Study says transporting oil and gas safer by pipeline

Fraser Institute says rate of spill incidents 4.5 times greater by rail.

August 13, 2015   by PLANT STAFF

CALGARY — Transporting oil and gas by rail in Canada is much riskier than moving it by pipeline, concludes a Fraser Institute study.

The public policy think-tank used newly compiled data from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and Transport Canada, which finds that the rate of incidents or accidents per million barrels of oil transported (2003-2013) is more than 4.5 times higher for rail than it is for pipelines.

“Federally regulated pipelines in Canada currently move just under 15 times more hydrocarbons than do the railroads. But with increased production and continued opposition to new pipeline infrastructure, more and more oil is being pushed to rail – a mode of transport which is more likely to experience a spill,” said study lead author Kenneth P. Green, Fraser Institute senior director of natural resources studies.

Between 2003 and 2013 – because of larger transport volumes – pipelines did experience more occurrences compared to rail (1,226 versus 127). But, according to the TSB, the majority (99%) of those incidents or accidents did not damage the environment.

The study says 73% of pipeline occurrences resulted in spills of less than one cubic metre while 16% didn’t cause any spill.

Most occurrences (83%) didn’t happen in transit, they happened in facilities (compressor stations, processing plants and terminals), which are more likely to have secondary containment mechanisms and procedures.

Green observed Natural Resources Canada notes that between 2011 and 2014, 99.999% of crude oil and petroleum products sent by federally regulated pipelines arrived at their destination safely.

The study also references the mounting literature about the pipeline safety in the United States. Established research in that country suggests that moving oil by non-pipeline means (rail or truck) is linked to a greater likelihood of spills and injury to oil transport workers.

Click here for a copy of Safety in the Transportation of Oil and Gas.

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