According to a research report by Environmental Research Consulting in 2000, pipelines have spilled 37 times as much onto land as tankers and barges have spilled into the sea. And that’s just since 1991. Luckily, the annual number of spills from pipelines has decreased over the years (from 500 in 1969 to about 100 in 1999), but there are major concerns because our pipelines are failing. Many of them were built before 1970 and are in need of significant maintenance. In just the last few years, 34,000 problems were found in pipelines and repaired. However, there are thousands of miles of U.S. pipelines, and only the lines that are in “high consequence areas” where the population near the line is particularly dense are inspected regularly. This applies to about 44% of the pipelines in the U.S. As the pipes continue to age and many of them are not inspected, we will likely see a rise in the number of spills.
The EPA reports that between 18,000 to 24,000 spills are reported annually. This number includes large and small spills—spills from pipelines as well as spills caused by individuals. It also includes spills in water.
Natural oil seeps have been putting oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific in California, and other waters for thousands of years. Amounts range from a few hundred to a few thousand barrels per day in each seep.
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