Pipelines are widely acknowledged to be the safest and most efficient way to move energy products overland for long distances. Even the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the regulatory body that oversees pipeline safety, agrees: “Pipelines, in short, are practical and safe.”[1]

According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL), “Pipelines are built to have long lives …Pipeline operators are required under federal statute to develop an Integrity Management Plan (IMP) for pipelines that could affect high consequence areas (HCAs) such as population centers, commercially navigable waters and environmentally sensitive areas.” [2]

Liquid petroleum pipelines have been subject to DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulations since 1970.[3] PHMSA’s regulations include comprehensive requirements addressing pipeline design, construction, operation, inspection, maintenance, repair and emergency response.

Pipelines are constructed to specifications ensuring that it can handle required pressurization no matter what flows through it. Metallurgist Dr. R. Craig Jerner explains: “The various grades of API line pipe have minimum yield strength specifications. That is, the yield strength of the steel must meet or exceed these minimums to receive that level or category of specification.[4]

According to the AOPL, pipeline releases related to time-dependent causes (those that occur or worsen over time) in oil pipelines are down 36 percent over a short 7 year period between 2002 and 2009, while those causes in oil pipelines installed prior to the 1950s are down by 83 percent. “These statistics demonstrate that operators are managing the full array of threats and are dedicated to improving the performance of older assets.”[5]

View a map of U.S. and Canadian crude oil pipelines:

Pipeline Safety

Canadian crudes pose no more of a threat to U.S. pipelines than any other crude[6] and they have been transported into the United States for years. Oil sands crudes must be upgraded before they can be transported by pipeline.  Once upgraded, they are similar to other heavy crude oil commonly transported in the United States, including locally produced California heavy crude[7].  All crude oils regardless of origin must meet regulatory requirements which take into account product characteristics.  In examining accident reports from PHMSA since 2002[8], no pipelines carrying Canadian crude have experienced releases resulting from internal corrosion.

Liquids Pipeline Industry Onshore Pipe Spill Record

In the unlikely event that a spill occurs, cleanup techniques are the same for oil sands-derived crude as they are for other heavy crude oils.[9]  All crude oils are a mixture of light and heavy components.  The light components are recovered or evaporate, while the heavy ends can persist until cleaned up or sink if spilled into water. This is not unique to oil sands-derived crudes[10].  The 1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA) requires pipeline operators to submit response plans to the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) for review and approval. This also applies to pipelines carrying oil sands crude.

Keystone XL

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project is designed to deliver 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil per day to U.S. refineries, the majority of which will be derived from Alberta’s oil sands. The $7 billion project will generate as many as 20,000 new U.S. jobs during construction alone and create $20 billion in new spending. The pipeline will be built to the most advanced specifications and will be monitored and maintained by state-of-the-art technologies.

The project plan is currently undergoing a second Presidential review, but the longer that process takes, the more Americans have to lose. The latest data from the Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) shows that 10,000 U.S. jobs will not be created next year due to th  e project delay. By 2015, that figure jumps to 45,000 jobs and close to 85,000 jobs by 2020.[11]

The Keystone XL pipeline will strengthen our energy security by increasing our capacity to import oil from a friendly, reliable neighbor and process it into usable products in U.S. refineries.  IHS CERA projects Canada could supply five million barrels of oil a day to the United States by 2030 – or one in every four barrels Americans expect to consume.[12]

The U.S. government’s own environmental review indicated that the Keystone XL pipeline would “have a degree of safety over any other,” offering a safe, practical way to bring more Canadian oil to the U.S.[13]  This is good for consumers, good for U.S. jobs, good for energy and economic security and certainly serves our national interest.

Source: U.S. Department of State

[1] Dept. of Transportation, Pipelines 101
[2] AOPL, Pipelines and Saftey
[3] PHMSA, Regulations
[4] JEI Metallurgical Inc, Dr. R. Craig Jerner, Ph.D., PE, Specified Minimum Yield Strength
[5] AOPL, Pipeline Safety
[6] Alberta Innovates, Comparison of the Corrosivity of Dilbit and Conventional Crude, Nov 2011
[7] Ibid
[8] From data collected by DOT/PHMSA on form PHMSA F 7000-1 (30-day accident report form)
[9] Alberta Innovates, Comparison of the Corrosivity of Dilbit and Conventional Crude, Nov 2011
[10] Ibid.
[11] Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI), Economic Impacts, June 2011
[12] IHS CERA, Oil Sands, Greenhouse Gases, and US Oil Supply, 2010
[13] Department of State, Supplemental Draft EIS, 15 April 2011