Every few years, it seems the pipeline industry gets a new reminder of why safety and
integrity are critical. The May 19 rupture of the Line 901 crude oil pipeline in Santa Barbara County, California, owned by Plains All American Pipeline, has cast another spotlight on these important subjects.
As Plains has already begun procedures to replace the damaged pipe, crews continue cleanup efforts at Refugio and El Capitán state beaches and in the Pacific Ocean, removing oily sand and water and trying to save impacted wildlife.
The amount of oil spilled is still unknown, but estimates place the number above 100,000 gallons, or more than 2,500 barrels.
As oil and gas production grows in North American, the focus on safety and integrity will likewise increase. It’s undoubtable that industry opponents will paint the Santa Barbara incident with a broad brush to claim that pipelines are unsafe and that efforts to build new ones should be blocked. However, statistics show otherwise.
Since the 1970s, oil spills have steadily declined, according a May 12 article by Jude Clemente in Forbes. Statistics show that in the early 1970s oil companies spilled an annual average of about 17 million gallons, whereas today that number is down to about 1.2 million gallons, despite the fact that throughput during that same time is up by 25 percent.
This trend is largely thanks to safety and technology improvements made to oil and gas pipeline infrastructure over that time span. According to the article, pipelines are responsible for transporting 69 percent of the crude and petroleum products in the United States, compared to 23 percent by tankers/barges and 4 percent each for truck and rail transport.
Furthermore, Clemente shows that pipelines are also the most efficient and therefore cheapest method of transportation, costing between $1 and $3 per barrel, whereas barges cost between $4 and $5 per barrel, rail costs between $7 and $9 per barrel and truck transport costs between $11 and $17 per barrel.
If anything, more pipelines are needed to ensure that safety record continues to improve, which will also help improve the lives of the public at large. As demand is expected to remain high, Clemente writes that “opportunity to better connect the North American oil market is obligatory.”
Citing data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the article shows that operating costs for pipelines are about one-third on average compared to rail, and pipelines are more energy efficient and emit less carbon.
“More pipelines mean cheaper energy, which means more disposable income for Americans,” Clemente writes. “This is key to growing our economy and is a conveniently forgotten health benefit. U.S. GDP is based 73 percent on consumer spending and our health is based on our wealth. New pipelines will be required to help bring lower-priced crude oil to more Americans nationwide.”
Considering that there are no suitable alternatives to fill the energy demands that oil and gas fulfills, he adds that deploying more pipelines is the cheapest and safest method of transporting the 18.4 milling barrels per day that the United States is expected to use every year through 2040.
“In other words, oil is going to get to market one way or another, so we would be foolish not to deploy more pipelines,” he writes, adding that oil and natural gas producers “realize that safe operations will help them capitalize on emerging opportunities.”
These opportunities also are passed along to job seekers, as the oil and gas industry has been a major driver in job creation since 2008, thanks in large part to the shale boom, according to a Huffington Post article published June 1 by Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions. Ensuring safety and integrity in the oil and gas pipeline industry will translate to better health and prosperity to all North Americans.