Preventing Oil & Gas Pipeline Leaks

Alberta is one of the world’s largest and most important energy producers. Protecting the integrity of Alberta’s pipeline system is essential to the economic growth of the province. Both Alberta Province and the oil and gas industry have a shared responsibility to assure the integrity of the pipeline system to maintain public confidence.

In 2012, Alberta produced 3.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 705 million barrels of crude bitumen, and 203 million barrels of crude oil, most of which was transported to processing facilities and eventually to market through pipelines.

Alberta’s pipeline leaks or failures in the largest pipeline networks according to the AER report are thankfully rare—but they do happen and a study of the pattern of leaks leaves room for improvement. The Alberta report reminds us that only 2 percent of Alberta’s pipelines are 508 mm (20 inches) or larger.  These large diameter pipes add up to 8267 km. This low incident rate is good news for Alberta but the nationwide story is less clear.


According to Alberta Energy Regulator’s Report 2013-B: Pipeline Performance in Alberta, 1990–2012, there were 415 152 kilometres (km) of pipelines in the province at the end of 2012. More than 60.3 per cent carry natural gas, 14.8 per cent are multiphase pipelines moving oil effluent (mixed oil, gas, and water production from an oil well), 5.9 per cent carries oilfield water, 4.9 per cent carries crude oil, 5.4 per cent carries sour gas (natural gas with hydrogen sulphide concentrations greater than 1 per cent).  That leaves 8.7 per cent transporting everything else. About 17 per cent of the pipelines in the ground are not being used.  Almost 70 per cent of all pipelines were built after 1990.

Alberta Pipeline Incident Frequency Performance index.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) measures pipeline performance by incidents per 1000 km of pipeline per year.  This key performance indicator is calculated by dividing the number of incidents each calendar year by the total length of pipeline at year-end.  By agreement between the AER and Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), the AER is the first responder in any incident on an AUC-regulated pipeline.

As a result, AUC-regulated pipelines are included in inventory and the calculations of incident frequency. But national pipelines regulated by the Canadian National Energy Board with the exception of the former NGTL pipelines are not included. NGTL pipelines were included in both inventory and incident count, but only until the end of 2008. Pressure-test failures are not included in the calculation as they do not occur during normal pipeline operating conditions. Incidents due to damage by others are included.