Do more miles of pipelines correlate with more risk? Pipeline infrastructure expands each year. In 2004, the US had 166,669 miles of hazardous liquids pipelines. As of 2016, the total grew to 211,150 miles, a 27% increase. PHMSA does not analyze correlations between miles of pipeline and human and environmental risk. The American Petroleum Institute (API), however, does.
Considering all pipelines - crude oil, petroleum products and natural gas liquids - miles of pipelines have increased by 13% over the past five years, while major (classified as larger than 500 barrels of product released) pipeline incidents per mile are down nearly a third. Incidents potentially impacting people or the environment outside of an operator’s facility are down 52 percent since 1999 (for more details see the American Petroleum Institute (API) report released in 2016).
The Fraser Institute, an independent think tank in Canada ranked as one of the top (19th) think tanks in the world by The University of Pennsylvania, analyzed Canadian data on oil and natural gas transport, and found:
“In general, the transport of oil and gas is quite safe by all modes: pipeline, rail, and tanker, though there are differences between the modes that should be considered when developing infrastructure.”
Specifically, “pipelines suffer few occurrences (accidents and incidents)…between 2004 and 2015, pipelines experienced approximately 0.05 occurrences per million barrels of oil equivalent (Mboe) transported.”
Kenneth Green, Fraser Institute’s senior director of energy and natural resource studies and co-author of the study, summarizes the “evidence is clear—building new pipelines and shipping oil by tanker is the safest and most environmentally responsible way to get Canadian oil to global markets.”
In addition, the study finds that “while both pipeline and rail transportation of oil and gas are quite safe…pipelines continue to result in fewer accidents and fewer releases of product, when taking into consideration the amount of product moved.”
These statistics focus on operations. Concerns about pipeline construction risks, especially with respect to drinking water, recently led to a halt in Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 Pipeline construction that was resolved by agreement with the Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Mountain Association. Discussion about risks during construction coming soon in Part II.
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