Pipeline Safety

Pipelines are without question the safest way to transport oil. Pipelines have the safest record in energy transportation because operators make substantial investments in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and monitoring of pipeline systems, and because the Canadian government is a vigilant regulator. Modern pipelines are built more sturdily and monitored more closely than ever before. New technology permits leaks to be detected promptly, and initial remedial actions to be taken remotely from control centres.

Sensors and Remote Monitoring

Modern pipelines have highly sensitive sensor rings that are monitored 24/7. If sensors detect any anomalies, the pipeline can be shut off using valves that are placed frequently and strategically along the route, such as on either side of a body of water.

Operators continuously monitor pipelines [http://www.cepa.com/about-pipelines/maintaining-safe-pipelines] using SCADA systems (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems) that collect the information from sensors along the pipeline route. These sensors measure a variety of conditions within the pipeline, including temperature, flow rate and pressure.

The control centres are equipped with automatic leak detection alarms and shut-off devices in case of emergency. The control centre personnel undergo rigorous emergency training procedures to prepare them for any potential incident.

Smart Pig Monitoring

The integrity of the pipeline is monitored using electronic equipment called “smart pigs” [http://www.kindermorgan.com/pipelinesafety/integrity_management.aspx?id=safety]. These devices detect metal loss and alert to potential anomalies or changes to the condition of the pipes. The collected data is analyzed to pinpoint locations where further investigation is required.  If necessary, a section of the pipe is exposed and assessed by qualified technicians so that it can be repaired or replaced.

Preventative Maintenance

Pipeline operators have extensive preventative maintenance programs that include:

  • constant computerized monitoring
  • routine inspections
  • aerial patrols
  • education outreach to landowners, excavators and local officials

Government regulations and monitoring ensure that pipeline companies are diligent in discharging these responsibilities.

Construction Diligence

Pipelines undergo rigorous testing during construction, before being placed in service and during normal operations, using many of the following processes and technologies to prevent and detect leaks:

  • careful selection and testing of pipe prior to and during manufacturing
  • x-ray or ultrasonic testing of all welds made to a pipeline section during its construction
  • research and development of technologies designed to prevent corrosion and cracking
  • tests to confirm pipeline integrity on new pipelines/systems
  • the use of durable coating systems and cathodic protection (use of low voltage electric current) to protect pipe from external corrosion

Pipeline Safety

As a consequence of this diligence in the construction, maintenance and operation of pipelines, Canada’s pipelines have a 99.9% safety record.

The Government of Canada says about pipelines http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca.energy/files/files/OS-Pipeline_Safety_e.pdf

Pipelines are the safest and most economical method of transporting large quantities of crude oil, including oil sands crude, and natural gas over long distances to Canadian and other markets. Spills, leaks and ruptures, although extremely unfortunate, are also extremely rare, representing only a tiny percentage of what is flowing through the pipelines. Between 2000 and 2011, 99.9996 percent of the crude oil and petroleum product transported on federally regulated pipelines moved safely.

The Government of Canada recently improved pipeline safety even further by granting the National Energy Board (NEB) new powers to fine individuals or companies that contravene NEB regulations or orders. The new rules provide penalties of up to $25,000 per day for an individual or up to $100,000 per day for any other party, such as a corporation, utility or municipality.

The NEB has been given an additional $13.5 million over two years to increase the number of inspections for oil and gas pipelines by 50 percent and to double the number of annual comprehensive audits.

The NEB also has the authority to initiate proceedings that could result in a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to one year for a summary conviction, or a fine up to $1 million and imprisonment for up to five years for an indictable offence.

Canada’s standards are internationally recognized for their excellence because they are extensive (some 500 pages long), they are comprehensive (covering design, construction, operation and maintenance), they are continually updated (a new edition is published every four years), and they are part of provincial and federal regulations, which means they are not guidelines but are, in fact, laws. Countries around the world look to Canada as a model because Canada’s pipelines are the safest in the world. [http://www.cepa.com/technical-requirements-for-pipelines-how-are-standards-developed].

Alternatives to Pipelines

If oil does not move by pipeline, the next alternative – already widely in use – is rail.

But pipelines are safer.  Pipeline spills are 0.6 incidents per billion ton miles compared with more than two incidents per billion ton miles for railways. Trucks have an even higher spill rate.

But make no mistake: if pipeline capacity out of Alberta continues to be limited, the oil industry will rely increasingly on rail.

In Canada, exports of crude oil by rail increased 83% in the last quarter of 2013, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the National Energy Board. That represents an increase from 79,763 barrels per day in Q4 2012 to 146,047 bpd in Q4 2013 and an estimate of 175,000 bpd in 2014. In the first quarter of 2012, just 15,980 bpd were shipped by rail, illustrating the explosive growth in shipping by rail [http://business.financialpost.com/2014/05/06/canadian-crude-by-rail-exports-leap-83-in-fourth-quarter/?__lsa=5340-7aa1] in light of constrained pipeline capacity.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) predicts that oil by rail will more than triple in the next two years [http://business.financialpost.com/2014/06/09/canadas-oil-industry-cuts-long-term-production-growth-forecast-to-4-8m-bpd/?__lsa=779a-0bb2] due to the constraint on pipeline capacity. That means an increase to about 300,000 bpd in 2015 and 700,000 barrels per day by 2016. The industry is planning to create capacity for about 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2015, and other projects in the planning stages could increase that to 1.4 million bpd. If Keystone, Northern Gateway and TransMountain are not approved, that estimate could end up looking quite modest.

Canadians are legitimately concerned about possible environmental damage from pipeline spills, but a spill from a train is likely to be not only larger, but more volatile due to the risk of fire. Railways have 25 times the number of accidents [http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_02_03.html] that pipelines do; trucks have 3,000 times more accidents. Trucks, of course, carry less oil and consequently spills are smaller. Rail accidents, however, spill many times the amount of oil as a truck or an average pipeline spill: about 70,000 litres on average for trains compared to about 12,000 litres for a pipeline leak or spill.

Deliberately constraining pipeline capacity will inevitably result in more oil movement by rail. It is not logical to believe that constraining pipeline capacity will diminish the worldwide appetite for oil.

And if there is a spill?

Modern technology is also addressing the necessity for occasional spill clean-up.

If a spill occurs on water, scientists have demonstrated that oil eating microbes can be employed to eat the oil [http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/publications/microbes/index-eng.html]. These microbes have existed in nature for millions of years and eat the oil that seeps naturally from fissures in the ocean floor. During the Horizon Deepwater spill in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists moved microbes into the spill area where they ate up the plume of oil in just two weeks. Scientists were also able to prove that the microbes can operate in very deep, cold water, and that their presence does not harm the existing marine environment.

Scientists are also working on a product called an aerogel [http://cleantechnica.com/2014/02/28/aerogel-technology-offers-great-potential-oil-chemical-spill-cleanup/]. An aerogel is an extremely light product (essentially frozen gas) that can very rapidly sop up between 100 and 900 times its weight in oil. It can also distinguish between oil and water, so it can be used on marine as well as land spills. Because it is free of chemicals, it can then be squeezed out like a sponge, and both the oil and the aerogel can be re-used.

Pipeline companies are very sensitive to the potential environmental damage their work could cause and are constantly investing in new ways to safely transport oil and clean up any damage.

The fact is that our world requires oil for everything from heating our homes to making computers. To use oil, we must move it from where it is extracted to where it is used. That’s just a fact of life. The challenge is to move it safely and be ready for any mishap.

More information

Pipeline Lessons Learned: as reported in the Vancouver Sun on February 21, 2015 – click here

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British Columbians for Prosperity is an independent group of concerned British Columbians. We are committed to establishing an economic, environmental and social climate where all British Columbians and our children will prosper.
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