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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Oil and Gas - Pipelines and other transport technologies and their impact on public health

Keystone XL:  Alberta to Texas
Northern Gateway:  Alberta to BC port of Kitimat
Enbridge’s Line 9 reversion :  Alberta to Montreal
TransCanada Corp West to East line – Alberta to Quebec or New Brusnwick ports
Kinder Morgan twining: Alberta to Vancouver port

If approved, daily movement of oil from Alberta outwards would approach 3.7 Million barrels per day or roughly what is predicted as production for 2020. Details about the pipeline proposals were written up in Globe and Mail Feb 2013.

Each of the projects has a story of consultation and conflict; Politics and ploys; Fundamentally about how to get oil from Alberta oil sands (and other production well fields) to market to make a profit. 

While only 4% of Canadian crude makes its way across country in trains, two very high profile and disasterous scenarios have underlined why train movement has its limitations.  The Lac M├ęgantic   tragedy killed 42-47 persons while the Gainford incident was the latest and just month previous a train derailed near Calgary.

The National Transportation Safety Board maintains statistics on pipelineaccidents and incidents (as well as trains).  TSB pipeline data .  The term accident inappropriately reserved for situations where damage to person or property has occurred, incident where no damage has occurred but a near miss was identified.  Some of these definitions don’t seem to match that an incident could cause environmental damage in four instances in the last decade.

The vast majority of incidents and accidents are associated with releases of <1 cubic metre of petroleum material.  Only 18-20% of both defined outcomes were actually associated with transmission pipelines, most instances appear related to start or end of the transmission, or with compressor or pump stations with a handful of others that deserve better definition.

The key statistic from a public health perspective are the health outcomes.  The data tend to merge injury sufficient to require hospitalization with death – and report on a total of 4 such instances in the past decade with the last fatal pipeline related death in 1988.

Contrast this with the full rail industry where an average of 80 or so deaths occur annually, most with persons on the tracks or at intersection collisions.

For those concerned with environmental damage, pipelines also have a good (but not great record), and certainly compared to the high profile train derailments, the environmental damage is more constrained.
So, if one had to choose, which would be the best option – trains carrying petroleum, or a pipeline?  

Both of which may end up at a port, where the product is loaded onto ocean liners for distance transport.  

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