The vast majority of the United State’s petrochemical manufacturing infrastructure is located on the Gulf Coast despite threats from rising sea levels and natural disasters like hurricanes. Data published by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Office of Pipeline Safety on the number of pipeline incidents from 2010-present showed Louisiana and Texas to have an exceptionally high number of incidents per mile of pipelines, a statistic that only gets worse with proximity to the ocean. Today, Healthy Gulf, a non-profit organization that protects the Gulf of Mexico and defends wetlands for people and wildlife, is releasing a white paper, titled Oil and Gas Pipeline Integrity in Texas and Louisiana, 2010-2020, that analyzes the per-mile rate of pipeline leaks in Texas and Louisiana.
This white paper illustrates the increased risk of leaks for every added mile of pipeline. This rate is particularly concerning in places like Louisiana and Texas where thousands of miles of pipelines are located in vulnerable areas and along the coast. Texas has a leak rate 2.57 times the rate for the entire nation, while moving to the coastal region of Texas increases that rate to 16.08 times that of the national rate. Louisiana’s leak rate is 2.22 times the rate for the entire nation, and coastal Louisiana has a per-mile incident or “leak” rate 5.92 times the rate for the nation.
Texas has a per-mile incident or “leak” rate 2.57 times the rate for the entire nation.
Coastal Texas has a per-mile incident or “leak” rate 16.08 times the rate for the nation. This is driven by incidents from oil pipelines as well as gas pipelines. Coastal Texas had high rates of Hazardous Liquid releases, 5x the national rate for Hazardous Liquids, but also similar rates for Gas Transmission and Gathering pipelines, 4.17 times the national rate.
Louisiana has a per-mile incident or “leak” rate 2.22 times the rate for the entire nation.
Coastal Louisiana has a per-mile incident or “leak” rate 5.92 times the rate for the nation. This is largely driven by Gas Transmission and Gathering incidents, which happen 6.58 times the national rate.
Louisiana and Texas combined
Since many existing and proposed pipelines and pipeline networks will move oil and gas wastes from Houston into Louisiana, we calculated a “Texas_Louisiana” per-mile rate of 2.49 times the national rate.
Offshore Gulf per-mile incident rate is 10.28 times the national rate, which is consistent for infrastructure subject to ocean forces. However, the Hazardous Liquids rate is less than the national rate. The overall rate is driven largely by the Gas Transmission and Gathering rate, which is very large—The Offshore Gulf Gas Transmission and Gathering rate is 13.91 times the national rate.
We conclude, then, that, over the project life of any new proposed pipeline or infrastructure, these rates will increase with the rising sea.
“Steel and saltwater don’t mix,” says Scott Eustis, Community Science Director for Healthy Gulf and author of the white paper. “It’s absurd that the U.S. is placing this infrastructure in a place where it will be destroyed. The only reason these pipelines are permitted in these locations is because the pollution consequences mostly affect poorer and Black and Indigenous communities on the Gulf Coast. This environmental racism makes for poor planning.”
While the raw data paints a grim picture for the future of states like Texas and Louisiana, there is hope if change happens now. President Biden’s promise to plug abandoned oil and gas wells could potentially provide funding to Texas and Louisiana to fix old, leaking pipeline infrastructure. As Eustis says, “Rehire oil workers, fix these leaks, care of our people, and protect our water and climate.”