A recent study by a reputable organization recently concluded that transporting oil by pipeline is safer than any other transportation method, to the extent that if opposition to pipelines causes oil to be transported by less safe methods, the risk of oil spills increases!
The study, entitled “Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil”, was conducted by theb Fraser Institute, based in Calgary, Canada. The authors were Diana Furchtgott-Roth from the Manhattan Institute and Kenneth P. Green, a senior director of the Fraser Institute.
There are about 825,000 kilometers of pipeline in Canada and 4.2 million kilometers in the United States. However, as the authors note, the rising production of oil and gas in North America is outpacing the capacity of the pipeline infrastructure, and so more oil is being shipped by rail and other non-pipeline methods. When transporting oil by road, the risk of a spill is almost 20 incidents per billion ton-miles. By rail, the risk is slightly more than two incidents per billion ton-miles. Contrast this with transport by pipeline, which has a risk of less than 0.6 incident per billion ton-miles.
Pipelines are also safer for the humans working on them, as well, in terms of injuries and fatalities. Citing US data for 2005-09, the study determined the rate of injury requiring hospitalization for workers involved in transporting oil was 30 times lower among oil pipeline workers than for rail workers. For road transport, the rate of injury was 37 times higher than for pipelines. Kenneth Green noted, “When you have more moving parts, more potential interaction with other non-controlled actors such as trains and trucks, the potential for accidents is higher when compared to pipelines.” The authors stated that Americans are 75 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to be killed in a pipeline accident. The data for Canada reached similar conclusions. In a country that transports 3.2 million barrels per day of oil mostly by pipeline, the 10-year average for the frequency of liquid leaks is about three leaks per 1,000 kilometer of pipeline. Likewise, the injury and fatality rates for workers on pipelines versus on rail and road transport were substantially lower.
In terms of what is best for the environment, the authors also make the case that pipelines are the better option, although it is difficult to directly compare the environmental effects of different transport methods. The report says: “When you have a pipeline spill, the release volumes are higher than for a truck or train incident. But with road and rail, you have risk of more incidents in more places so the overall question of environmental protection becomes unclear,” Green said.
What the report calls the “transport conundrum”, brought about by opposition to pipelines, is a major issue. Both authors conclude that to develop North America’s oil sands and to realize the resulting economic benefits, transport issues must be resolved. The bottom line: resistance to more pipeline construction actually creates greater risk for oil spills, injuries and fatalities and environmental damage by using other, less safe, forms of transport.
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