The hyped hysteria from the anti-progress crowd who oppose the Gateway Pipeline project has been hitting a fever pitch as hyperbole and utter fabrications are being spread about pipelines.
One would think that this was the first major oil pipeline ever built. I do understand however that your average person really has little to do with oilfield and pipelines and that is understandable. It does make people impressionable however and it is time for a reality check.
To begin with, there are over 825,000 km of existing oil and gas pipelines in Canada.
More excellent information on Canada’s pipelines and their safety record can be found here.
If we want to go further into buried utilities and add small natural gas service lines, water lines, sewage lines and such the number goes into the millions of kilometers. They are around us all the time everywhere you go even if you do not notice it.
Have you ever noticed that pretty much every city seems to have long narrow parkways that are often used for bikepaths, dog parks and golf courses? Ever wonder why such oddly shaped parks were designed? Well, more often than not those parks are actually right-of-ways for large pipelines. While it is indeed perfectly safe to have a large high pressure pipeline go through a city, we can’t build houses and such right on top of them so the land is often used for parks. Have we heard of any massive blowouts? Cities destroyed by leaking oil?
With the millions of kilometers of pipelines throughout North America it is pretty easy to cherry pick some incidents of leakage to try and paint all pipelines as being unsafe. For the few kilometers of pipeline that spring leaks every year, one should keep in mind the millions of kilometers of pipeline that do not. That is not to say that it is acceptable to have pipelines leaking but the scope and scale of things has to be kept in mind. We are very good at moving products through pipes and we are getting better all the time. Companies are heavily fined for pipeline breaches and they lose product. Rest assured companies that own buried utilities have utterly no incentive to have them leaking.
Next I am going to point out something utterly shocking.
We have had a crude oil pipeline running from Alberta to the West coast for almost 60 years!!!!
The Trans Mountain Pipeline has traversed the Rocky Mountains since shortly after World War II and the world has not come to an end. Well over 200,000 barrels per day of crude has been flowing through some very sensitive regions of the mountains without an environmental catastrophe and that pipeline is old. Newer ones are much safer. Demand is far outstripping the capacity of that pipeline today.
How has this large pipeline snuck under the radar for so many for so long?
Well to begin with, it’s buried. I am being serious here. Many people are under the misimpression that these pipelines are above ground. That myth has been happily fed by people in opposition to development as surface pipes paint an ugly and intrusive picture. Again, with most people not spending time in the oilfield, their impressions are formed on the pictures that media put out.
Below is a picture that accompanied an article about the Keystone Pipeline in FFWD magazine a little while ago.
Isn’t that perfect? A nice pristine mountain background broken by an unsightly and intrusive surface pipeline. Never mind that the picture has utterly no relation to either the Keystone or Gateway pipelines which will be buried. It gives nice negative optics to be reinforced. May as well use pictures of sewage pipes spewing into oceans. It is just as relevant.
In my job I have to occasionally pop out to locate buried utilities. As can be seen in the picture below not only am I cold and wearing a safety vest that is ill fitting, I am holding an electronic locating wand. That is because pipelines buried in isolated areas are actually quite difficult to find so I have to begin at the wellhead as I did below and locate the pipe from there.
Below are the stakes I placed to indicate the location of the line. As can be seen, one would never even know it is there had I not marked it. That is the case with most pipelines and is much of the reason that so many people do not realize just how much pipeline infrastructure they are surrounded by every day. The dead trees are due to a forest fire a few years ago by the way. It had no impact on the pipe and as can be seen the natural regrowth is coming along very well. Some anti-progress types like to wrongly imply that a forest that has been cut or burned is gone forever. Trees grow back.
Modern pipelines are buried following very strict quality and environmental standards. Riparian buffers are observed. Bores are used to bypass water bodies without threatening the water itself. Sensitive areas are avoided and construction is timed to avoid migratory wildlife.
Pipelines are a reality of life and they have been moving oil and gas in North America since the turn of the century. They are nothing new and they really do not cause much harm despite the hysteria of opponents of development.
The need and demand for energy is a fact of life as well. The oilsands are not going away and they are not going to be shut down. The product from the oilsands will be transported to market one way or another. Pipelines are by far the safest means of carrying that product.
If we do not use pipelines, product will continue to be moved with tanker trucks or trains as pictured below.
There are real concerns and issues that need to be heard regarding the Northern Gateway pipeline. Unfortunately those legitimate concerns are being drowned out by groups who are determined to derail all forms of progress with any means possible. These people will not stick to facts in their crusade against energy and they are harming an important process.
Lets face the reality that we will be moving oil products through pipelines and try to stick to a realistic goal of trying to move product as safely as possible. That means we need to stick to the facts.
Cory: Thanks for the intelligent, factual explanation of the safety, reality and complexity of our oil distribution system. Keep up the good work!!