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  • Writer's pictureJuan A. Espinosa


Pipelines are a critical part of Canada’s oil & gas industry, and there seems to be a lot more incidents than you think. Pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move large volumes of oil and natural gas from production areas to refineries, petrochemical plants and even to our homes and businesses. There are more than 840,000 kilometers (Km) of pipelines across Canada, and around 4.8 million kilometers (Km) in the USA. Although pipeline safety has increased in the recent years, incidents involving natural gas pipelines still cause an average of 17 fatalities annually and $133 million dollars in property damages (Jackson et al., 2014).



Underground pipelines used for transporting natural gas and liquid petroleum can undergo different types of corrosion, which need specific measures for identification and prevention. One of these forms of corrosion is stress corrosion cracking (SCC), which produces clusters or colonies of cracks on the external surface of the affected pipeline.

Cracked pipeline resulting from corrosion. Image:

World Pipelines 2018

Figure 1:

Reference of pipeline incidents (PHMSA):

Based on the data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in the past decade there have been 200,216 incidents of which 25,062 happened in 2022. The following analysis of incidents are based on the year 2022 as evidence of how common pipeline failures are.

Corrosion can weaken the structural integrity of containers and pipelines, leading to leaks and spills; spillages are the most common result of pipeline incidents amounting for 23,899 cases and one fatality, resulting in damages of approximately 65 million dollars (figure 1). External SCC on underground pipelines typically forms in clusters or colonies. Individual cracks can interlink to produce flaws of sufficient size to cause ruptures. SCC may cause leaks in the absence of significant interlinking or at lower operating pressures. Leaks and ruptures of natural gas and liquid petroleum pipelines pose a threat to life, property, and the environment. In general, liquid petroleum pipelines pose a greater environmental threat, while natural gas pipelines pose a greater threat to life and property, especially when the natural gas ignites. In 2022, 29 incidents were caused by exterior corrosion, while 91 were due to internal corrosion. In that same year, there were 11,196 incidents involving flammable and combustible liquids, resulting in a cost of $44,850,955. Out of the thousands of unfortunate incidents, 41 resulted in a fire and 4 resulted in explosion in 2022; this led to two fatalities in total and $800k in damages (figure 1).

Additional analysis of incidents includes broken components or devices caused 277 incidents, resulting in a total cost of $295,235. These incidents can occur due to equipment failure, inadequate maintenance, or improper use. Regular inspections and equipment maintenance are critical to prevent these incidents from happening. Human error was responsible for 2,694 incidents, resulting in a cost of $534,500. These incidents can occur due to inadequate training, lack of supervision or complacency. The cost of incidents involving hazardous materials goes beyond just monetary losses. These incidents can also cause environmental damage, injuries, and fatalities. It is crucial to prioritize safety when handling and storing hazardous materials to prevent such incidents from happening.

Organizations handling hazardous materials should have a robust safety management system in place. The system should include regular risk assessments, safety procedures, employee training, and equipment maintenance.



Jackson, R. B., Down, A., Phillips, N. G., Ackley, R. C., Cook, C. W., Plata, D. L., & Zhao, K. (2014). Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks across Washington, DC. Environmental Science & Technology, 48(3), 2051–2058.

Beavers, J. (2015). Pipeline Stress Corrosion Cracking: Detection and Control. Pipeline & Gas Journal, 242(3), 50–53.

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