Pipeline Incident Statistics Reveal Significant Dangers

Credit: FracTracker Alliance

Oil and gas pipelines in the US are lacking adequate regulation, inspection, and enforcement. As one example, our colleagues at the FracTracker analysis recently published an alarming analysis of fossil fuel pipeline incidents from January, 2010 to November, 2018—almost 9 years. Their analysis covered three types of pipelines: natural gas transmission lines that carry natural gas from production areas to processing plants and municipal distribution areas, liquids (including oil), and natural gas distribution lines that carry gas from plants to customers.

They found the millions of miles of pipelines in the US have resulted in the following:

  • more than 5,500 total incidents
  • almost 600 injuries
  • more than 125 fatalities
  • more than 800 fires
  • almost 300 explosions
  • more than $4 billion in damages
  • almost 30,000 people who had to be evacuated

And this does not even capture all incidents, as they explain in their report, because the data is not complete. For example, PHMSA estimates that only about 5% of gas gathering pipelines are currently subject to PHMSA pipeline safety regulations. As we explained in an earlier blog post, not only are most gathering lines unregulated, but there is not even basic information on where they are or whether any safety procedures are being observed.  There are hundreds of thousands of these lines in oil and gas fields around the country.

Back to the FracTracker report:

Their analysis found that, on average, a pipeline catches fire every 4 days and results in an explosion every 11 days, an injury every 5 days, and a fatality every 26 days.

They concluded that hazardous liquids pipelines cause the majority of incidents (64%) and damages (also 64%) even though the liquids account for less than 8% of the total mileage of the network.

Natural gas distribution lines account for most injuries (79%), deaths (73%), evacuees (62%), fires (71%), and explosions (78%).

Newer pipelines less than 10 years old have more incidents than any other age group. According to FracTracker, “the older the pipeline, the fewer the number of incidents.” The causes of these tragedies include equipment failure, operator error, and corrosion.

These are just the highlights; check out the important FracTracker report to see more maps, charts, and data. The US needs to stop the fossil fuel epidemic and transition as quickly as possible to clean energy sources that do not leak, spill, or explode, and will help protect our clean air, clean water, communities, and wildlands.

About the Authors

Amy Mall

Senior Advocate, Dirty Energy, Lands Division, Nature Program

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