Updated August 2023
The most common metric for reporting pipeline performance is the number of incidents per 1000 kilometres of pipeline per year. This metric is useful when comparing companies but does not tell the whole story. A lot goes into determining how a pipeline company performs, and the results might differ depending on the metric used.
For a meaningful comparison of pipeline performance between companies, we must compare companies with similar operations, including the number, size, and type (pipeline materials and substances transported) of pipelines they operate.
We use the following performance metrics:
- the number of incidents per 1000 kilometres of pipeline per year
- the total number of incidents
- the number of incidents by consequence rating (low, medium, high)
- the volume and type of product released
Some companies are examined more closely than others because of their compliance history or the location of their pipelines and the products those pipelines carry. For example, a pipeline near a water body that transports a hazardous substance (e.g., sour gas, produced water, or oil well effluent) may pose a greater risk to the public, the environment, wildlife, and livestock.
Figure 5 shows data by company for each performance metric.
In 2022, the total volume of hydrocarbon liquid and produced water released from pipelines was 23% lower than in 2021. Based on liquid release volumes, the following table lists the top five high-consequence incidents in 2022, which made up 21% of the total volume of hydrocarbon liquid and produced water released.
|Company||Liquid volume released (m3)||Substance released||Incident date||Field operations area|
|1. Cardinal Energy Ltd.
(incident number: 20222369)
|188||Non-fresh water||October 19, 2022||Central|
|2. Battle River Energy Ltd.
(incident number: 20222086)
|120||Non-fresh water||September 10, 2022||East|
|3. Aspenleaf Energy Limited
(incident number: 20220928)
|74||Non-fresh water and crude oil||April 25, 2022||Central|
|4. Spoke Resources Ltd.
(incident number: 20220513)
|55||Non-fresh water and crude oil||October 18, 2022||Central|
|5. Conifer Energy Inc
(incident number: 20222102)
|54||Non-fresh water and crude oil||September 13, 2022||Central|
Note: Additional information about incidents can be found in the Data section of this report.
Figure 6 shows the volume and category of liquids released by year.
Leaks and ruptures are categorized as pipeline failures. Of the 325 pipeline incidents in 2022, 269 were pipeline failures.
If a failure occurs, companies must investigate the cause, implement a plan to prevent it from happening again, and provide us with the details of the investigation and remedial actions.
Leading Causes of Failure
Incidents are categorized by their leading cause of failure. However, it is difficult to identify the root cause as it could include poor design or poor operations and maintenance. For companies to select a suitable pipeline material, an assessment based on a thorough understanding of the intended service conditions, potential upset conditions, future development or changes in services, temperature and pressure variations, production rates, and other factors is required on a project-by-project basis. In addition, companies must continually monitor and assess their pipelines for these conditions throughout the life of the pipeline.
In 2022, the following were the most common causes of pipeline failure:
- internal corrosion (46%)
- pipe body failure (9%)
- external corrosion (9%)
- valves or fittings (8%)
- construction deficiency (7%)
More than 85% of the pipelines we license are steel pipelines and highly susceptible to corrosion. Effective programs must be in place to monitor and prevent these pipelines from corroding to an unacceptable level – and confirming that companies have such programs is the focus of our pipeline inspections and assessments.
Figure 7 shows the percentage of failure types and a ranking of causes.
In 2022, internal corrosion remained the leading type of pipeline failure, representing 46% of all pipeline leaks and ruptures. More than 80% of internal corrosion failures were on uncoated steel pipelines, with the remainder occurring on nonmetallic pipelines with metallic risers and connections that were susceptible to corrosion.
In 2022, 49% of pipeline failures from internal corrosion were caused by multiple corrosion mechanisms (called multimechanism corrosion). Other causes of internal corrosion include the following:
- under deposit corrosion (14%)
- corrosion under internal coating (6%)
- carbon dioxide (CO2) corrosion (6%)
- interference corrosion (5%)
Forty-six per cent of internal corrosion failures were on pipelines transporting oil-well effluent, which is attributable to the corrosive nature of these fluids and operating conditions.
For pipelines transporting corrosive fluids, companies must develop programs to monitor for corrosion and, where corrosion occurs, minimize its progression, or replace the pipe if needed.
Typically, internal corrosion can be mitigated by the following:
- effective cleaning (called "pigging") of pipeline segments to remove solids, water, bacteria, and debris
- using biocide chemical treatments to kill microbial organisms in the pipeline
- periodically applying or batching large quantities of a corrosion inhibitor as a protective barrier on the inside of the pipe
- continuously injecting an inhibitor chemical to reduce the corrosiveness of the transported fluid or to function as a protective barrier on the inside of the pipe
- removing water from the pipeline or preventing it from entering
- installing pipe with a permanent protective inner coating or a corrosion-resistant liner inside an uncoated steel pipe
The risk of internal corrosion increases the longer a pipeline is inactive and not purged. Water and solids left inside a pipeline accelerate the rate of corrosion. Companies must properly clean inactive pipelines and apply corrosion inhibitors to prevent corrosion from happening whenever a pipeline is inactive for extended periods to preserve it for future use.
Pipe Body Failure
In 2022, pipe body failure (see the glossary) accounted for 9% of pipeline failure types.
In steel pipe, body failure is cracking of the pipe due to its operating environment. For nonmetallic pipelines, body failure is a gradual degradation of the pipe material.
As composite pipelines age and are exposed to severe operating conditions, there is potential for gradual loss of strength. Operators should be aware of this and manage it as part of their safety and loss management system.
The exterior surface of a steel pipe is susceptible to corrosion if the pipeline does not have an effective protective coating in place. In 2022, external corrosion accounted for 9% of pipeline failure types.
Buried pipelines must have an external coating that must be inspected before the pipeline is buried. Cathodic protection is required for all underground steel pipelines to counteract corrosion in areas where the external coating may be compromised. Cathodic protection must be periodically measured and maintained to ensure an appropriate current along the entire pipeline.
In 2022, 58% of external corrosion pipeline failures were caused by the field-applied coating disbonding from the pipe surface, and missing or damaged coatings accounted for 21% of external corrosion pipeline failures. Coatings can disbond due to improper installation, aging, or excessive operating temperature. Field-applied coatings at welds and repairs and on risers and bends are frequent failure locations for coatings. Disbonded coatings prevent effective cathodic protection at the area where the disbonding occurs, although overall cathodic protection levels on the pipeline may be acceptable.
Older pipelines were often constructed with tape-wrapped coatings that tended to degrade over time compared with plant-applied extruded or fusion-bonded coatings more commonly used now.
Valves or Fittings
In 2022, valves and fittings accounted for 8% of pipeline failure types. The leading cause of these incidents relates to gasket, seal, or packing issues (32%).
This failure type indicates poor maintenance of pipeline components. However, these failures typically involve small release volumes and are rated as low-consequence incidents. Inadequate testing and maintenance can lead to higher-consequence incidents if not addressed, as these valves may be necessary during an emergency.
In 2022, construction deficiency accounted for 7% of pipeline failure types, The leading cause of these incidents (39%) was improper support or restraint at tie-in points or where the pipeline transitions from underground to aboveground onto a riser.
About 90% of construction deficiency failures occurred on nonmetallic pipelines, of which 63% carry oil-well effluent.
Damage during installation is usually unintentional and results from installing nonmetallic pipelines using practices like those used for steel pipelines. Nonmetallic pipelines are corrosion resistant but require careful handling and specific installation practices to avoid physical damage and stresses.
Damage by Others (Contact Damage)
In 2022, there were 7 incidents of pipeline failures related to contact damage during ground disturbance, up from 24 in 2021 (an increase of 243%). This situation is concerning because these incidents resulted from operators damaging their pipelines via direct contact (known as first-party hits).
Additional data about pipeline performance in Alberta is available in the full workbook.
The following resources provide information on pipeline safety practices: