Updated June 2021
Pipelines transport many different products and are used for a variety of purposes. For example, pipelines carry raw oilfield production to processing facilities and finished petroleum products to market. Regardless of the use, each pipeline must be closely monitored and maintained. Through the Pipeline Act, Pipeline Rules, and Canadian Standards Association, the AER regulates companies over the life cycle of their pipelines. By overseeing the design, construction, operation, discontinuation, and abandonment of pipelines, we help prevent incidents and hold companies accountable for their actions.
Under the industry performance program, we annually release the Pipeline Performance Report, which includes information about pipeline incidents between 2015 and 2020.
Pipelines covered in this report are those regulated by the AER and, in the figures only, gas utility pipelines regulated by Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). The AER manages incidents and inspections on AUC-regulated pipelines under a memorandum of understanding between the AUC and AER.
The total number of incidents in 2020 was about 40 per cent lower than in 2011, ten years ago—even though the total length of pipelines grew by 11 per cent between 2011 and 2020. The pipeline failure rate was 0.79 incidents per 1000 kilometres of pipeline in 2020 compared with 1.45 in 2011. This drop can be attributed to
- the AER continuing to improve pipeline requirements and inspections and placing a greater focus on educating industry about pipeline safety, and
- industry developing and adopting better pipeline practices.
It can also be attributed to the overall downturn in the oil and gas industry, which resulted in less pipelines in operation.
Highlights from 2020 also include the following:
- The number of pipeline incidents in Alberta decreased to 344, compared with 392 in 2019.
- About 87 per cent of incidents were rated as being "low consequence" in terms of their effect on the public, environment, wildlife, and livestock; 8 per cent were rated as "medium consequence"; and only 5 per cent were "high consequence." To learn more about these incident consequence ratings, see the glossary.
- The number of pipeline incidents that were rated as high consequence dropped by 20 per cent, decreasing to 16 incidents in 2020 from 20 incidents in 2019.
- Seventy-five per cent of incidents rated as high consequence involved pipelines carrying produced water (water from a wellbore that is produced as a by-product of oil and gas production) or oil-well effluent (a mixture of unrefined oil, gas, and produced water). These products are corrosive to steel pipelines.
- Produced water pipelines in 2020 had an overall pipeline incident rate of 2.6 incidents per 1000 kilometres, while oil‑well effluent pipelines had an incident rate of 1.5 incidents per 1000 kilometres.
- Internal corrosion remained the leading cause of pipeline incidents (46 per cent of the total). More than 74 per cent of internal corrosion incidents were on uncoated steel pipelines (down from 82 per cent in 2019), with most of the remaining corrosion failures being failures on the metallic risers or connections on nonmetallic pipelines.
- Over 69 per cent of pipeline incidents had "little" (1 cubic metre or less, or about 6 barrels) to no liquids released. In 2020, the largest liquid spill released was 5000 m3 of produced water.