August 1, 2014

Half Century Old Pipelines Carry Oil And Gas Load

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Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Inside Energy

Thousands of miles of new pipeline are going into the ground across the U.S. to accommodate the current oil and gas boom, Inside Energy’s Stephanie Joyce reports.

But as we build new pipeline, we are still shipping oil and gas through many of the old pipelines. Really old pipelines, in some cases.  About forty-five percent of U.S. crude oil pipeline is more than fifty years old.  Even pipeline laid into the ground in the 1920s and before (think the There Will Be Blood era) is still operating today.

Why does the age of a pipeline matter?  Safety.  Failures. Leaks.  Spills. Different ages of pipeline have different safety concerns:

As part of our ongoing investigations into the pipeline infrastructure, Inside Energy is looking at data to understand what is failing, and how the age of the pipeline relates to failures.

In the meantime, using data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) we’ve created this video to highlight how the age of crude oil pipeline infrastructure varies widely state to state.

Compare Oklahoma and Arkansas, where more pipeline is from the 1940s than any other decade, to North Dakota, where more pipeline is from the 2010s – even though we’re less than halfway through it – than any other decade.

Nationwide, the fifties still dominate: More operating crude oil pipeline (nearly 14,000 miles) was built in the 1950s than in any other decade. The next closest decades (the 1960s, the 2000s, and the 1940s) each only have around 7,000 miles.

This graph shows the age profile of existing U.S. crude oil pipeline:


And here’s a table summarizing the age of crude oil pipeline in the U.S.:

Because this data only tells us the age of pipelines that are currently in use, it doesn’t tell us is how many total miles of crude oil pipeline were built in each decade but are no longer operating.

Data Notes:

  • Inside Energy downloaded 2013 hazardous liquid pipeline miles by decade from PHMSA’s database.
  • We then filtered for crude oil pipeline and aggregated mileage by decade and by state.
  • View a the raw PHMSA data table and our analyzed data.