Oil and gas transport by pipeline has increasingly been in the news lately, but is it really safe?

The readers/listeners here should know that you can go to Wikipedia.org/list of pipeline accidents in the U.S. and find reports on oil and gas leaks/explosions. I counted 412 leaks/spills since 2000 and this is only a partial list. Besides leaks of oil there have been catastrophic explosions and not just a few fatalities. There are roughly 185,000 miles of liquid petroleum carrying pipe and 320,000 miles of gas transport pipe in the U.S. These figures do not include the small diameter gas service lines running to homes and businesses.

The companies that run these pipelines do not inform the public of the risks. For example, on April 2 of this year, the XL Keystone pipeline which has leaked 1,700 gallons of the mucky Canadian crude near Freeman South Dakota due to a faulty weld, was planned to run at a pressure of 1308 pounds per square inch. This is very close to maximum pipeline tolerance levels. Generally speaking the heavier the crude oil, the greater the pipeline pressure required to move it. Compare this to the Pegasus pipeline which exploded a few years back leaving a rupture 22 feet long in the side of the pipe and was said to be running at a much lower pressure of between 708 and 820 psi. It was a 20" diameter line and the size of the spill was said at first to be 3180 barrels but later on Exon admitted to cleaning up 12,000 barrels of the oil-water mix. Saftey shutoff valve stations were said to be about 18 miles apart which means that the pipe between stations was carrying about 1.5 million gallons of petroleum. Pipeline pressures of between 1300-1400 psi sound like a catastrophe in the making.

I will cite several more examples. In Montana the Yellowstone pipeline which ran across the Flathead Indian nations lands leaked 78 times in a forty five year period before the lease was finally canceled.

In August of 2000 near Carlsbad New Mexico the El Paso natural gas pipeline exploded near a river crossing killing 12 people, leaving a massive crater in the ground and threw shrapnel for several hundred yards.

In 2001 a man said to be intoxicated shot a hole in the Alaska pipeline with a heavy hunting rifle. It leaked a whopping 6,800 barrels of crude oil which cost 13 million dollars to clean up. It was thought that the pressure sensing devices may have malfunctioned so that saftey valves did close in a timely fashion.

It appears that out of all the natural gas produced in the U.S., 4% leaks back into the atmosphere which cancels out any benefit that natural gas is said to have over coal fired power generation.

I think the above examples serve to show that the pipeline transport of petroleum products is not without significant risk and I invite the readers to go to wikipedia.org and check the reports there.


Legend 2 years 39 weeks ago


The industry needs regulation to improve the quality of its pipelines. The Nuclear Power Industry has "Safety Related" Quality. Anything that affects the safety of the public is heavily scrutinized. Evidently it is cheaper to just run pipelines with cheap materials and instrumentation and accept that you will have leaks. We need to put CEO's in jail that have leaking pipelines. Only that will change things. The BP Horizon disaster an example of saving a few bucks and then losing lives and destroying the environment. Nobody went to jail over it.

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