CALGARY—Transporting oil and gas by rail in Canada is significantly riskier than moving it by pipeline, a new Fraser Institute study has found.
Utilizing newly compiled data from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada, the study found the rate of incidents or accidents per million barrels of oil transported was more than 4.5 times higher for rail than it was for pipelines from 2003-2013.
“Federally regulated pipelines in Canada currently move just under 15 times more hydrocarbons than do the railroads. But with increased production and continued opposition to new pipeline infrastructure, more and more oil is being pushed to rail – a mode of transport which is more likely to experience a spill,” Kenneth Green, Fraser Institute senior director of natural resources studies and the study’s lead author, said.
Between 2003 and 2013, pipelines did experience more occurrences compared to rail with 1,226 versus 127. Given the larger transport volumes, however, that result is not surprising. Even still, according to the TSB, 99 per cent of those incidents or accidents did not damage the environment.
73 per cent of pipeline occurrences resulted in spills of less than 1 cubic metre, while 16 per cent didn’t cause any spill whatsoever.
Also significant, 83 per cent of occurrences, did not happen in transit, but in facilities such as compressor stations, processing plants and terminals, which are more likely to have secondary containment mechanisms and procedures.
“A telling statistic comes from Natural Resources Canada which notes that between 2011 and 2014, 99.999 per cent of crude oil and petroleum products sent by federally regulated pipelines arrived at their destination safely,” Green said.
The study also references the mounting literature about the pipeline safety in the United States. Established research in that country suggests that moving oil by non-pipeline means – rail or truck – is linked to a greater likelihood of spills and injury to oil transport workers.
“In both Canada and the United States, rising oil and natural gas production necessitates the expansion of our transportation capacity,” Green said. “The decision of which mode of transport should be used is a simple one. It should be the safer one; it should be pipelines.”