Using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation between 2005 and 2009, the study found the rates of injury requiring hospitalization in the U.S. were 30 times lower among pipeline workers than rail workers involved in shipping oil.
For truck transport, the difference is even more stark, with an injury rate 37 times higher than oil transport by pipeline.
When it comes to spills, road transport fared the worst, with nearly 20 incidents per billion ton-miles. Rail had just over two incidents per billion ton miles while pipelines had less than 0.6 per billion tonne miles.
The report notes that pipelines tend to release more crude per spill than rail, but much of that is often recovered quickly.
With pipelines such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — which would connect Canadian crude to Texas refineries — in regulatory limbo, producers have been increasingly turning to rail to get their crude to market.
But concern over the safety of using that mode of transport has intensified since a runaway crude-laden train derailed in Lac- Megantic, Que., this summer, killing 47 people and destroying much of the downtown area.
"When you have more moving parts, more potential interactions with other non-controlled actors such as trains and trucks, the potential for accidents is higher when compared to pipelines," said Kenneth Green, one of the study's authors.
"It's not a completely simple comparison. When you have a pipeline spill the release volumes are higher than for a truck or train incident. But with road and rail, you have risk of more incidents in more places, so the overall question of environmental protection becomes unclear."
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