As part of a 2014 industry initiative, the Association of Oil Pipelines and the American Petroleum Institute prepared its first “Annual Liquid Pipeline Safety Performance Report” (the Report).  Despite several high profile pipeline incidents in the past few years and increased PHMSA enforcement activity, these statistics reflect that PHMSA pipeline safety regulations and industry efforts over the past ten years have been successful in improving pipeline safety.

  • The number of releases from liquid pipelines decreased 62% over the last ten years (based on three year averages).
  • While the volume of barrels of crude or petroleum product transported has increased, the amount released over the last ten years decreased by 47% (based on three year averages).
  • Releases caused by corrosion decreased by 79%, third party damage by 78% and those caused by material defects, seam and weld failures decreased by 31% (based on three year averages).

In 2012, operators collectively spent over $1.6 billion evaluating, inspecting and maintaining liquid pipelines.  In short, these statistics illustrate pipeline safety improvements in the past ten years made possible as a result of operator integrity management programs as well as voluntary pipeline safety initiatives.  Meanwhile the Report also identifies strategic priorities for improvements in the areas of pipeline inspection technology, crack detection and response, leak management, and emergency response, to include development of industry recommended practices and guidance in those areas.

These improvements help explain how the industry and PHMSA have effectively responded to the primary causes of pipeline incidents over time.  Ten years ago the primary cause of incidents was third party strikes.  As that was addressed by the “Call Before You Dig” 811 program, the leading cause then became corrosion.  Industry and PHMSA responded by researching and developing improved corrosion detection technology.  The current leading cause of incidents is material, weld and equipment failure, and once again, both industry and PHMSA are encouraging development of new technologies and more aggressive inspection and maintenance activities.