Anatomy of a pipeline incident: answering your questions (part 1)

This is part of a blog post series about the performance of the pipeline industry as detailed in the 2018 Transmission Pipeline Industry Performance Report. You can read the full report at

Transmission pipeline incidents are rare. In 2017, there were three significant incidents on pipeline rights of way – two were the result of third-party excavation equipment. One was on a natural gas pipeline, and two were on liquids pipelines, where 99.3 per cent of the product was recovered.

However, even one incident is one too many, and is unacceptable to CEPA members. Their goal is zero incidents and they are working together to achieve that. While pipeline companies are striving to reach that goal, they are also prepared to act quickly and decisively if an incident occurs.

“When every company responsible for oil and natural gas transmission does not compete on safety, but instead collaborates to raise the bar beyond regulatory standards, good things happen,” said Karl Johannson, CEPA board chair, in the 2018 Transmission Pipeline Industry Performance Report. Johannson is the Chairman of TC PipeLines GP Inc. and Executive Vice-President and President, Canada and Mexico Natural Gas Pipelines and Energy, TransCanada Corporation.

“Canada needs, and counts on, a safe and reliable supply of oil and natural gas — for life, for jobs, for economic growth. And Canadians can count on the members of CEPA to deliver their energy in the safest, most responsible way.”

In this two-part series, we are exploring the anatomy of an incident – from common causes to emergency response. Part one of the series answers your commonly asked questions around incidents.


What is a significant incident?


Significant incidents are a very small percentage of total pipeline incidents. Most pipeline incidents are minor, such as small pinhole leaks, which pose very little risk to the public and are immediately addressed by CEPA members.

A significant incident is defined as one or more of the following that occurs on members’ rights-of-way:

  • Serious injury or fatality
  • Liquid release of greater than 8 cubic metres (50 barrels)
  • Produced an unintentional ignition or fire
  • Resulted in a rupture or break of a pipeline


What causes the majority of incidents?


The main reasons behind pipeline incidents are:

  • Metal loss, or the reduction in the thickness of a pipe due to corrosion, erosion or other causes
  • Materials, manufacturing or construction defects
  • Cracking
  • Weather or third-party line strikes

Here are the main causes of CEPA member incidents from 2013 to 2017, including significant incidents:

pipeline incidents

How do pipeline companies deal with incidents?


The best way to deal with an incident is to prevent an incident from happening in the first place, or if it can’t be prevented, reduce the probability of the incident and/or reduce the severity of the impact. That’s why CEPA members collaborate and share best practices to improve operational standards through the CEPA Integrity First® program.

pipeline incidents response

Beyond prevention, an effective, efficient and coordinated response is critical for reducing the impact of incidents. CEPA members conduct about 400 emergency response exercises a year to ensure that employees have in-depth training and practice with different scenarios, equipment and environments.

In next week’s post, we will explore how an actual emergency is handled.


Is the product recovered?


Yes, CEPA members clean up the product from a pipeline incident. In fact, of the 7,447 total barrels spilled on rights-of-way in 2017, 7,396 barrels were recovered. The 51 barrels not initially recovered were due to dissipation through volatilization (like evaporation) and other natural processes. The remaining product is removed through remediation (for instance, replacing the soil). Natural gas releases dissipate into the atmosphere.

Find more information about incident data and how the transmission pipeline industry performed in 2017 here and stay tuned for next week’s post, where we look at the six phases of emergency response.