Oil spills from European pipelines down, study says

June 21, 2005
The number of oil spills from European pipelines fell below the annual average in 2003, according to a report to be published soon.

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, June 21 -- The number of oil spills from European pipelines fell below the annual average in 2003, according to a report to be published soon.

There were 10 reported oil spills during the year from 250 European cross-country pipelines recently surveyed, with no associated fires or injuries. About 2,830 cu m of oil was spilled, of which nearly 90% was from a single event.

Data collected for 2003 from 65 companies and other bodies covered pipelines with lengths totaling more than 36,000 km. In 2003 these lines transported 817 million cu m of crude oil and refined products, up 11% from to 2002.

These statistics come from the latest yearly report by the Conservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe (Concawe) on the safety and environmental performance of European cross-country pipelines, soon to be released.

The database includes nearly all land pipelines in the 15 longstanding member countries of the European Union and is being gradually extended to the new member states.

Spill record
The total of 10 spills reported compares with the long-term average of 12.7 spills/year since 1971, Concawe said.

"Taking into consideration the fact that the length of pipelines included in the survey has increased over the years, it is much better than the average result as measured by the frequency (0.27 spills/1,000 km/year in 2003 vs. a long-term average of 0.53 spills/1,000 km/year)."

Of the total spill amount, 1,210 cu m, about 43%, was recovered or safely disposed of, Concawe reported.

"The net oil loss into the environment amounted therefore to 1,620 cu m, 86% of which was from the same single event. This large single spill, resulting from a slow, undetected leak following damage by third-party machinery, makes the total the worst figure for many years both in terms of gross and net spillage," Concawe said.

"Relative to the total length of pipeline under survey, the performance was still of the same order of magnitude as the long-term annual average (78 l./km gross and 44 l./km net in 2003 compared to long-term averages of 90 and 40 l./km/year)."

Spill causes
Of the 10 total spills, Concawe said, one minor event was caused by mechanical failure. All of the remaining nine events were attributable to third-party actions. "Three events were due to accidental direct damage, four were caused by criminal activities (theft), and two resulted from hitherto undetected damage to the pipeline caused by a third party in the past."

Over the years, improved operational, monitoring, inspection, and maintenance practices have reduced the number of incidents due to mechanical failure, operational mishaps, and corrosion.

"The industry has thus steadily improved the reliability and safety of oil pipelines in Europe. However, third-party activities remain a major issue and must be the focus of attention," Concawe warned. These events "have historically been the major reason for spills from pipelines, and the 2003 figures clearly reinforce this trend."