Pipeline approvals a victory for the safe transport of Canadian oil

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Appeared in the Calgary Herald, December 3, 2016

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the government approved both the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to B.C.’s coast and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement. The eventual construction of these pipelines will allow greater quantities of Canadian oil to flow westward to more lucrative global and Asian markets, as well as southward into U.S. market.

Together these two expansions will add an additional 960 million barrels per day of capacity to Canada’s pipeline system. This is a positive development, despite the government’s rejection on Tuesday of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and its imposition of a ban on oil tankers off B.C.’s north coast, which is not justified by the evidence on tanker safety.

Growing pipeline capacity is critical to helping unlock the full value of Canada’s resources. Canada’s current network of pipelines has the capacity to transport four million barrels of oil a day. With a current supply of roughly 3.9 million barrels per day, Canada’s pipelines are nearly at capacity, and any additional supply in the absence of new pipelines would require alternative transportation methods such as rail, truck or boat.

According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian oil production from Western Canada will grow by a projected 1.5 million barrels a day by 2030, so not constructing additional pipelines could have proved costly.

Moreover, it’s vitally important that any economic gains from Canadian resources are realized in the safest possible way and Tuesday’s announcement was also a victory for safety.

Research in Canada and the United States has found that pipelines are 4.5 times less likely to experience an occurrence (accidents or incidents) when transporting oil and gas than the alternative mode of transportation—rail..

And consider this. According to data on pipeline safety from the Natural Resources Canada and the Transportation Safety Board, in recent years more than 99 per cent of crude oil and petroleum products transported by pipelines arrived at their final destination. And 73 per cent of pipeline occurrences result in spills of less than 1m3 while 16 per cent of occurrences result in no spill whatsoever.

Even when spills occur, the vast majority of pipeline accidents and incidents—more than 80 per cent—don’t take place in the actual line pipe. Rather they happen in facilities that are more likely to have secondary containment mechanisms and procedures.

Perhaps the most telling statistic regarding pipeline safety is that 99 per cent of pipeline occurrences in Canada from 2003 to 2013 didn’t damage the environment.

Research from the U.S. also finds that pipelines are the safest mode of oil transportation in terms of the risk to humans. One study found that transporting oil by rail or truck was associated with higher rates of fatalities and hospitalizations compared to pipelines.

If Canada is to fully reap the economic benefits of exporting oil to areas of the world where demand is expected to grow, pipelines will be necessary. However, pipelines will not only allow Canadians to reap the economic benefits of their resources, they will also help ensure that we transport oil in the safest and most environmentally-friendly manner possible.

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