Pipeline Infrastructure Bulletin: Numbers and Datasets Inconsistent and Incomplete

(2017-07-25)  Canada is a significant energy producer, with oil and gas accounting for approximately 7.3 percent of Canada’s GDP. In recent years, the construction of oil and gas pipelines has been particularly controversial for a variety of reasons including the risk of spills, wider concerns about climate change and other environmental impacts of fossil fuels, as well as increasing recognition of aboriginal rights and title to the land that pipelines cross. Global Forest Watch Canada examined the extent of the pipeline network in Canada and collected geospatial datasets of pipelines to assess whether the datasets qualify as open data and how comprehensive they appear to be. What we found was surprising.

  • Numbers for the pipeline network vary: estimates range from 760,000 to 840,000 km. None of the documents or websites with pipeline lengths provide the source of their respective pipeline estimates or simply cite a source without specific details. Numbers derived from public geospatial datasets are generally far lower.
  • There are very few open, good quality, public datasets. GFWC was able to locate and obtain pipeline datasets from eight provinces and territories (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon). Notably, the total length of pipeline recorded in these various public geospatial datasets sum to significantly less than is reported in any of the available estimates of the total length of the pipeline network, as cited above.
  • Five provinces and territories have open geospatial pipeline datasets and Canada does as well. Three other provincial datasets are not open data. While GFWC does not generally assign “grades,” were we to do so, only Alberta would get an A+ for their dataset.
  • Despite the prominence of the fossil fuel sector in Canada, its importance to the Canadian economy, and the on-going, active, public debate about pipelines, the publically available data on pipeline extent and distribution appear opaque, inconsistent, and incomplete.

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