Historically pipelines are one of the safest methods to transport any number of volatile liquids. The pipelines that bring natural gas throughout the U.S. ensure the resource reaches homes and businesses without trucks, trains, or ships, therefore cutting down on the possibility something could go wrong en route to your home or business. In the U.S., 70% of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped by pipeline. 23% of oil shipments are on tankers and barges over water. Trucking accounts for only 4% of shipments, and rail accounts for a mere 3%.
Pipeline companies take active steps to ensure that health, safety, security, and environmental concerns are addressed throughout the planning, construction, and operational phases of pipeline operations. Pipeline companies work to prevent releases by evaluating, inspecting, and maintaining pipelines in a program called integrity management. Integrity management programs have produced decreases in incidents attributed to every major cause of failure. Pipeline companies spend millions of dollars on research into new inspection technologies and spend billions on safety each year.
Tools to Run Smoothly
Part of the commitment to safety includes investing in new technologies. One such technology is the use of in-line inspection tools, or “smart pigs,” to determine the condition of the pipeline. Smart pigs can detect corrosion, cracking or other defects in the pipe wall and are used to plan preventive maintenance. Operators also use this data to plan for future repairs. Smart pigs aren’t the only tool used by the industry to ensure safety: operators have invested financial resources to ensure their infrastructure is reliable, including spending over $2.2 billion in 2014 to evaluate, inspect, and maintain pipelines.
Pipeline operators prepare for the unlikely event of an incident through control room technologies and training to stop the flow of a pipeline quickly upon a release. Operators also develop emergency response plans, deploy resources, and work frequently with local first responders in order to reduce the impacts of any release.
Pipeline operators work with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to determine incident causes, fix problems, and pay fines when appropriate.