Energy pipelines safe, vital to nation's economic health, advocates say

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As the debate over new energy-infrastructure projects garners headlines across the country, attention has turned to the safety record of oil and natural gas pipelines. 

According to the Association of Oil Pipelines (AOPL), more than 16 billion barrels of crude oil and other petroleum products were transported by pipeline in 2014 — and 99.9 percent of those products were delivered safely. 

John Stoody, vice president of AOPL, told TI News Daily that pipelines are “inherently safe” if they are properly maintained. He cited the testimony of former National Transportation Safety Board Chair Deborah Hersman, who currently is president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Hersman told a U.S. Senate committee in 2013 that “if (a pipeline) is adequately maintained and inspected, age is not an issue.”

Tony Caldarelli, a former army captain and volunteer chairman for Pennsylvania Vets4Energy, told TI News Daily that the pipelines are necessary to maintain our country's "new position as an energy superpower."

“We must make the infrastructure investments that can store and transport our energy to where it is needed,” Caldarelli said. “There are many military instances where energy supply was the deciding factor of winners and losers – there is no reason for that to happen inside the U.S.A. anymore.”

During a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on oil and gas infrastructure in June, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee's chair, highlighted the need for and safety of energy pipelines.

"Without infrastructure, we cannot move vital resources from Point A to Point B, and while some would contend otherwise, we know for a fact that pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move those resources," Murkowski said at the hearing. "Without proper infrastructure, energy will be unnecessarily unaffordable, scarce, dirty, limited and insecure."

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in briefing notes, said natural gas makes up nearly 25 percent of the country's total energy consumption, with liquid petroleum products accounting for almost 40 percent.

"This requires the transportation of huge volumes of hazardous liquids and gas, and the most feasible, most reliable and safest way to do so is through pipelines,” the PHMSA said.

Stoody said he understands the concerns about the safety of older pipelines, but said "they do not pose any unique threat." 

Pipeline safety is about being on top of any issue, monitoring the materials being transported, as well as pipeline operations, and always looking for potential issues, Stoody said.

Operators are vigilant with pipeline maintenance, regardless of age, "looking for potential corrosion, damage from dents or welding failures,” Stoody said.

Pipeline operators design integrity-management plans that include regular monitoring and maintenance to address the specific characteristics of each pipeline -- its construction materials and methods.

Stoody also said, concerning the large number of pipeline leaks spotted by members of the public and reported to authorities: “That is an example of the successful public awareness campaigns, to ensure that residents are aware of the pipelines and whom to call.”

The nation's energy transportation network consists of over 2.5 million miles of pipelines -- enough to circle the planet about 100 times. These pipelines are operated by approximately 3,000 companies. 

Organizations in this story

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski 510 L Street Anchorage, AK 99501

Vets4Energy United States Washington, DC

Association of Oil Pipelines 1808 I Street Northwest Washington, DC 20006

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