All Things Energy – Volume 4 (Pipelines 101)

Video Transcript

Natural gas supplies nearly one-fourth or 22 percent of all the energy used in the United States. There are more than 71 million residential, commercial and industrial natural gas customers in the United States. And, natural gas is found across the country in 33 states that have produced or are now producing this fuel.

Pipelines, the heartbeat of America’s energy.

Hi, I’m Tamra Freedman with Breitling Energy bringing you a new segment of “All Things Energy”.

There are three major types of pipelines in transportation routes bringing natural gas from the point of production to the point of use. First, “Gathering Pipeline Systems” gather raw natural gas from production wells and transport it to the second type of pipeline called the “Transmission Pipeline Systems”. These cross-country pipelines transport natural gas thousands of miles from processing facilities across many parts of the continental United States. There are approximately 300,000 miles of interstate and intrastate transmission pipelines which include both onshore and offshore lines.

The third type of pipeline is “Natural Gas Distribution Pipeline Systems”. They can be found in thousands of communities from coast to coast, and distribute natural gas to homes and businesses through local distribution companies. They distribute the natural gas through large distribution lines, mains, and service lines which account for the vast majority of the nation’s 2.4- million mile underground pipeline system.

In addition, the United States has an extensive network of liquid petroleum pipelines. There are approximately 55,000 miles of crude oil trunk lines, connecting regional markets and allowing us to move oil and gas throughout the United States with ease.

I am asked all the time “are pipelines safe?”

Pipelines are an extremely safe way to transport energy across the country. A barrel of crude oil or petroleum product shipped by pipeline reaches its destination safely more than 99.999% of the time. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reported a decrease in the number of “significant” or “serious” releases. In fact, pipeline releases decreased more than 60 percent from 2001 to 2012.

Pipeline companies take active steps to ensure that health, safety, security, and environmental concerns are addressed throughout the planning, construction, and operational phases of pipeline operations. They evaluate, inspect and maintain pipelines in a program called “Integrity Management”, which further reduces incidents. Pipeline companies together fund millions of dollars worth of research into new inspection technologies and spend billions on safety each year.

Pipeline incidents, while rare, do still happen. Pipeline operators prepare for the unlikely event of an incident through control room technologies and training to stop the flow of a pipeline quickly upon a release. Operators also develop emergency response plans, deploy resources, and work frequently with local first responders in order to reduce the impacts of any release.

Lastly, people always want to know “where are these pipelines located as I don’t see them anywhere”.

Pipelines exist almost everywhere. Natural gas is delivered directly to homes in relatively small diameter distribution lines buried under the street and even your own yard. Larger cross-country transmission pipelines delivering gasoline, home heating oil, or moving crude oil or natural gas are actually easier to find. Nearly the entire mainline pipe is buried, but other pipeline components such as pump stations are above ground.

Some lines are as short as a mile, while others may extend 1,000 miles or more. Some pipelines start from ports, such as San Diego or San Francisco and serve inland areas in California and the southwestern U.S. region. Very few pipelines actually cross the highest parts of the Rocky Mountains since the distances are long and the population centers small. Smaller refineries and regional pipelines serve these areas. Each region of the country has some unique aspects.

With more than 2.5 million miles of pipe, the United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world. Without these pipelines, our streets and highways would be overwhelmed by the trucks trying to keep up with the nation’s demand for petroleum products. That’s all for now. See you next time on “All Things Energy”.