Transporting oil by pipelines is significantly safer for workers and carries lower risk of spills than moving it by train or truck, a new report from the Fraser Institute says. Analyzing data from Canada’s National Energy Board and the US Department of Transportation going back to the year 2000, the report’s authors find that pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents and personal injuries than road and rail in North America.
The report’s authors call the present situation, in which oil and gas production is outpacing the ability to transport it, a “transport conundrum” that must be solved. Relying more on rail and truck to transport oil is not the solution, they argue, because those forms of transport carry higher risks of spills and personal injuries than pipelines.
With oil production in North America currently at 18 million barrels a day, a number that could reach 27 million barrels a day by 2020, the question of how to transport oil remains a pressing one. In Canada, 97 per cent of all natural gas and petroleum products are currently transported via pipelines, the report says.
The evidence is clear: transporting oil by pipeline is safe and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, pipeline transportation is safer than transportation by road, rail, or barge, as measured by incidents, injuries, and fatalities- even though more road and rail incidents go unreported.
Intermodal safety in the transport of oil
There are 825,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada and about five times that much in the US. In the US from 2005 to 2009, there were more “serious” incidents, injuries and fatalities resulting from the shipment of oil by road and rail than by pipeline.
Accounting for the superior safety and environmental performance of pipelines is the “genius” of the technology, which has the shipping container remain static while the commodity moves. According to the report, there are an average of 20 spills per billion ton-miles in trucking, two in rail shipping, and 0.6 in pipelines. Pipeline spills release more oil, however, than either road or rail spills. The report maintains that despite the relatively higher quantities of oil released, it is still “miniscule” when taken in the context of the total quantities being shipped each day.
The ten-year average for the frequency of liquid leaks is “approximately three leaks per 1,000 km of pipeline” the report says, citing the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers for that statistic.
Fatalities for pipeline workers averaged 0.2 per year from 2000 to 2009, it says. The rate of rail-related fatalities, by contrast, was 91 in 2010 and has a five-year average of 81. Measured by ton-miles, the rate of injuries associated with shipping by pipelines was just 0.00687 injuries requiring hospitalization per billion ton-miles; rail caused 30 times that many injuries.