Two Dead in Pipeline Explosion

This is one case in which I was a bit slow to process the information. I heard about this pipeline explosion not too long after it happened, but the seriousness was not immediately apparent to me:

Explosion At A US-Canadian Pipeline Sends Oil Prices To $95.17 A Barrel

It’s amazing to me how all the stories seem to treat the two deaths as an afterthought:

New York, NY (AHN) – Oil prices soared up on Thursday by $4 following an explosion at a pipeline interrupting the supply of the crude oil to the U.S. Midwest from Canada.

The fire that broke out late Wednesday cut Canadian oil supplies through the pipelines. Canada provides the U.S. with at least 15 percent of imported crude.

Oh yeah, and two people died. Let’s briefly mention that, and get back to the supply issue:

The explosion killed two workers fixing the Enbridge Energy Inc. pipeline in northern Minnesota. “It is a major incident with major supply issues in an important area,” Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at Barclays Capital in London, told Bloomberg. “It will put pressure on prompt demand in the Midwest.”

Due to the incident, four pipelines supplying 1.5 million barrels a day were closed till further notice, although the fire was extinguished.

Maybe I am hypersensitive about that point, but it annoys me how we just so casually mention the deaths.

The government is offering to tap the SPR:

U.S. says oil reserve ready to offset pipeline blast

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it was prepared to make oil supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve available to refineries to help offset the disruption in Canadian oil imports caused by an explosion at the Enbridge pipeline.

“Crude oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve is available to alleviate a severe supply disruption and remains available if necessary,” a department spokeswoman told Reuters. She said the department is “reaching out” to Midwest refineries to assess their supply situation and see if they need oil from the emergency stockpile.

She pointed out that the explosion occurred at one of the four Enbridge pipelines that was undergoing maintenance, and a second pipeline has shut as precautionary measure.

However, the other two pipelines are currently moving more than 650,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil a day to the U.S. market, down from the four pipelines’ normal combined rate of 1.1 million barrels a day, the spokeswoman said.

Did I mention that two people died?

22 thoughts on “Two Dead in Pipeline Explosion”

  1. We in North America have repeatedly demonstrated our collective willingness to sacrifice the health and safety of a few to subsidize the lifestyles of the many. Witness, for example, the rates of respiratory illness around the Port of San Los Angeles:

  2. They were Enbridge employees. Tragic. We work in an industry that believes that all accidents are preventable, so we take any loss of life very seriously.

    This incident is further proof that speculators who know nothing about our business are pushing prices up. Crude prices jumped $4 this morning. Anyone familiar with the pipeline system would have discounted the impacts to invetories. There are 4 seperate lines in the Enbridge system carrying both sweet and sour crude and NGLs. Pipelines can be easily repaired and outages measured in days not weeks or months. Here is the latest from Enbridge:

    We can now confirm that Enbridge Energy Partners’ Line 2, shipping light crude, was restarted at 3:30 a.m. CST and Line 1, shipping light crude and natural gas liquids, was restarted at 4:15 a.m. CST. Line 4, a heavy crude line, remains shut down but is expected to return to service later this morning as it has now been confirmed that it was not damaged as a result of the incident. Line 3, a heavy crude line, which was directly involved in the incident, remains shut down. Based on a preliminary estimate of the repair time it is expected that it may require two to three days to return Line 3 to service.

    So 3 of the 4 lines were back in service within 12 hours, and the 4th will be back in a couple of days. Just a blip on crude supplies. Besides there is excess capacity on lines coming up from the Gulf. Knowledgeable traders would know this and wouldn’t have paniced as the price went up.

  3. Witness, for example, the rates of respiratory illness around the Port of San Los Angeles

    If it is such a nuisance then shut it down. Would you then have more or less cancer deaths? Probably more. The port also subsidizes the lives of the thousands of people who work there who would no longer have a job and could no longer afford decent food, housing, and medical care. And would undoubtedly be worse off. Likely the people living in and around the port also benefit economically from service jobs.

    I’ve often had this argument with lefties. Is working in a refinery good for your health, yes or no? Most lefties say “No”. I reply “Yes”, our own studies show that people who work at our refineries live longer and are healthier on average than the general population. I usually then go on to say that refineries must be very healthy then, if people who have direct exposure for 8-12 hours per day live longer. To which they respond “no cause and effect”. Oh really? Why doesn’t that argument apply to AGW? (I’m sorry, they call it “climate change” now, that way they can blame man no matter which way the temperature goes.)

  4. people who work at our refineries live longer and are healthier on average than the general population.

    Interesting… but do people who work at refineries have higher education and/or income levels than the general population? If so, then a study that compared the two groups wouldn’t mean much. But if said studies controlled for that – huh, interesting. And definitely counterintuitive.

    I don’t believe the people living directly around the Port of LA – the ones who suffer the most direct impact – derive proportional benefit at all – but I’ll confess to not knowing how the distribution of the residences of its employees relates to the prevailing winds.

    I can’t really speak to any arguments you may have had in the past with “other lefties”. But I’ll stand by my original point: that it should be no surprise when the media’s reporting of a story like this pipeline explosion reflects the general public’s far greater concern with their own convenience and/or wallet than with the loss of two lives.

  5. My sense is that news about unhealthy harbor air has only been building in recent years, perhaps as other sources of “smog” have been addressed.

    That and “deaths” are diffuse and statistical. Which heart attack was helped along by diesel particulates? The statisticians only have a general answer.

    There are some interesting air quality maps here. It looks like it’s a worse day to be a farmer in California than a city slicker.

  6. Interesting… but do people who work at refineries have higher education and/or income levels than the general population?

    Our hourly employees are mostly high-school graduates, some with vocational training. They are usually union and paid higher wages than the general population. They also smoke at a greater proportion than the population.

    Your complaint is with the nature of news reporting. Right now there is a fatal accident on the freeway just a few miles away, the loss of life is not news, but the traffic tie-up is. Is this not a worse example than a crude pipeline accident driving up prices? At worst it costs commuters a little extra time. There are over 100 highway deaths a day. And maybe a handfull of energy worker deaths a year. But which is the news?

    In the case of the port of LA/Long Beach, the port and the local communities grew up together. I had relatives who worked at PoLB during the war. They lived within walking distance during WWII. As their incomes rose they moved deeper into Orange County. Presumably those living near the ports do so because they prefer to live there as opposed to their next best alternative (moving or being homeless). There are lots of places in the US they could live that has much better housing and clean air. North Dakota comes to mind – whole communities there are dieing off.

  7. They were Enbridge employees. Tragic. We work in an industry that believes that all accidents are preventable, so we take any loss of life very seriously.

    Didn’t a few dozen Saudi oilworkers die in an accident a few weeks ago? Or is that not “your industry”?

  8. Greenengineer,

    Got a link to an article about the Saudi deaths? I did not hear about the incident and would like to read about it.

    Yes Saudi oil workers are part of the oil business. Your point with that comment was?


  9. it is a sad occasion when death,especially unexpected traggic type of this kind, happens. unfortunately that is part of life’s risk profile. it’s best we recognize those who are snatched away in whatever way each of us has comfort in.

    whenever we have opportunity to improve another’s existence, remember to take it. existence is too short for all.


  10. Didn’t hear about Saudi deaths. Yes I include them as well. Accident rates in the energy industry are extremely low. Deaths actually make the news. Nobody hears about the thousands of deaths in construction, farming, fishing, taxi cab drivers, and other very dangerous jobs.

    When I started work nearly 30 years ago the accident rate was something like 12 injuries per 200,000 work hours. Now we routinely run around 0.2-.3 or about 50 times safer statistically, although numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
    I am much safer working on a pipeline or in a refinery than I am driving the freeway.

  11. I did read of the Saudi deaths, and the ones in Mexico before that. But, those headlines were typically:

    Saudi pipeline death toll at 40 –

    In other words, the death toll was the story. It wasn’t “Supply Interrupted in Saudi.”

  12. Here is the story from that link above:

    (CNN) — A gas pipeline fire in eastern Saudi Arabia killed 40 workers, 34 of them foreign, and injured nine others, the state oil conglomerate Saudi Aramco said Tuesday.

    The dead included five Saudi employees and one contractor, and 34 contractors from outside Saudi Arabia.

    The list of foreign nationals included 18 Pakistanis, seven Bangladeshis, seven Indians, one South African and one Nepali, the company said.

    The pipeline is about 18 miles (30 km) from the Hawiyah Gas Plant.

    The fire broke out “where maintenance work for new tie-ins was being conducted” by a contractor for the company on the Haradh-Uthmaniyah gas pipeline, Saudi Aramco said.

  13. To throw more ugly real-world data on the “risk and peak oil” issue …

    “We find strong evidence that economic preferences are heritable. For altruism as well as risk preferences the genetic effect is significantly different from zero. In our best fitting models, the point estimates suggest that 35 percent of the variation in altruism and 27 percent of variation in risk preferences is explained by genetic influences.”

    More here. I’m reading more of the economic blogs lately. They have good stuff (Calculated Risk, Econbrowswer, Marginal Revolution, The Mess That Greenspan Made, The Big Picture, Greg Mankiw’s Blog, The Curious Capitalist)

  14. Your complaint is with the nature of news reporting.

    Actually, the point I was trying to make (not very well, I guess) is that reporting in general, and in the case of the two Enbridge workers in particular, probably accurately reflects the general public’s concern. Most people seem to care far more about trivial (IMHO) things that affect them directly (an extra dime per gallon, or an extra half hour on one day’s commute) than much more important (again, IMHO) things that are more remote (like two workers killed).

    Perhaps I should have phrased it as “most people in the US are too focussed on their lifestyles to care (much) about other’s actual lives“. And the example cited of the reportage about the traffic accident strikes me as another example of exactly that.

  15. You’re not hypersensitive – I was shocked at how the news was reported as well, as if the two dead didn’t matter as much as the supply issue and the price of oil. I said a silent prayer for the two people who lost their lives, and their families.

  16. In the journalist’s defence – the journalists I know at Bloomberg don’t like having to lead with the commercial issue when there’s a human tragedy in the story, but they don’t have a huge amount of choice in the matter.

  17. It’s funny that when a plane crashes the story lead is “X die in plane crash” not “plane crash leaves hundreds of travelers stranded”.

    I wonder if there is also a bit of bias against energy workers as well. Most journalists don’t know anybody who works in the energy industry, so they seem less connected to their deaths.

  18. I didn’t mean funny in the humorous sense, but funny in the ironic way. Stories on plane crashes are presented one way but pipeline accidents are treated differently.

  19. FWIW, one study I saw on “deaths due to industrial accidents” set the threshold at 5 persons for a “mass accident.”

    There might be something like that operating in the press, formally or informally.

    That and, there is the other cruel joke that if you want your personal tragedy to make the nightly news, you sould be a young blond girl.

  20. King –

    …I wonder if there is also a bit of bias against energy workers as well…

    That seems entirely possible too. I will confess that, until I started following Robert’s writings (first over at TOD and now here), if I was asked to picture someone who works in the energy industry, what would have popped into my head was Lee Raymond. Unfair? Stereotyping? Guilty as charged. And maybe Mr. Raymond is a lovely, charitable chap in person. But for a lot of people who don’t know any better, he could represent the notorious face – the fattest of cats in what’s perceived as a fatcat industry.

    No mistake – I’m still a registered Green (so you can call me “Lefty” 😉 but reading RR has really opened my eyes in a lot of ways, and humanizing energy workers is one of them.

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