America’s Dangerous Pipelines

I think there is a belief that pipelines are safer than trucks,trains, or boats for shipping liquid hydrocarbon fuels. That may actually be true. I don’t know what would happen if we stopped all the pipelines and switched to vehicles. But the idea that pipelines are safe is absurd and it is time people started to realize this.

The Center for Biological Diversity has posted an interesting analysis by Richard Stover, which we can see in the form of a video.

This time-lapse video shows pipeline incidents from 1986 to 2013, relying on publicly available data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Only incidents classified as “significant” by the agency are shown in the video. “Significant” incidents include those in which someone was hospitalized or killed, damages amounted to more than $50,000, more than 5 barrels of highly volatile substances or 50 barrels of other liquid were released, or where the liquid exploded or burned.

Most of what is spilled is oil, but there is also liquified natural gas, gasoline, diesel, propane, LP, jet fuel and other substances. The original post has a lot of other information, you should check it out.

Hat Tip: Paul Douglas.

Comments

  1. #1 Kevin Brown
    Tempe, AZ
    August 4, 2013

    So I’m not clear on your point. Has anyone claimed pipelines are risk free? Is there any science on this issue?
    KB

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 4, 2013

    Nobody has said anything about anything being “risk FREE” That is not the point at all.

    Is there science on the issue? Good question, depends on what we mean by Science! There are data, though, and I’d bet my bottom dollar that the companies that insure oil tankers, pipe lines, trains, and trucks have piles of it and could pretty directly address the question.

    The most obvious answer might be: how much does it cost to insure a barrel of X or Y substance over A or B mode of transit?

    The point here has nothing to do with pipelines being risk free. The point here is that the various entities have gone through great lengths to make sure people are unaware of the risks of pipelines, as part of the overall strategy to push through Keystone XL.

    And, in fact, it is quite possible that a Keystone pipeline would be safer than shipping the same amount of tar sands “oil” to the coast via train or truck. Of course, after that, it all ends up on boats, so this whole conversation is absurd. Beyond that, the whole conversation is even more absurd because the major risk is in C release, not spills.

    But, it is all part of the conversation.

    Meanwhile, yes, there are discussions of relative risk. Here Teh Wiki helps us:

    “TransCanada’s Girling has also argued that if Canadian oil doesn’t reach the Gulf through an environmentally friendly buried pipeline, that the alternative is oil that will be brought in by tanker, a mode of transportation that produces higher greenhouse-gas emissions and that puts the environment at greater risk.[55] Diane Francis has argued that much of the opposition to the oil sands actually comes from foreign countries such as Nigeria, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, all of whom supply oil to the United States and who could be affected if the price of oil drops due to the new availability of oil from the pipeline. She cited as an example an effort by Saudi Arabia to stop pro-oil-sands television commercials.[64] TransCanada had said that development of oil sands will expand regardless of whether the crude oil is exported to the United States or alternatively to Asian markets through Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines or Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain line.[82]”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystone_Pipeline

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    August 5, 2013

    Saw something in the paper yesterday about Texas producing more oil than Saudi Arabia.

    As I understand it, the Alaska pipeline was constructed with the idea that its supports would be permanantly rooted in permafrost. If we get catastrophic permafrost thawing, what does this do to the pipeline? I also have the idea that the pipeline is largely automated, and that there have been spills due to failure of the automation.

    I’m not tremedously pleased that residental gas pipline runs in front of my place. It is not yellow pipe; however, I was assured the pipe they used was up to standard.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    August 5, 2013

    I don’t know about the comparison but Texas is suddenly producing a lot more oil than it has in a long time.

    The permafrost has always been an issue with the pipeline: First it did not let them put in real foundations, then there was the concern that the pipeline itself, which is warm, would melt the permafrost it was built on. With permafrost thawing, that certainly would make ti worse.

  5. #5 Tom_23
    August 5, 2013

    You should watch this video on what it takes to repair the Alaska pipeline. And that was just one valve that went bad.
    The show was a great show.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    August 5, 2013

    Texas is producing more oil these days for two reasons: (1) improved extraction methods, such as fracking, and (2) higher oil prices, which make it profitable to extract more oil.

    Building any permanent or semipermanent structure on permafrost is tricky. That includes buildings and roads as well as pipelines. Thawing of permafrost due to heat (or heat absorption, in the case of roads) is one of the issues. Frost heaves are another (you don’t need to be on permafrost for that to be a problem, as you can see by driving back roads in Northern New England, and presumably in Minnesota as well); this is why Alaska never bothered to pave the Dalton Highway, which connects Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse to the rest of North America. To build a proper foundation, you need to get it below the depth to which the ground freezes in winter so that frost heaves are not an issue–this is the main reason most houses in places like New England and Minnesota have basements, and most houses in Fairbanks do not (you can’t easily get deep enough there unless you are lucky enough to hit bedrock). Thawing permafrost is a problem, yes, but even if all of the permafrost in Alaska melted, that wouldn’t be the end of the frost heave problem; most of Alaska would still have seasonal frost. (It would take about 40 degrees F of warming to bring average January temperatures in Fairbanks above freezing, and I don’t see that happening short of a runaway greenhouse.)