When a pipeline crashes, it gets under a lot of pressure. This leads people to believe that pipelines are more dangerous than they really are. But consider that there are approx 3 million miles gas pipelines and about another 200,000 miles oil pipelines and pipelines in the US
For perspective, that’s almost 70 times the length of the US interstate highway system. Thousands of people die tragically on these highways every year.
So while pipeline accidents get a lot of attention, they are a relatively safe way to transport oil and gas. Pipelines are certainly safer than transporting oil by rail.
In fact, when examining the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline, the US State Department conducted an analysis that concluded that if oil were transported through the Keystone XL pipeline, there would be 6 fewer deaths per year than if the same. oil was transported by rail.
The types of fatalities that occur in rail accidents are likely to be like the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Quebec. There, a train carrying oil derailed in the city and the ensuing fire killed 47 people.
More often, however, people die in collisions with trains. In 2021, there were 2,145 collisions at highway-railroad intersections in the US claimed 234 lives and 669 injuries. The average number of people who die in pipeline accidents each year is orders of magnitude lower than just numbers of train collisions.
To be clear, there are a lot of things we can’t transport by pipeline. Pipes are suitable for liquids and gases that we produce and consume in large quantities. For specialty chemicals, the default options are rail or truck.
Thus, recent derailment in ohio may be a reminder of the relative danger of transporting volatile liquids by rail, but there was no alternative to pipelines. With oil it’s a piece of cake. Pipeline transport is a safer alternative. And blocking pipelines is a good way to ensure that oil is transported by rail instead.
In closing, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against the rail industry. Railroads are a critically important industry to the American economy. But the safety stats are what they are. Given the choice, we should transport volatile liquids by pipeline.