This month the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) released their 2015 annual report on liquid pipeline safety in the United States, its reported numbers now entering a debate that has been making headlines in recent months. At the heart of the debate is this question: how safe are our pipelines?
Recent Pipeline Leaks Gain Attention
In the U.S., two major pipeline leaks in January 2015 have shone a spotlight on pipeline safety concerns, a topic that is already near the forefront of public consciousness as the Keystone XL oil pipeline continues to dominate the news.
The North Dakota pipeline spill on January 6 leaked approximately 3 million gallons of brine, which is a salty and toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production. The spill polluted two creeks and saltwater contamination reached the Missouri River; the full environmental impact is still unknown.
Eleven days later, a Montana oil pipeline burst on January 17, releasing over 30,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. Like the previous Yellowstone River spill of 2011, this pipeline was supposed to be safely buried several feet underneath the river, but the powerful current had in fact substantially exposed the pipeline over time, leaving it at the mercy of fast-moving debris.
Major Pipeline Incidents Statistically Rare
However, the AOPL’s new report says that most pipeline incidents are very small in size, making these January 2015 incidents outliers. According to the AOPL, 35% of releases in 2013 were smaller than 1 barrel (42 gallons of oil), while two-thirds of releases were 5 barrels or smaller. The public doesn’t hear about these smaller spills very often.
In 2013, 99.9992% of crude oil and petroleum product barrels delivered by transmission pipeline arrived safely at their destination, reports the AOPL. Yet in that same year, of the crude oil and petroleum products that did not make it safely to their destination, the AOPL’s statistics show that 12% of these pipeline releases were 100 barrels or more.
In other words, major pipeline safety incidents are statistically rare. But when they do occur, the fallout can be dramatic. The damage can include contaminated water and risk to public health and wildlife ecosystems. For the pipeline operator, the business impact of fines, cleanup costs and bad press can be long-lasting and difficult to endure.
Looking to the Future of Pipeline Safety and Compliance
“Even with that delivery rate for crude oil and products pipeline, we are pushing for further safety improvements,” said AOPL President & CEO Andrew J. Black. The safety improvements he’s referring to are outlined in the 2015 API-AOPL Liquids Pipeline Safety Performance Strategic Plan, and include enhancing threat identification & response, expanding safety culture and management practices and boosting response capabilities.
Pipeline safety management systems and construction quality management systems are two of the strategic initiatives outlined based on industry-wide recommended practices. The oil and gas industry has seen a number of benefits associated with management systems, from reduced risk to increased ease of compliance with pipeline safety regulations.
Pipeline operators who are leading the pack in this regard already rely on safety management software systems to help them with everything from inspection management and risk assessments to notices of violation and incident management when a spill does take place. For those looking to stay ahead of the competition, Intelex develops and implements industry-leading oil and gas HSE and quality software that helps pipeline operators reduce risk, ensure compliance and improve performance. Learn more and request a free online demo today!