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Shipping oil by marine tanker safer than pipelines or rail, says Fraser Institute

A new study finds shipping oil by tanker is the safest method available, with 0.001 spills per million barrels shipped, but suggests pipelines and rail are statistically safe options as well


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CALGARY—Transporting oil by pipelines is more than twice as safe as using rail, and marine tankers are safer still with a markedly improved safety record over the past 40 years.

This is according to a new study released July 27 by the right-leaning Fraser Institute.

“The evidence is clear: building new pipelines and shipping oil by tanker is the safest and most environmentally responsible way to get Canadian oil to global markets,” said Kenneth Green, Fraser Institute’s senior director of energy and natural resource studies and co-author of Safety First: Intermodal Safety for Oil and Gas Transportation.

Fraser says the study updates previous research that finds pipelines are 2.5 times less likely to experience a spill than rail, with an occurrence rate of 0.03 accidents per million barrels of oil shipped by pipeline between 2004 and 2015, compared to 0.08 accidents per million barrels of oil shipped by rail over the same period.

The study also finds that almost 70 per cent of pipeline occurrences result in spills of less than 1 cubic metre, 17 per cent result in no spill and only 17 per cent take place in the actual line pipe—meaning that the vast majority of spills occur in facilities that often have secondary containment mechanisms and procedures.

Fraser says that while pipelines and rail transportation are both statistically safe, marine tankers are the safest method of all with a spill rate of less than 0.001 per million barrels of oil shipped.

The study finds that while oil shipped by tanker has increased from 1.4 billion tonnes in 1970 to 2.9 billion tonnes in 2015, the amount of spillage has dropped by 98 per cent. In 1970, there was 383,000 tonnes of oil released in spills globally compared to just 6,000 tonnes in 2016, and there has not been a major spill from oil tankers in Canadian waters since the mid-1990s.

“Canadians will benefit greatly from increased oil exports, which should be transported in the safest way possible. That means building new pipelines to Canada’s coasts and shipping oil by marine tanker around the world,” Green said.

The study also finds that transportation of oil results in fewer spills than the transport of natural gas, with the rate of an occurrence 1.67 times greater when transporting natural gas products by pipeline than transporting oil products by the same method. The results were similar for rail.


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