Pipeline Environmental Sustainability

Pipeline Efficiency

Trucks, barge tows, aircraft and trains consume diesel or other non-renewable fuels and emit air pollutants. Trucks and, to a certain degree, trains also contribute to congestion on our roadways. By contrast, pipelines provide a more sustainable means of product transport, as they often operate on pumps or compressors powered by electric motors, diesel engines, or gas turbines.
Source: NaturalGas.org. (2022).

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) illustrates the efficiency of pipeline transportation when compared to other freight modes, using the example of a large pipeline, which is capable of transporting two million barrels of gasoline a day. If this same amount of gasoline was transported by another mode, it would require:

  • 9,375 large semi-truck tankers
  • Twenty-four, 100-car unit trains extending three miles each
  • Ten 15-unit barge tows

The OKI region’s 2020 static liquid transmission pipeline volume alone is 482,350 barrels, which is roughly 24 percent of this national example. Using the same comparison at 24 percent, to transport only the OKI region’s static liquid pipeline volume by another mode would take:

  • 2,250 tanker trucks
  • One, 100-car unit train, three miles in length
  • Almost two and a half, 15-unit barge tows

Hazardous Liquid Spills

PHSMA defines hazardous liquid as “petroleum, petroleum products, anhydrous ammonia, and ethanol or other non-petroleum fuel, including biofuel, which is flammable, toxic, or would be harmful to the environment if released in significant quantities.” (Source: United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). (2017). National Pipeline Mapping System (NPMS) Standards for Pipeline, Liquefied Natural Gas and Breakout Tank Farm Operator Submissions.)

Between 2001 and 2010, the region experienced four serious incidences involving the release of hazardous liquid compared to only one which occurred in the last decade. The impact this has had on decreasing the amount of hazardous liquid spilled is a whopping 90 percent.

Although, 98 percent of the 2014 crude oil spill in Hamilton County was recovered, a failed pipe section caused by stress corrosion cracking required the removal of more than 750 yards of contaminated soil from the site. In addition, the spill occurred in designated Unusually Sensitive Areas (USAs) for Ecology and Drinking Water. The estimated cost of the pipeline operator’s environmental remediation was more than $2.1 million while the cost of commodity lost was only $770.

Natural Gas Incidences

Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, a strong greenhouse gas. Of the region’s five, gas-related serious pipeline incidences in the past decade, three involved the release of natural gas. The estimated volume of natural gas unintentionally released was just under 5.5 million standard cubic feet. No impacts to wildlife, soil or water were reported in these incidences. In all three cases, the natural gas ignited. A common method for extinguishing these fires is to allow them to burn out. Natural gas burning produces carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and many other compounds, depending on the chemical composition of the natural gas. However, burning is safer than releasing natural gas into the air. This results in lower overall greenhouse gas emissions because CO2 is not as strong a greenhouse gas as methane. (Sources: United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (2021). Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana Significant Incidents Listing, All Pipeline Systems. United States Energy Information Administration, Independent Statistics & Analysis. (2022). Natural Gas Explained: Natural Gas and the Environment.)

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