When it comes to safety, which mode of transporting hazardous liquids or gas is better – pipeline or rail?

With an increasing volume of petroleum products being transported by rail, and tragic accidents like the one that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, questions are being asked about the relative safety of transporting these hazardous liquid and gas products by rail vs. by pipeline. Currently pipelines are used for the vast majority of oil and gas transportation – roughly 70% of US volumes – whereas rail still accounts for less than 5%.

In general, the information we’ve reviewed leads us to the following conclusions:

  • Pipelines spill more, both based on sheer volume, and on a per-ton-mile or per-barrel-mile basis.
  • Rail transport accidents cause more injuries to humans on a per-barrel-mile or per-ton-mile basis.
  • The probability of a spill from Rail is greater on a per-barrel-mile or per-ton-mile basis, though the majority of spills tend to be quite small in volume.

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In addition to the other resources about pipelines on our website, here are sources of information that provide details from a variety of perspectives on different oil and gas transportation modes, or specifically rail vs. pipeline transport:

Articles on this topic: