Whether it is Keystone XL, South Stream, or Nord Stream 2, today’s word seems to evoke passionate debate from all sides. Mostly known for carrying oil and gas products, there are currently over 2.3 million kilometres of today’s word in North America and another 570,000+ kilometres in Europe.
Whether it is natural gas for heating/cooking, oil for fuel, or even water, many of the comforts of modern civilisation would only be attainable to those closest to the source without the utilisation of pipelines.
Looking at the word itself, pipeline is a compound word meaning, simply, a continuous line of joined pipes. Made from joining the words pipe, which originated from the Vulgar Latin pipa as a ‘tubular musical instrument (think of the shape of a whistle or woodwind instrument)’, and line, from the Latin linea, meaning ‘rope, cord, direction, or rule,’ the usage of pipelines has spread from transporting petroleum products to other facets of everyday life.
For example, in a 7 September, 1945 edition of The Times, negotiations were entered “for the purchases of all goods in the pipeline or in storage.”, with pipeline meaning in the process of completion or development. And for its physical resemblance to the inside of a pipeline, according to the 5 May, 1963 Brisbane Sunday Mail Magazine, surfers began using the term to mean “a very large tube (tube = hollow part of a wave).”
Still, the first known usage of the term pipeline naturally comes from its most understood transportation usage, stating on 15 August 1856 in The Times that: “The whole of the pipeline has been laid, the reservoirs are filled, occupying an extensive acreage, but in consequence of delay in connecting one with the other, the town is suffering from the want of water.”
Whether water, oil, or natural gas, contrary to what some believe, pipelines are constructed because they are safe and efficient. And while pipelines often get a bad reputation for safety and environmental impact, they are often the safest and most efficient way of transporting materials. Compared to other transportation methods, such as truck, rail, or tanker, pipelines are, statistically, 4.5 times less likely to suffer an incident during transportation while singularly transporting the lion’s share of all oil and gas (70% in the US). Additionally, pipelines offer consistency of product flow, are more energy efficient, and offer more real-time performance and safety data.