5 Most Dangerous Pipeline Companies in the U.S.

January 31, 2023 – Crews from Nexus Integrity Management were performing maintenance on a Targa-owned pipeline located near East Highway 85 in Pearsall, Texas. At 12:30 p.m., as one of the workers removed the resin coating from the outside of the 4-inch natural gas pipeline to test hull thickness, the pipeline exploded.

According to OSHA’s initial report on the explosion, the worker was “killed by immolation.” Merriam-Webster defines immolate as “to kill or destroy, especially by fire.” Two other workers were hospitalized after sustaining serious injuries caused by the blast, heat, and vapors.

Oil and natural gas pipelines are a crucial part of America’s energy infrastructure. They are generally viewed as efficient and cost-effective ways to transport large volumes of oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons over long distances. For oil and gas workers, however, pipelines can pose serious hazards.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are about 3 million miles of pipeline in the United States. As of 2022, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports that there are approximately 1.37 million miles of natural gas mainlines in the U.S. Of these, 61% were installed before the year 2000. 44.5% were installed before the year 1990.

Aging pipelines are more prone to leaks, ruptures, and explosions. They are also more likely to require maintenance or replacement. These factors increase the risk of worker injury and death. The January 2023 Targa pipeline explosion was just one recent tragedy—there are many others. An OSHA pipeline accident search shows 18 worker fatalities from January 2021 through January 2023.

Building oil and gas pipelines is also dangerous work. According to an investigative report in Pacific Standard, the 2016 fatality rate for oil and gas pipeline workers was 3.6 times the national average for workers in all industries. In 2014, that rate was 7 times the national average.

Then, there’s the risk to homeowners and even entire communities and ecosystems. When pipelines fail, they put every living thing in the area at risk.

On September 9, 2010, a catastrophic explosion in a San Bruno neighborhood, instigated by a flawed Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) pipeline, resulted in eight fatalities, 51 injuries, and significant property damage, leveling 38 homes and damaging 70 more. In the aftermath, PG&E faced six felony convictions, including violations of federal gas pipeline laws and obstruction, leading to a $3 million fine and a 5-year criminal probation sentence.

On March 3, 1991, Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline ruptured near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, triggering the most substantial inland oil spill in U.S. history. Approximately 1.7 million gallons of crude oil leaked, contaminating a nearby wetland and seeping into the Prairie River, a feeder to the Mississippi River.

According to PHMSA’s 20-year pipeline incident trends:

  • There were 661 serious incidents (including pipeline accidents causing hospitalization or death) in the United States from 2003 through 2022.
  • There were 5,808 significant incidents (including pipeline accidents causing hospitalization, death, injury, fire, explosion, or spills of 5 to 50 barrels or more) in the United States from 2003 through 2022.

These incidents caused 257 fatalities and 1,085 injuries.

The Most Dangerous Pipeline Companies in the U.S.

Pipeline accidents don’t “just happen.” When safety measures are improperly implemented or overlooked entirely, catastrophic explosions, leaks, and fires can occur. The companies that own and operate America’s vast network of pipelines are responsible for complying with safety regulations on every applicable level. That includes proper maintenance of pipelines and equipment as well as lockout/tagout procedures, worker training, and more.

Which pipeline companies are the worst offenders? We have compiled a list of the most dangerous pipeline companies in the United States, based on PHMSA data from January 2010 through October 2021.

The companies with the most pipeline explosion fatalities were:

#1. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)

Established in 1905 and based in California, PG&E provides natural gas and electricity to millions of customers in Central and Northern California. As one of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the country, PG&E’s operations include a range of services from generation and procurement to transmission and distribution of energy. However, the company has faced numerous challenges, including controversies over environmental safety and liabilities for several devastating wildfires and gas explosions.

With 12 pipeline explosions and 83 fatalities, PG&E tops our list of the most dangerous pipeline operators in the United States.

#2. Enterprise Products Operating

Enterprise Products Operating LLC, a subsidiary of Enterprise Products Partners L.P., is a leading provider of midstream energy services based in Houston, Texas. Established in 1968, the company's operations span the natural gas, natural gas liquids (NGLs), crude oil, petrochemicals, and refined products sectors. Enterprise is known for its extensive network of pipelines, storage facilities, and processing plants.

Enterprise Products Operating comes in second on our list, with 7 explosions and 17 fatalities.

#3. DTE Gas Co.

A subsidiary of DTE Energy, DTE Gas is a natural gas utility that serves over a million residential, commercial, and industrial customers throughout Michigan. Founded in 1849 and headquartered in Detroit, DTE Gas is known for providing natural gas service to customers across the state. Its operations span gas transmission, storage, and distribution.

There were 8 explosions and 16 fatalities involving DTE Gas pipelines from 2010-2021.

#4. Public Service Co. of Colorado

Public Service Company of Colorado, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy Inc., is a utility company that provides electricity and natural gas services to customers across Colorado. Founded in 1923 and headquartered in Denver, the company serves a large number of residential, commercial, and industrial customers, with operations spanning power generation, transmission, and distribution. It also plays a key role in the state's natural gas infrastructure.

Public Service Co. of Colorado comes in fourth on our list, with 11 explosions and 12 fatalities.

#5. Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) & Consumers Energy Co.

SoCalGas is the largest natural gas distribution utility in the United States, providing service to approximately 21.8 million customers across Central and Southern California. Established in 1867, SoCalGas is headquartered in Los Angeles and operates an extensive network of pipelines and storage facilities. The company is known for both residential and commercial services, including heating, cooking, and fueling natural gas vehicles.

Consumers Energy Co., founded in 1886, is a public utility that provides natural gas and electricity to the majority of Michigan's residents. Headquartered in Jackson, Michigan, the company is the state's largest energy provider, serving about 6.7 million of Michigan's 10 million residents across all 68 Lower Peninsula counties. It manages an extensive infrastructure, including power plants, electric distribution lines, and natural gas pipelines.

SoCalGas and Consumers Energy Co are tied for fifth on our list of most dangerous pipeline companies with 12 explosions and 9 fatalities.

Demanding Accountability & Improvement from Pipeline Operators

The track records of the most dangerous pipeline operators in the U.S. serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for reform within the industry. Pipeline explosions, fires, and other life-threatening incidents are simply unacceptable. There are no excuses for the loss of life and devastation that these events cause, both to workers and those residing in affected areas. It is incumbent upon pipeline operators to prioritize safety above all else. This means investing in the replacement of aging pipelines, ensuring regular and comprehensive maintenance, and most critically, implementing stringent safety standards to protect their workers. Each of these operators, and indeed the entire industry, must strive to do better. The cost of failure, measured in lives and environmental damage, is far too high to ignore.

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