Pipeline FAQs: answering your questions about spills

What are the facts about pipeline spills? Canadians are looking for answers, which is why we often receive questions about spills and safety on our website. This week, in the second of our Pipelines FAQs series, we’re sharing the answers to some of those queries, which are also posted on our Questions page:

#1 What do you mean by a 99.9% ‘safety record’ — this seems to me like you’re just playing with numbers. If your goal is zero incidents, then the only reasonable response would seem to be to reduce the number of pipelines not expand them. – Peter I

Answer: That’s a great question, Peter. Our safety record is a reflection of the percentage of product that CEPA members were able to transport safely. This means that in 2015, 99.9 per cent of the total volume of liquids and natural gas product arrived safely at their destination. You can view the transmission pipeline industry’s record here (dating back to 2002).

The demand for oil and gas products is what drives the expansion of new transmission pipelines. Reducing the number of pipelines wouldn’t necessarily improve the safety record, but it would likely increase the cost of oil and gas for consumers.

What will enable us to reach our goal of zero incidents is advancing our safety practices. This means new technologies, creating a culture of safety for employees, focusing on training and working together to continuously improve our practices.

#2 Why won’t companies post all their spills and accidents? – Dave

Answer: We agree that Canadians have a right to know about spills and accidents. As critical infrastructure, transmission pipelines have an impact on the lives of Canadians, and you should know how safely they are operating. There are a few ways to learn about transmission pipeline incidents in Canada.

First, transmission pipelines must report incidents to the regulator – if the pipeline crosses provincial or international boundaries, the company reports incidents to the National Energy Board. If the pipeline is within provincial boundaries, the company reports incidents to the provincial regulator – the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, Alberta Energy Regulator, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of the Economy, Ontario Energy Board, etc. Most of these regulators have incident postings on their websites. The National Energy Board, for instance, has a safety performance portal, which you can find here. It’s important to note that each regulator has their own set of criteria on what information the company must submit when reporting an incident.

CEPA also has an interactive, google-based map called the About Pipelines Map that enables you to search for CEPA member company pipelines, facilities and incidents through a postal code or community lookup, or by zooming in. When looking at incidents, you are able to see the type of incident, when it happened and the cause. CEPA also shares aggregated incident data from our members, which you can find here.

#3 What methods are used to ensure the pipeline will not rupture or leak over time? – Lynn M.

Answer: Preventing incidents is a focus right from the planning stages of a transmission pipeline project. The route selection, design and construction phases of the project are about maximizing safety and minimizing risks to Canadians and the environment. For example, pipeline operators conduct thorough geohazard management surveys where required to assess the risk of ground movement or instability that may cause a pipeline to rupture. Even the type of coating used on the pipeline is carefully chosen, applied and inspected to ensure the pipeline is protected from corrosion.

Once the pipeline is operational, it is monitored 24/7 from the pipeline operator’s control room. Many technologies, including sensors and cameras, are used to monitor the pipeline for any anomalies. Aerial surveillance and employees walking the pipeline right-of-way are also regularly used to monitor for anything out of the ordinary.  If something is detected, that information is immediately sent back to the control room, where the pipeline can be shut down immediately.

Integrity digs are also conducted by pipeline operators. This is a practice where the operator carefully digs up a section of the pipeline where an anomaly has been detected, and if necessary, repairs or replaces the section of pipe. Over 3,000 integrity digs were conducted in 2015 last year on CEPA member pipelines.

Pipelines are carefully and regularly monitored and inspected throughout their life cycle, ensuring they are safe and reliable. You can find more information about incident prevention here.

To read more of the answers to your questions, check out the first post in this series – ‘Pipeline FAQs, your questions answered’. And stay tuned as we answer more questions in upcoming posts.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 119,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2015, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.