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Updated June 2022

 

Pipelines transport many different products that are used for a variety of purposes. For example, pipelines carry raw oilfield production to processing facilities and finished petroleum products to market. Regardless of the use, each pipeline must be closely monitored and maintained. Through the Pipeline Act, Pipeline Rules, and Canadian Standards Association standards, the AER regulates companies over the life cycle of their pipelines. By overseeing the design, construction, operation, discontinuation, and abandonment of pipelines, we help prevent incidents and hold companies accountable for their actions.

Under the industry performance program, we annually release the Pipeline Performance Report each year, which includes information about pipeline incidents for a rolling six-year timeframe. This year’s report covers the period of 2016 to 2021.

The AER regulates oil and gas pipelines solely within the borders of Alberta. Utility pipelines in Alberta are regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC). We manage incidents and inspections for gas utility pipelines on behalf of the AUC under a memorandum of understanding between the AUC and AER. The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) regulates oil and gas pipelines that cross provincial or international borders. For more information, see Pipelines in Alberta: what landowners need to know.

Although this report discusses only pipeline incidents and information relating to AER-regulated pipelines, information on AUC-regulated pipelines is available using the table and figure filters. This report does not include information on CER-regulated pipelines.

In 2021, there were about 41 per cent fewer incidents than in 2012 – even though the total pipeline kilometres grew by 9 per cent in the same period. The 2021 pipeline incident rate was 0.78 per 1000 kilometres of pipeline compared with 1.44 in 2012.

This improvement is attributable to industry development and adoption of better pipeline practices and our continuous improvement of pipeline requirements and inspections by placing a greater focus on educating industry about pipeline safety. However, the overall downturn in the oil and gas industry resulted in fewer operational pipelines, possibly contributing to the lower incident rate.

Figure 1 shows the relationship of incidents to pipeline kilometres for the past ten years.

2021 Highlights

  • The number of pipeline incidents in Alberta was essentially unchanged at 344 compared with 345 in 2020.
  • About 86 per cent of incidents were rated as "low consequence," 10 per cent as "medium consequence," and only 4 per cent as "high consequence." See the glossary  for the definition of incident consequence ratings.
  • The number of pipeline incidents rated as a high consequence dropped by 25 per cent, decreasing from 16 incidents in 2020 to 12 incidents in 2021.
  • All incidents rated as a high consequence involved pipelines carrying produced water (water from a wellbore produced as a by-product of oil and gas production) or oil-well effluent (a mixture of unrefined oil, gas, and produced water).
  • Produced water pipelines had an overall pipeline incident rate of 2 incidents per 1000 kilometres, whereas oil well effluent pipelines had an incident rate of 1.9 incidents per 1000 kilometres. 
  • Internal corrosion remains the leading cause of pipeline incidents (39 per cent of the total). More than 76 per cent of internal corrosion incidents occurred on uncoated steel pipelines (up from 74 per cent in 2020).
  • Sixty-four per cent of pipeline incidents involved either no release of fluids or release of one cubic metre (m3) (about 6 barrels) or less.
  • The largest release of fluids was 386 m3 of produced water.