3 Facts: Why Pipelines are Good for the Environment

If a petroleum refinery was a beating heart, transmission pipelines would be the veins bringing blood to and from. Truth is that pipelines are the lifeblood of modern society, as they are the mechanism that allows us to ship oil and natural gas safely and effectively, which is used for making petrochemical products to heating our homes to fuelling our vehicles and everything in between.

Canada has a vast network of pipelines that transport millions of litres of oil and gas under ground every single day. Pipelines are often misunderstood and mistaken as being dangerous or harmful to the environment in every aspect. This could not be further from the truth.

Here’s a few reasons why pipelines are good for the environment, and why you should consider being supportive of projects in Canada such as Coastal GasLink and the Trans Mountain Expansion.

#1 - Pipelines Lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions

A majority of Indigenous people support trans mountain expansion pipeline

According to the IEA World Energy Outlook 2020 'Stated Policies Scenario', global demand for oil is forecast to grow to roughly 105 million barrels per day by 2025 and see a potential 'peak' in 2041.

While some believe oil demand is nigh (various organizations predict peak oil between 2020 to 2041), demand for oil in transportation and petrochemicals is not going away anytime soon. The need to transport oil and gas safely and effectively in pipelines isn't either.

Pipelines have been shown to be the least greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive way to transport oil and gas. In one study, The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta found that pipelines reduced GHG emissions by anywhere between 61 to 77 per cent versus rail for transporting oil and gas long distances.

Without pipelines, oil will simply be transported using a different means such as rail, as shown in Alberta where many producers have ramped up oil-by-rail due to restricted pipeline capacity. This is harming the environment by putting more GHGs in our atmosphere versus if this oil was being transported by a new pipeline, and does nothing to keep one barrel of oil in the ground.

#2 - Pipelines are the Safest Way to Transport Oil and Gas

oil by rail is much more environmentally harmful than oil by pipeline

Another study by the Fraser Institute shows that pipelines are much safer than rail for transporting oil and gas. This study found that there is a much lower incident rate per million barrels of oil and gas transported for pipelines versus rail.

For example, every year between 2003 and 2013, pipelines experienced 0.049 accidents or spills per million barrels of oil, versus 0.227 for rail. In short, this means that transporting oil by pipeline is 4.5 times more safe than when done by rail.

Furthermore, the study found that a large majority of the pipeline incidents resulted in a spill of 1 cubic metre or less, and that 83 per cent of these took place in a facility which likely has secondary containment procedures and mechanisms.

Perhaps one of the most telling statistics from the study is that 99 per cent of pipeline incidents that did happen did not harm the environment in any way, shape, or form.

#3 - Pipelines Transport Oil and Gas in Safe Corridors

All First Nations Along Coastal GasLink Support the Pipeline Project

When pipelines are built, they are typically laid and buried away from communities. When oil is shipped by rail, trains are likely to travel through multiple municipalities as they transport their freight from point A to point B.  

Transporting oil by rail is deemed to be quite safe, but as mentioned above, it is still 4.5 times more likely that an incident occurs versus pipelines. Rail incidents that do occur have the potential to be in a town or village where the consequences could be catastrophic.

While oil-by-rail sends tanker trains through various communities along the way, pipelines do not. When pipeline incidents occur, rarely is any human life in danger, if at all.

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