By Kenneth P. Green
and Taylor Jackson
The Fraser Institute
Expanding pipeline capacity is critical to helping unlock the full value of Canada’s resources – and protecting Canadians and the environment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government recently approved both the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to B.C.’s coast and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement. The eventual construction of these pipelines will allow greater quantities of Canadian oil to flow to more lucrative global and Asian markets, and into the U.S. market.
Together, these expansions will add 960 million barrels a day of capacity to Canada’s pipeline system. This is positive, despite the government’s rejection at the same time of the Northern Gateway Pipeline and its imposition of a ban on oil tankers off B.C.’s north coast (which evidence on tanker safety suggests isn’t justified).
Canada’s current network of pipelines can transport four million barrels of oil a day. With a current supply of roughly 3.9 million barrels a day, Canada’s pipelines are near capacity. Any additional supply in the absence of new pipelines would require alternative transportation methods such as rail, truck or boat.
According to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, oil production from Western Canada will grow by 1.5 million barrels a day by 2030, so not constructing additional pipelines would prove costly.
Moreover, it’s vitally important that any economic gains from Canadian resources are realized in the safest possible way. That means the government’s announcement was also a victory for safety.
Research in Canada and the United States shows that pipelines are 4.5 times less likely to experience occurrences (accidents or incidents) when transporting oil and gas than using rail tankers.
And according to data on pipeline safety from the Natural Resources Canada and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, in recent years more than 99 per cent of crude oil and petroleum products transported by pipelines arrived at their final destination. And 73 per cent of pipeline occurrences result in spills of less than one cubic metre while 16 per cent of occurrences result in no spill whatsoever.
Even when spills occur, the vast majority of pipeline accidents and incidents – more than 80 per cent – don’t take place in the actual line pipe. They happen in facilities that are more likely to have secondary containment mechanisms and procedures.
Perhaps the most telling statistic regarding pipeline safety is that 99 per cent of pipeline occurrences in Canada from 2003 to 2013 didn’t damage the environment.
Research from the U.S. also finds that pipelines are the safest mode of oil transportation in terms of risk to humans. One study found that transporting oil by rail or truck was associated with higher rates of fatalities and hospitalizations compared to pipelines.
If Canada is to fully reap the economic benefits of exporting oil to areas of the world where demand is expected to grow, pipelines will be necessary.
And pipelines will not only allow Canadians to reap the economic benefits of their resources, they will help ensure that we transport oil in the safest and most environmentally-friendly manner possible.
Kenneth P. Green is senior director and Taylor Jackson is a senior policy analyst in Natural Resource Studies at the Fraser Institute.