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Pollution by Oil Pipeline Releases

According to an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) engineer who is testifying at a pipeline safety hearing today before the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power, the average amount of oil released from a pipeline spill in 1998 was over 45,000 gallons. EDF's analysis also shows that an average of over 6.3 million gallons of oil and other hazardous liquids are reported released from pipelines each year, more than half the amount released from the Exxon Valdez disaster. Since 1995, the overall amount of oil released to the environment has increased each year. An average of tens of thousands of gallons of oil was released from pipelines approximately every other day throughout the 1990s. Next to excavation accidents, corrosion is the next most common cause of pipeline spills. The pipeline industry has developed a range of technologies to eliminate or reduce corrosion:

  • Cathodic protection is required on all interstate pipelines, and has been for decades. (This technique uses a constant low voltage electrical current run through the pipeline to counteract corrosion.)
  • Recent improvements in pipeline coating materials also help reduce the risk of a corrosion-related failure.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation is revising the pipeline safety regulations to incorporate more stringent corrosion prevention rules - a change supported by the oil pipeline industry.

"The two upward trends in aggregate oil pipeline releases and release size clearly need to be reversed," said Lois Epstein, EDF engineer. "Numerous oil pipeline companies are not preventing pollution from their pipelines, and the Office of Pipeline Safety is not forcing them to do so. The majority of these releases are from corrosion, operational incidents, and material defects." EDF's analysis also examined property damage from oil and other hazardous liquid pipeline releases, which averaged over $39 million annually in the 1990s, with an average property damage cost per incident of over $194,000 (and a median cost of $20,000). OPS has not issued any environmental protection regulations, despite Congress' mandating the office to do so in the Pipeline Safety Act of 1992.

Release cases

Other corrosion accidents: Aloha, Bhopal, Carlsbad, Davis-Besse, Guadalajara, EL AL, Erika, F-16, FAC, Flixborough, Gaylord Chemical, Oil pipeline releases, Pitting of aircraft and helicopters, Prudhoe Bay, Silver bridge, Swimming Pool