The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Safety a Core Mission of U.S. Pipeline Network

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 19, 2017

To mark #InfrastructureWeek, we’ve posted on the broad energy and economic opportunities that come from building new infrastructure or by expanding existing infrastructure. We’ve also highlighted the essential role of infrastructure in ensuring that the benefits of America’s energy renaissance reach all across the country, helping U.S. consumers. Let’s end the week with a word about infrastructure safety, focusing on pipelines.

First, the U.S. is served by a world-class, modern system of pipelines and transmission lines, which move crude oil to versatile refineries and then distribute the fuels we need, as well as the petrochemicals that make up so many of the products we use every day.

The statistic that sticks out about pipeline safety: 99.999%

It means that a barrel of crude oil or petroleum product shipped by pipeline safely reaches its destination 99.999 percent of the time. The letter grade for that is A+.

Todd Denton of Phillips 66 Pipeline LLC, chair of the Association of Oil Pipelines-API pipeline safety excellence steering committee, writing in the API-AOPL 2017 Annual Liquids Pipeline Report:

As an industry responsible for delivering energy throughout our nation, we need to ensure that we do all we can to protect communities and the environment with safe pipeline operations. Pipelines are the safest way to transport energy. … However, we know we can do more to keep pipelines safe and are working together as an industry to improve pipeline safety performance.

Some context for the 99.999 percent safety record:

  • 207,792 – Miles of U.S. liquid pipelines, from production areas to refineries to consumers and manufacturers.
  • 18.1 billion – Barrels of crude oil and petroleum products delivered by pipeline in 2015, a 34 percent increase since 2011.
  • -10 percent – Total pipeline incidents in 2016 were down 10 percent from 2015.

More on pipeline safety is found on AOPL’s website. We see that pipeline incidents impacting people or the environment outside of operator facilities are down 52 percent since 1999:


And corrosion-caused incidents are down 68 percent:


When incidents occur, they’re mostly small. According to AOPL, nearly two-thirds of pipeline incidents are five barrels or less. In 2015, 44 percent of pipeline incidents were one barrel or less. Incidents larger than 500 barrels are getting more rare – down 32 percent from 2011 to 2015. AOPL’s chart:


These data points are largely the result of safety initiatives by the pipeline industry. The API-AOPL annual report notes that in 2016 these efforts included in-line technology improvement, collaborative research and development of testing protocols to detect potential problems. In addition, a number of API recommended practices were published last year that focused on detecting and managing cracking in pipe bodies and welds. The industry has established an experience-sharing portal for the exchange of information.

As important, pipeline operators are vigilant, proactively inspecting their pipelines using modern diagnostic tools – “smart pigs” that travel inside pipelines, scanning the walls with technologies similar to an ultrasound or MRI. Monitoring capabilities allow rapid shutdown if there’s an incident. Operators work with the federal government and local authorities on response plans in the event of an incident.

The U.S. is the world’s leading producer and refiner of natural gas and oil. Modern energy infrastructure is the link between that production and refining and consumers – individuals, industries and manufacturers – who use that energy and its by-products. More infrastructure is needed. From a safety standpoint, there’s every reason for the kind of infrastructure maintenance and expansion that will serve the U.S. well into the future.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.