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Energy Highways or Environmental Threats


While North Americans await President Obama’s decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the question of pipeline safety is fundamental to protesters and environmentalists alike. As supporters and detractors continue to clash over Keystone, the project has cleared another hurdle in its long road to what seems a likely approval by Obama. Supporters of the Keystone XL project maintain that new technologies and improvements in pipeline construction will make Keystone the safest pipeline ever built. Opponents make the argument that ongoing investment in the fossil fuel infrastructure is postponing (for decades) the progression to a third industrial post-carbon revolution focused on clean energy.

In Canada there is mounting controversy over the Energy East Pipeline and the Northern Gateway Project. The Canadian pipeline boom has now entered public consciousness. People are aware of the economic benefits but also increasingly concerned about any environmental impact. Supporters see pipelines as energy highways and make a strong case that it’s the most efficient and safest way to transport oil products. Detractors point to the environmental threats of pipelines and have mounting evidence to back up their claim. So the debate rages on. Meanwhile we waste precious time in the race to develop alternative sustainable sources of energy.

According to the PHMSA (U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), there are over 2.5 million miles of pipelines in the United States. The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association estimates that Canada’s network of pipelines consists of 830,000 kilometers of underground natural gas and liquids pipelines (gathering, transmission and delivery lines).

This video was made with data from PHMSA by the Center for Biological Diversity. It reveals a disconcerting record of pipeline safety – spills, leaks, contamination, injuries and deaths. One of the biggest problems contributing to pipeline incidents is pretty simple: pipelines are getting older. More than half of U.S. pipelines are over 50 years old.

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A new analysis of oil and gas pipeline safety in the United States reveals a troubling history of spills, contamination, injuries and deaths.

This time-lapse video shows pipeline incidents from 1986 to 2013, relying on publicly available data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Only incidents classified as “significant” by the agency are shown in the video. “Significant” incidents include those in which someone was hospitalized or killed, damages amounted to more than $50,000, more than 5 barrels of highly volatile substances or 50 barrels of other liquid were released, or where the liquid exploded or burned.

According to the data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 incidents (nearly 300 per year on average), resulting in more than 500 deaths (red dots on the video), more than 2,300 injuries (yellow dots on the video), and nearly $7 billion in damage.

Since 1986 pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 76,000 barrels per year or more than 3 million gallons. This is equivalent to 200 barrels every day.



Rolly Montpellier,

Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org.

Rolly is also a registered Climate Leader (Climate Reality Leadership Corps) a blogger, an activist and a Climate Change presenter.

BoomerWarrior is for the socially aware and politically conscious; for the change-makers and thought-provokers; for the light and young at heart; for anyone willing and courageous enough to move forward. 

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