The rate of safety-related incidents on federally regulated pipelines in Canada doubled over the last decade, while the rate of reported spills and leaks was up threefold, according to an investigative report by Canada’s national broadcaster.
The total number of incidents, which included everything from spills to fires, swelled from 45 in 2000 to 142 in 2011, the CBC reported on Monday, citing data from the National Energy Board (NEB) obtained through access-to-information requests.
That translated to a doubling from one incident for every 1,000 km (620 miles) of federally-regulated pipeline in 2000, to two in 2011.
The CBC investigation also found that the rate of product reported releases – spills and leaks – rose threefold, from four releases for every 10,000 km in 2000, to 13 in 2011.
The NEB regulates all pipelines that cross provincial or international borders, but does not monitor smaller pipelines that are only in a single province.
The safety of shipping petroleum products via pipelines has become a hot topic in recent years, with companies like Enbridge Inc and TransCanada Corp developing major new projects to move crude from Canada’s oil sands to markets in the United States and Asia.
Opponents say a pipeline leak can cause catastrophic environmental damage and often cite a 2010 incident where an Enbridge pipeline carrying crude from Alberta ruptured, spilling huge amounts of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
But pipeline companies say their operations are safer than the alternative – moving oil and gas products by rail or truck.
Indeed, the safety of rail has become a central issue in Canada since a runaway train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July, killing 47 people. Earlier this month, another train hauling crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas derailed and caught fire in Alberta.
A recent report by the Fraser Institute, a right-leaning think tank, found that pipelines are safer for workers and that the risk of spill incidents is slightly lower than with rail.
The CBC investigation looked at documents on 1,047 pipeline safety incidents from Jan. 1, 2000, until late 2012. Companies regulated by the NEB must report safety issues like deaths or serious injuries, fires and explosions, spills over 1,500 liters and every gas leak.
The NEB attributed the rise in incidents to heightened awareness among companies about reporting standards, according to the CBC. A spokesperson for the regulator was not immediately available for comment.