Pipeline industry priority: zero leaks

Pipelines are one of the safest, most reliable and most efficient means of transporting crude oil and natural gas over land. They do this every day; transporting the energy we rely on to go about our daily lives and play an important role in the strength of the Canadian economy.

Just how much oil and gas are we talking about?

CEPA member companies transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America. In 2011, our members moved 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

And what statistics do we have that indicate the safety of pipelines?

Our most recent statistics show that 99.99 per cent of liquid products were transported safely between 2002 and 2011.

Pipeline safety continues to improve thanks to technology

Speaking on September 26, 2012 at this year’s International Pipeline Conference, in his luncheon keynote address, Stephen Wuori, president, liquids pipelines and major projects for Enbridge Inc. noted a number of statistics that indicate steady improvements in the safety of pipelines:

  • The liquid spilled from pipelines in Canada over the past 10 years is equivalent to three teaspoons dripped out of a gasoline nozzle over the course of 50 fill-ups of 50 litres each.
  • 5.5 litres is the amount of liquid spilled per million litres transported by pipeline in Canada between 2002 and 2011.

Wuori said that although these figures are impressive, the pipeline industry would not be satisfied with anything higher than zero incidents – a goal that can be met through the development of new and innovative technologies.

“We must have unwavering dedication to zero leaks and zero incidents. It must be our goal. Pipeline companies in North America are being held to a standard of ‘perfection’, and it is technology that will help us reach that goal.”

He commended the pipeline industry for putting a strong focus on pipeline safety and issued a call to action to continue working to develop cutting-edge technologies.

“Let me congratulate all of you here in the audience for your relentless devotion to research and the development of newer and better technologies to keep moving this industry forward in continuing to deliver oil and natural gas in the safest, most efficient and most economical way possible – and to do it with this one goal in mind: zero leaks.”

But what if a pipeline does leak? The role of the emergency response plan

Pipelines are designed to be safe and emerging technologies are making things like leak and corrosion detection even better, but occasionally there are incidents. When something happens, pipeline companies are responsible. As such, pipeline operators have trained employees that are able to respond quickly. In the case of a pipeline emergency, regulators require pipeline operators to have an emergency response plan (ERP) in place. 

Pipeline emergency: an unforeseen incident that could endanger the health, safety or welfare of the public and the environment.

Emergency response plan: outlines the necessary steps and decisions required to manage an emergency situation. It contains specific steps that the pipeline operator must take in order to control the incident.

Federal laws require pipeline operators to regularly review and update emergency response plans and submit them to regulators. To ensure that relevant employees are familiar with the contents of the emergency response plan, and know the practices and procedures in place in case of an incident, pipeline operators conduct regular emergency response exercises.

Emergency response plans set out the following: 

  • How to proceed with the deployment of emergency personnel
  • Evacuation plans
  • Location of access points
  • Communications procedures and protocols
  • The roles and responsibilities of responders
  • Chain of command

The main goal for a pipeline operator in the case of an incident is the health and safety of the public and addressing potential impacts on the environment. Emergency response plans allow them to meet this goal by setting out clearly and concisely what steps need to be taken to control the incident immediately, as well as how to manage clean up. Having such protocols in place, and regularly practiced, allow pipeline operators to save precious time and minimize the potential impact an incident may have on the environment and the public. 

For a more detailed exploration of this topic, check out our Emergency Response Fact Sheet

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 110,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2011, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 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.