Study says pipeline resistance raises oil-transport risks

Pipeline transport of oil is so much safer than other modes that resistance to it is raising risks, concludes a study published by the Fraser Institute, Calgary.

The risk of a spill in road transport is almost 20 incidents per billion ton-miles, according to US data cited in the study by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Kenneth P. Green, senior director, natural resource policy studies at the Fraser Institute.

For rail, the risk is slightly more than two incidents per billion ton-miles. For pipelines, the risk is less than 0.6 incident per billion ton-miles.

Citing US data for 2005-09, the study determined the rate of injury requiring hospitalization was 30 times lower among oil pipeline workers than for rail workers involved in the transport of oil. The injury rate for road transport was 37 times higher than pipelines.

“When you have more moving parts, more potential interaction with other noncontrolled actors such as trains and trucks, the potential for accidents is higher when compared to pipelines,” Green said.

But he pointed out comparisons aren’t simple.

“When you have a pipeline spill the release volumes are higher than for a truck or train incident,” he said. “But with road and rail you have risk of more incidents in more places so the overall question of environmental protection becomes unclear.”

Canadian patterns similar

The study said data for Canadian pipelines reported by the National Energy Board show risk patterns similar to those in the US. It found the 10-year average for the frequency of liquid leaks is about three leaks per 1,000 km of pipeline in a country that produces and transports 3.2 million b/d of oil, most by pipeline.

The fatality rate among Canadian oil pipeline workers averaged 0.2/year during 2000-09. Injuries to contractors and other workers in that period averaged 3.8/200,000 work-hr.

Rail-related fatalities totaled 71 in 2011, below a 5-year average of 81. In 2012, 63 leaks of dangerous goods were reported, 31% of all reported rail incidents. The Transportation Safety Board recorded 1,023 reportable rail accidents in 2011, the study said, compared with a 2006-10 average of 1,198.

Transport Canada last year said 345 reportable accidents involving trucks hauling dangerous goods occurred in 2011. Of those accidents, 27% involved crude oil.

The study authors noted that production of bitumen is increasing from the oil sands of Alberta but that a “transport conundrum” has developed because of opposition to pipelines.

“Resistance to pipeline transport is sending oil to market by modes of transport that pose higher risks of spills and personal injuries such as rail and road transport,” they said.

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