to do so, including devices known as smart pigs. But these pigs can only inspect certain portions of the pipes, leaving thousands of miles of pipeline that have never been inspected.

Diakont, a Russian company with a hub in San Diego, thinks it has a solution. It's developed a robot that can crawl into "unpiggable" parts of a pipeline.

Diakont’s robot recently inspected a major pipeline that runs under the Hudson River.
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC
Diakont’s robot recently inspected a major pipeline that runs under the Hudson River.

The RODIS crawler is connected to a truck with an operator who steers it through the pipe. It changes shape and sizes and can maneuver around curves and bends in the pipe, and uses ultrasound, lasers and cameras to deliver comprehensive data about where there is corrosion, cracks or dents. The energy company can then decide whether to replace or repair the flaws in the pipe.

Diakont says it's has inspected hundreds of miles of oil and gas pipelines around the world for major energy companies. The company's managing director, Edward Petit de Mange, said that inspecting pipelines is a growing part of their business.

"We have been inspecting pipelines for in the U.S. for four years now," managing director Petit de Mange told CNBC.

Diakont's robot inspection service costs "tens of thousands of dollars a day," according to Petit de Mange. Expensive, but much cheaper than dealing with a major spill.

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