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Pipeline Performance

Updated July 2020

Pipelines carry many different products, work in many different ways, and are used differently by different companies. Each pipeline must be closely monitored and maintained. Through the Pipeline Act, Pipeline Rules, and Canadian Standards Association, the AER regulates companies over the lifecycle of the pipeline. By overseeing the design, construction, operation, discontinuation, and abandonment of pipelines, we help prevent incidents and hold companies accountable for their actions, to ensure pipelines are safe.

Under the industry performance program, we release the Pipeline Performance Report annually, which includes information about each company involved in a pipeline incident between 2015 and 2019. This analysis includes the volumes and substances that were released. It also includes an inventory of all AER-regulated pipelines.

The total number of incidents in 2019 was approximately 32 per cent lower than in 2010—even with the growth in the total length of pipelines by 13  per cent over the same period. The pipeline failure rate was at 0.89 incidents per 1000 kilometres of pipeline per year in 2019 compared with 1.47 in 2010. The rate dropped largely because of continually improving requirements, improved industry practices, inspection procedures, and a greater focus on industry education about pipeline safety.

Highlights from 2019 also include the following:

  • The number of pipeline incidents in Alberta decreased to 390, compared with 415 in 2018.
  • About 82 per cent of incidents were rated as being “low consequence” in terms of their effect on the public, environment, wildlife, and livestock; 13 per cent were rated as “medium consequence”; and only 5 per cent were high consequence. Learn more about incident consequence ratings in the glossary.
  • The number of pipeline incidents that were rated as “high consequence” dropped by 17 per cent, decreasing to 20 incidents in 2019 from 24 incidents in 2018.
  • Seventy-five per cent of incidents rated as “high consequence” involved pipelines carrying salt water or oil-well effluent, which is a mixture of oil, gas, and salt water.
  • Salt water pipelines had an overall pipeline incident rate of 3.0 incidents per 1000 kilometres per year, while oil‑well effluent pipelines had a failure rate of 1.8 incidents per 1000 kilometres per year.  This is due to the corrosive nature of these product streams.
  • Internal corrosion remained the leading cause of pipeline incidents (35 per cent of the total). More than 82 per cent of internal corrosion failures were on steel uncoated pipelines (up from 70 per cent in 2018), with the majority of the remaining corrosion failures being failures on the metallic risers or connections on nonmetallic pipelines.
  • Over 62 per cent of pipeline incidents had “little” (less than or equal to 1 cubic metre or about 6 barrels) to no liquids released. In 2019, the largest liquid spill released was 1200 m3 of produced water (water by-product produced from a well bore).

Pipeline spill size