Are Pipelines Really The Safest Way To Transport Oil & Gas?

Having worked at a few pipeline companies, I know they take safety and spills very seriously but we see pipeline bursts and their resulting spills with frequency in the news so the question lingers: Are pipelines safe?

pipeline-vs-rail-environmentLet’s start by stating an obvious fact that no-one WANTS a pipeline or any other serious infrastructure (power lines, rail lines, highways…) in their back yard but without such infrastructure our modern world would grind to a halt.  If we can agree on that as a fact, and not an opinion, we can rationally consider pipeline safety.

The factors determining the safety of any pipeline compared to rail or trucking are also obvious and visually undeniable.  Below is a simple chart outlining some of the risk factors that go into transporting liquids and gases:


FactorPipelinePipe ScoreTrainTrain Score
Above/Below GroundBurried1Above Ground8
VisibilityVery Low1Very High8
Human Error LikelihoodNearly Zero1Constant6
Intentional Damage LikelihoodVery Low1Moderate5
Easy of Stopping LeakVery Easy1Very Difficult6
VolumeVery High9Low3
24 Hr MonitoringExcellent1Minimal8
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