New Data Undermine Oil and Gas Industry's Pipeline Safety Claims

In the debate over construction of new oil and gas pipelines, industry representatives have long argued that pipelines are safer than other methods for moving fossil fuels over long distances.

Take for example the recent statement a spokesperson for the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana — a project spearheaded by Energy Transfer Partners, the same Dallas-based company behind the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline — made to The Advocate of Baton Rouge. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline would carry oil from a terminal in Nederland, Texas, across South Louisiana to refineries and export terminals near New Orleans.

“Currently, most of the crude oil being delivered to refineries along the Gulf Coast is coming in by truck, rail and marine, all of which are more dangerous to the environment than underground pipelines,” Alexis Daniel told the newspaper in an email.

Research has shown that, depending on the criteria used to define safety, trucks, trains and boats can be riskier in some ways than pipelines. But new data crunched by watchdog groups raise questions about the industry’s optimistic pipeline safety claims — at least in terms of the frequency of pipeline spills and the pollution they emit to the environment.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and DisasterMap.net released an analysis this week that focuses specifically on pipelines and other facilities operated by Energy Transfer Partners and its Sunoco subsidiary. A publicly-traded Fortune 500 company, Energy Transfer Partners operates some 71,000 miles of pipelines across the U.S. The groups looked at all of the spills companies by those names reported as required to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center in 2015 and 2016.

There were 69 spills in all, an average of almost three a month. But of those, only two were from mobile sources — one involving a flaming truck at a tank farm in Michigan that sent an unknown amount of pollution billowing into the air, the other a spill of a couple of gallons of crude…

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