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oil pipeline
May 2024 Exclusive Story

Report Chronicles Liquid Pipelines’ Track Record of Safe Operations

SALT LAKE CITY, UT.—The American Petroleum Institute and the Liquid Energy Pipeline Association say their 2023 Performance Report outlines the pipeline industry’s progress on safety and commitment to tackling evolving challenges.

Even as pipeline mileage and barrels delivered have increased, the report finds that pipeline safety continues to improve. It cites several key indicators identified by federal and state regulators, industry operators and public safety advocates. For example:

  • Total liquid pipeline incidents decreased 23% during the past five years, with a 7% drop in incidents impacting people or the environment.
  • Operations and maintenance incidents impacting people or the environment declined 54% between 2019 and 2023.
  • Total equipment failure incidents impacting people or the environment fell 50% between 2019 and 2023.

These improvements build on a strong track record, the report suggests. “A barrel of energy delivered by pipeline safely reaches its destination 99.999% of the time,” it observes.

Many of the incidents that occur have minor impacts, the report implies. “Most pipeline incidents are small. In 2023, 61% of incidents were less than five barrels and 84% were less than 50 barrels,” it details. “Only 5% of incidents were 500 barrels or larger, and these large incidents are down 11% over the last five years.”

Crude oil pipelines mirror the broader trend. “In 2023, 59% of crude oil incidents were five barrels or smaller and 86% of crude oil incidents were smaller than 50 barrels. Over the last five years, only 5% of crude oil incidents were over 500 barrels,” the report calculates. “Large crude oil releases are down 50% since 2019.”

For liquid pipelines as a whole, the report identifies equipment failures as the most frequent culprit. “Over the last five years, equipment failures represented 46% of incidents, corrosion failures 23% and incorrect operation 15%,” the report details. “Material pipe/weld failures, which include cracking, a primary source of large volume releases, represented only 6% of incidents since 2019.”

According to the report, natural forces account for 5% of incidents, with excavation causing 3% and outside force responsible for 2%.

Unfortunately, “incidents related to the pipeline itself, such as corrosion, cracking or weld failure, were up 17% over the last five years in areas impacting people or the environment. Corrosion failures impacting people or the environment were up 12%.”

The data suggests the industry may be getting better maintenance. “Incidents related to maintaining pipeline equipment or operating the pipeline and its valves or pumps were down 54% over the last five years in areas impacting people or the environment. In these areas, incidents caused by incorrect operation decreased by 45%, while equipment failure decreased 50% from 2019 to 2023,” the report says.

“With a goal of zero operating incidents, pipeline operators are devoted to continuous improvement,” summarizes Steven Yatauro, API-LEPA Pipeline Safety Excellence Steering Committee chair and president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company LLC. “One area of focus has been pipeline operators’ commitment to improving meaningful public and community engagement resulting in the development of a first-of-its-kind industry recommended practice for pipeline public engagement.”

To create API RP 1185, pipeline operators “partnered with government and public representatives over the course of several years to create a consensus-based approach to build trust, accountability, responsiveness and transparency in how we engage the public,” Yatauro relates. “While the final recommended practice was published in March, many operators started their implementation journey in 2023.”

In addition to more detailed statistics on domestic pipeline networks’ size and safety record, the full report details five goals for the liquid pipeline industry related to workforce development, safety, stakeholder engagement, cybersecurity and sustainability. To download the report, see 2023 Performance Report & 2023-2025 Pipeline Excellence Strategic Plan.

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