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Demystifying the oil & gas pipeline

As oil and gas engineers, it’s important for us to be advocates for our profession, clients, and industry.


While attending the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Foundation conference in Phoenix last month, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the staff in our hotel. When he learned that I was from Canada and was attending a pipeline conference, he asked if I was working on the “sludge pipeline from Canada.” I took a couple of minutes to talk to him about Keystone and Keystone XL – what it transports, how it was routed, designed and will be operated – and by the end of the conversation, he said, “That doesn’t sound so bad…”.

This conversation, along with the ongoing dialogue in the media, reinforces (to me, anyway) the general lack of understanding of the oil and gas engineering industry amongst the public, and the importance of us being advocates for our professions, clients, and industry in general. 

The fact is, we use hydrocarbons in virtually all facets of our society – they heat our homes and workplaces; power our cars, buses, ships, airplanes and trains; generate power; and are the basis for all of our plastic products. All of these hydrocarbons have, at one time, been transported in a pipeline.

Should the public be concerned about pipeline safety? Clearly the answer is yes, as there are a lot of them – 850,000 km worth in Canada alone. That said, these worries can be mitigated by helping everyone better understand a few points:

  • Our oil and gas clients are totally motivated to keep the product in the pipeline – they get paid for every hydrocarbon molecule that arrives safely at its destination. They have absolutely no motivation to cut corners.
  • Pipelines and pipeline facilities are routed, designed, and constructed by professionals like us. We all care about our work, the environment, and our community. Many of us have a legislated duty of care to the public, and all of us consider it our job to make sure this work moves forward responsibly whether or not it’s mandated by law.
  •  Because of this strict oversight, pipelines have an extremely good safety record – specifically, 99.999% according to the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) for Canadian transmission pipelines.

Let’s all take the opportunity to get educated about the important roles pipelines play in our society, and pass those facts onto friends, families and acquaintances.

Kirk Morrison is a vice president in our Oil & Gas practice.

The fact is, we use hydrocarbons in virtually all facets of our society

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