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After Saturday’s tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., it is time to speed up the approval of new pipeline construction in North America. Pipelines are the safest way of transporting oil and natural gas, and we need more of them, without delay.
In Lac-Mégantic, the derailment of 73 rail cars carrying crude oil has claimed at least 13 lives with more sure to be announced in coming days. The calamity follows the June derailment of five rail cars in Calgary, where fortunately no lives were lost.
If this oil shipment had been carried through pipelines, instead of rail, families in Lac-Mégantic would not be grieving for lost loved ones today, and oil would not be polluting Lac Mégantic and the Chaudière River.
Although North America is home to 825,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada and 4.2-million kilometres in the United States, government authorities still insist on blocking additional pipeline construction.
U.S. President Barack Obama has delayed approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian oil to U.S. refiners on the Gulf of Mexico. In May, British Columbia’s government formally rejected the 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to British Columbia’s north coast on the grounds that the company has insufficient plans for responding to a major spill.
Surely, with all the new technology available, industry and government can come to some agreement about spill response plans. Then, these pipelines, and many more, should be approved. North America’s oil and gas production is booming, and statistics show that pipelines are safer than road and rail.
Data to compare the safety of transportation of oil and gas by pipeline, road and rail in the United States is publicly available from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Operators report to PHMSA any incident that crosses a certain safety threshold, as well as injuries and fatalities.
U.S. data on incident, injury and fatality rates for pipelines, road and rail for the period 2005 through 2009, the latest data available, show that road and rail have higher rates of serious incidents, injuries and fatalities than pipelines, even though more road and rail incidents go unreported. Americans are 75 per cent more likely to get killed by lightning than to be killed in a pipeline accident.
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