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Study: Pipelines safer than train, truck transportation

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News) -- A new report from the Fraser Institute, an independent research organization, has found that transporting oil via pipeline poses fewer safety risks than moving it by train or truck.


FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News) — A new report from the Fraser Institute, an independent research organization, has found that transporting oil via pipeline poses fewer safety risks than moving it by train or truck.

The 32-page study, released on Oct. 15 and titled Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil, concluded that pipeline transport for oil is safer than transportation by road, rail or barge, as measured by incidents, injuries and fatalities. It was the institute’s second report in an ongoing series examining Canadian oil transportation, following The Canadian Oil Transport Conundrum.

“With a pipeline, you have a fixed route,” said Dr. Kenneth P. Green, senior director of natural resources with the institute, who co-wrote the study with Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute. “There’s not much that can actually interact with it, whereas when you’re talking about trains and heavy trucks, it’s a non-fixed route and there are lots of other variables that can affect it,” Dr. Green explained. “It’s subject to weather; it’s subject to other interactions and accidents, with much more opportunity for human error and mishaps.”

The study looked at oil spills and other accidents in North America over the past 20 years, particularly in the United States during the latter half of the 2000s. Among the data revealed for the U.S.:

* From 2005 to 2009, there was an average of 19.95 incidents per billion tons of petroleum shipped per mile each year for road transportation and 2.08 for rail, as opposed to only 0.89 for natural gas pipelines and 0.58 for hazardous liquid pipelines;

* The same period saw an average rate of nearly one injury per billion tons per mile per year from road-transported oil and 0.26 from rail-transported oil, compared to 0.13 from natural-gas pipelines and only 0.00068 from hazardous liquid pipelines; and

* There were a total of 51 fatalities resulting from shipping hazardous material by road from 2005 to 2009 and 12 each by railway and hazmat onshore pipeline, with only five resulting from shipping by gas transmission onshore pipeline.

The report acknowledged that pipelines can appear to be very prone to accidents at an uneducated glance, due to high total amounts of spillage. “The issue with pipelines is that when they do spill, they tend to have larger spill values,” Dr. Green explained.

“Particularly larger than rail, but not necessarily larger than the total amount spilled on roads when shipping equivalent amounts of loads.” But, he added, “it’s much safer when you consider the overall mass being moved.”

Rebecca Taylor, the National Energy Board’s (NEB) senior communications advisor for pipeline operations, agreed that pipelines are usually a less risky way to move oil. “When pipelines are operated and maintained according to the NEB’s requirements, they are inherently safe,” she said.

Such requirements include those set out by the National Energy Board Act, the Onshore Pipeline Regulations and the Canadian Standards Association. “And the board also requires pipeline companies to identify any known hazards associated with their pipelines and also identify strategies on how they’re going to prevent those hazards from being realized,” Taylor added.

According to Dr. Green, there’s a lot of resistance to pipeline transport in North America, including delays in approving TransCanada Corporation’s proposed Keystone XL line to the United States. In Canada, he added, it’s more about “anti-pipeline groups waging a campaign against this particular kind of infrastructure, with the claims that it poses particular dangers, either to the climate or to the environment.”

Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil is available for free online at http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/publications/intermodal-safety-in-the-transport-of-oil.pdf.