FACT CHECK: Are pipelines “dangerous” with “no clear benefits?”

CLAIM: The Roanoke Times recently published an opinion column alleging that pipelines are dangerous – specifically the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley natural gas pipelines that are currently under construction. The column also alleges these “dangerous projects” have “no clear benefits.”



Like almost any process, transporting energy involves some level of risk. However, pipelines have played a key role in mitigating such risk. They have been determined to be the safest, most efficient, and most environmentally-conscious method of delivering the natural gas and oil that millions of Americans rely on each and every day.

When comparing pipelines to the alternatives of transport by truck and rail, pipelines are the clear winner for both safety and environmental concerns. Modern energy infrastructure safely deliver 99.99% of product transported without incident, and an analysis from the Fraser Institute confirms that pipelines are the safest method of transport, finding that rail was “over 4.5 times more likely to experience an occurrence when compared to pipelines.”

More trucks on the road means more pollution, more wear and tear on the same roads we use every day, and more risks on our highways. And we have seen the risks that transport by rail presents. Just a couple months ago, a crude oil train in Saskatoon crashed and spilled approximately 1.5 million litres of oil – more than six times the amount of product that occurred from a nearby pipeline in July 2016.

Pipelines take the risk off our road and rails. Activists continue to oppose the permitted construction of new energy infrastructure – largely rooted in opposition to the use of fossil fuels. But limiting new pipeline construction will not decrease the importance of traditional fuels like natural gas and oil in the American economy – it will only increase reliance on the riskier transport methods of truck and rail. By opposing the construction of pipelines, environmental activists are seemingly undermining their own argument.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concludes that pipelines “enable the safe movement of extraordinary quantities of energy products to industry and consumers, literally fueling our economy and way of life.”

PHMSA also says pipelines are “one of the safest and least costly ways to transport energy products.” Further, PHMSA says pipelines alleviate the need for other, less safe means of transportation:

“It would take a constant line of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to move the volume of even a modest pipeline. The railroad-equivalent of this single pipeline would be a train of 225, 28,000 gallon tank cars.”

In addition to the safety and environmental benefits previously noted, projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline will increase consumer access to reliable, affordable, domestic natural gas. As GAIN has written, natural gas is playing an important role in meeting our energy needs while lowering global carbon emissions.

These projects also bring significant economic benefits to the communities they pass through. Atlantic Coast construction alone is creating 17,000 new jobs and $2.7 billion in economic activity across the region, and generating nearly $30 million in annual property taxes for local governments along the route that can be used for investment in schools, roads, public safety, and other social services.