Between the ongoing saga of the Keystone XL, the Exxon Pegasus spill in Arkansas, and the Royal Dutch Shell spill near Houston, pipelines have been in the news a lot lately.
Yet, despite the coverage, the obvious damage, claims and counter-claims, it’s difficult to understand these events in the overall context of pipeline safety without looking at longer time frames. Fortunately, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration(PHMSA) maintains a comprehensive database of all pipeline incidents reported in the U.S.
Using data from 1993-2012, we focused on onshore and offshore pipelines carrying hazardous liquids (primarily crude oil and refined petroleum products) that suffered what PHMSA classifies as “significant incidents.” To qualify, a “significant incident” must satisfy one or more of the following criteria:
  • a fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization;
  • $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollars;
  • highly volatile liquid releases of 5 barrels or more, or other liquid releases of 50 barrels or more;
  • liquid releases resulting in an unintentional fire or explosion.
Of 5,727 reported incidents during 1993-2012, 2,079 met the PHMSA definition of “significant incidents,” accounting for 99.4% of the total volume spilled.