Robert Bradley contrasts the safety of pipelines – the safest way to move energy – with the myths perpetuated by anti-growth opponents of energy development.
Our associates from the Institute for Energy Research, who shared this guest post, recently published in Forbes, with us.
Have you heard? Transporting oil through pipelines is a threat to humanity! The many accidents highlighted in the press speak for themselves.
Except that pipeline accidents are rare enough to be big news—and many of those accounts contain exaggerations. Too often, they imply that pipelines, really the energy they carry, should be phased down and out.
Welcome to the war on fossil fuels, where every mishap is portrayed as the Bad News Bears. It is as if accident-free, effortless alternatives were at the ready.
The catch is, the majority of these incidents happened decades ago, the most significant occurring in 1968, 1972, and 1990.
The real news, in other words, is that technological advances have made pipelines safer than ever. But that lead goes unmentioned. Or it is buried, which may be how the author wishes fossil fuels to remain.
Then, there’s this: an article in the Philadelphia Inquirerreports that “fearful” parents of children attending schools near the soon-to-be-built Mariner 2 pipeline are demanding evacuation routes in case of pipeline leakage.
It is barely mentioned that construction of this pipeline, which will move liquid gas from Pittsburgh to the Marcus Hook refinery in Eastern Pennsylvania, will be heavily regulated and subject to strict oversight. And, more importantly, self-regulated since accidents can ruin the reputation and finances of any company.
Have there been accidents in the 150 years since oil pipelines have been in use? Of course. And a spill or a crack, no matter the magnitude, is never good. But the happy truth is that rapidly advancing technology in pipeline construction and operation is improving safety.
Headlines aside, what is the record of pipeline safety?
In 2016 the number of oil pipeline accidents fell 10 percent from the previous year. Trend-wise, incidents that specifically affected the public and environment ticked up about five years ago, but have since levelled off. That’s because any spike in accidents spurs an immediate, industry-wide effort toward brining numbers back down.
What’s more, nearly 70 percent of pipeline accidents in 2016 only affected operator facilities like pump stations and tank farms. And 60 percent of incidents leaked only miniscule amount of liquid – five barrels or less.
So where are the good-news headlines?
Also, consider that America’s 500,000 miles of interstate pipeline are far safer than any other method of moving crude and petroleum products.
This is evident when comparing the number of pipeline accidents to oil transportation by road and rail. The former, with 19.95 accidents per billion ton-miles, is the least safe method, followed by the latter, with 2.08 miles per billion ton miles. Oil pipelines, by comparison, have .058 mishaps per billion ton-miles.
Similarly, pipelines keep operators and the general public out of harm’s way. Between 2005 and 2009, for example, the average fatality rate for natural gas pipelines was one per year. During the same time span, rail averaged nearly three, and road transport more than 10.
The statistics are so convincing that even those who oppose pipelines can’t credibly deny their safety.
“Many studies say that using a pipeline as a conduit is safer than rail travel and truck travel,” noted New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo — who has repeatedly blocked pipeline projects in his state. “Realistically you have to move fuel, so a pipeline is the safest way if it’s done right.”
The most interesting part of Cuomo’s statement is the qualifier “if it’s done right.” The governor likely knows, though his fellow skeptics are loath to admit, that there are a multitude of measures in place to ensure that oil travels securely through pipelines.
Pipeline operators are constantly evaluating safety procedures and launching new initiatives, including several that help prepare the public to spot and report any possible defects.
Back in 2014, the industry launched the Pipeline Safety Initiative — tasked with revamping everything from inspection technology to emergency response resources.
And 100 percent of pipelines are regularly monitored, both on the ground and aerially.
No wonder then that 99.999 percent of crude oil shipped via pipeline reaches its destination safely.
Another category of the untold (versus the bad news) is the benefits of pipelines for America’s economy.
Consider the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, both long-delayed but now green-lit by President Donald Trump. The Keystone will support 42,100 jobs and generate $2 billion in earnings, while the Dakota Access has already created 12,000 and $3.5 billion worth of investment.
Currently, workers are getting Dakota ready for action by June 1. And despite headlines to the contrary, Dakota is completely safe. The steel that walls the pipe is 50 percent thicker than legally mandated, and the pipeline will be monitored aerially on a weekly basis.
These projects are consumer-driven and pay taxes, not politically-driven tax takers. And that oil feeds refineries that fuel 253 million cars and trucks, 7,000 airplanes, and trains on 600 freight railroads traversing the United States.
Americans should read any news of petroleum pipeline mishaps with caution. While any spill or other accident is one too many, as anyone in the industry will tell you, the trends are positive.
Pipelines are not only the safest way to move oil, but they are now, thanks to technology and rigorous industry standards, safer than ever. All across the country, construction is underway on pipelines that will provide energy and jobs to millions of Americans.
Now that’s something worth reporting.