Why Pipelines Don’t “Leak”, But Explode

Why pipelines don’t “leak”, but explode

On December 19, 2010, an oil pipeline in Mexico exploded, killing at least 27 people and injured more than 50. The explosion is believed to have been caused by attempts to puncture the pipe to steal oil.

The same thing happened in Nigeria not once, not twice, but numerous times. Here are a few examples from Wikipedia:
*1998, October 17: At Jesse in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, a petroleum pipeline exploded killing about 1200 villagers, some of whom were scavenging gasoline.
*2000, July 10: Pipeline explosion near the town of Jesse killed about 250 villagers.
*2000, July 16: At least 100 villagers died when a ruptured pipeline exploded in Warri.
*2000, November 30: A leaking pipeline caught fire near the fishing village of Ebute near Lagos, killing at least 60 people.
*2003, June 19: A pipeline punctured by thieves exploded and killed 125 villagers near Umuahia, Abia State.
*2004, September 17: A pipeline punctured by thieves exploded and killed dozens of people in Lagos State.
*2006, May 12: An oil pipeline punctured by thieves exploded and killed 150 people at the Atlas Creek Island in Lagos State.
*2006, December 26: A vandalised oil pipeline exploded in Lagos. Up to 500 people may have been killed.
*2008, May 16: The Ijegun pipeline explosion caused by an accidental rupture by a bulldozer. Up to 100 may have been killed, including many school children in the nearby school.

Mind you, these are gasoline pipelines. If the contents were less flammable, like dilbit (diluted bitumen from the tar sands), the result would be an explosive “spill”, with or without fire.

Why explosive, and not just a faucet-like “leak”? Let me put physics into laymen terms:

The air pressure inside your tire is about 30 pounds per square inch (psi), enough to support the weight of your car. Double or triple it and your tire might explode, especially when heated by driving, or when traumatized when running over a sharp rock at speed.

The water pressure inside your domestic plumbing is about 50 psi, 70 psi is considered too high.

The water pressure inside a fire hydrant can exceed 200 psi – why it is also used for riot control.

The pressure applied on the oil inside a pipeline on flat ground can exceed 500 psi. The higher the pressure, the faster the oil flows, the faster the Big Oil CEOs and oiled political puppets laugh all the way to the bank.

The pressure applied on the oil inside an ascending pipeline could exceed 1,000 psi, depending on the elevation gain. To illustrate how high such a pressure is, the water pressure at 3,000 ft. depth equals 1,350 psi, which can crunch a submarine like a pop-can. This is the pressure of the oil inside a pipeline in the valley, about to ascend a 3,000 ft. mountain pass in British Columbia. You need to generate that much pressure inside the pipe to force the oil up 3,000 ft. This is why pipeline-ruptures tend to occur in valleys, where rivers run.

And now, there is a new flexible pipeline technology that is theoretically capable of withstanding, ready? 15,000 psi! Compare this to the fire hydrant. This if used as we do today, i.e. at 1,000 psi, they would be safer than the conventional pipelines. But then again, there is the human factor, i.e. greed, and of course the CEOs and their puppets would want to max out the throughput, and force the dilbit at 14,000 psi. But then, shit happens, and will always happen, and when they do, such a “spill” will indeed make the Kalamazoo spill look like a kitchen faucet leak.

And what if the pipelines are relatively safer, the tankers will always be dangerous, especially given the climate change to come. To say that supertanker spills in BC waters won’t happen is like saying that the Titantic is “unsinkable”, or the Bismarck. And they didn’t even say “knock on wood”.

Anthony Marr, Founder and President
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC)


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