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 our modern society, as they are the mechanism that allows us to ship oil and natural gas safely and effectively which is used for heating our homes to making petrochemical products to fueling our vehicles and everything in between.
In Canada, there’s a vast network of pipelines that transport millions of litres of oil and gas under ground every single day. Pipelines are often misunderstood, mistaken as being dangerous or harmful to the environment in every aspect. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
#1 - Pipelines Lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, global demand for oil is forecast to grow by 2.97 million barrels per day in 2019 and 2020 combined.
While some believe oil demand will peak eventually (various organizations predict peak oil between anywhere from 2021 to 2040), 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 is not going anywhere sometime soon either.
When it comes to transporting oil and gas, it has been shown that pipelines are the least GHG-intensive way to do so. 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 just 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.
#2 - Pipelines are the Safest Way to Transport Oil and Gas
Another study 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 rail was 4.5 more times likely to have an occurrence than a pipeline.
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.
#3 - Pipelines Transport Oil and Gas in Safe Corridors
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. In 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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