If nothing else, the Keystone XL Pipeline triggered a debate on just how safe it is to transport oil and natural gas by pipeline. If there is an accident, the damages can add up and it can be tough to clean up. That’s why the Native Americans in North Dakota are protesting the construction of a line there — one that they say has the potential to destroy their water quality.
With nearly 300,000 miles of long distance transmission pipelines carrying natural gas and 171,000 miles of those pipes moving oil, the rate of accidents is falling, says the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Despite the increased use of energy, it says that between 2005 and 2010 there were an average of three “serious incidents” — fatalities or serious injury — per year involving hazardous liquids like oil and six a year involving natural gas transmission.
As the country develops more and more of its shale oil and natural gas supplies, it will require more infrastructure to carry that product. As such, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America says that 29,000-62,000 miles of additional pipeline is required to meet future demand. That will cost $8 billion a year for the next 25 years.
The Native American population says that it feels as if its concerns are being ignored — that when the wealthier portions of the North Dakota population had expressed their concerns, the so-called Dakota Access Pipeline Project was rerouted. They are concerned about their safety and their water quality.
While a federal judge decided this month to allow construction of the line to continue, the federal government has said it would study the matter further. The pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of crude per day.
Just how is oil and natural gas transported in this country? Natural gas, of course, moves exclusively by pipeline unless it is liquefied and shipped overseas by tanker. Oil, meantime, uses pipelines 70 percent of the time, river barges 23 percent, trucks 4 percent and railway 3 percent. Of note, analysts say that it can cost as much as five times more to transport oil by rail than it does pipe, for moderate to long distances.