ActiveHistory.ca repost – Tracking Canada’s History of Oil Pipeline Spills

ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in early September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular blog posts from this site over the past five years and some of the editors’ favourite posts from the past year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers – see you again in September!

The following post was originally featured on November 7, 2013.

oilpipelinemontreal-maine

Crowds gather to watch cranes joining two ends of an oil pipeline before the official ceremony commemorating the joining of the pipeline of an oil tanker terminal, Portland, Maine, with refineries in Montreal, Quebec, 1941. Source: Library and Archives Canada, WRM 1054.

By Sean Kheraj

Last week, CBC News published a series of articles about energy pipeline safety on Canada’s federally-regulated system of oil and gas pipelines, revealing that between 2000 and 2011 Canada suffered 1,047 separate pipeline incidents. Its findings confirm my own earlier research on the history of oil pipeline spills on the network of interprovincial and international oil pipelines that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Energy Board.

Under an access-to-information request, CBC reporters obtained a data set of pipeline incidents covering a period from 2000 to 2011. It showed that the number of incidents swelled from 45 in 2000 to 142 in 2011. This roughly corresponds with what I found for the period from 2000-2009.

These new reports demonstrate the great difficulty and challenge of documenting the history of oil pipeline spills in Canada. Upon receiving a CD with 405 pages of incident reports, CBC reporters quickly realized that they needed to recompile this data to make it machine-readable for analysis. Furthermore, the data sets were inconsistent and, in some instances, incomplete. For the most part, the information on pipeline incidents on the federally-regulated system is provided by the pipeline operators and not by NEB staff. As such, the information arrives in an unpredictable format from incident to incident. This left CBC with no choice but to sift through all of the 1,047 incidents and fill in the blanks with other NEB documents and reports from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (the regulator responsible for reporting on major pipeline incidents).

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