Carpe Diem

Rail tragedy in Canada underscores the reality that pipelines like Keystone XL are the safest way to transport oil

oilFrom an editorial in today’s Investor’s Business Daily titled “Canada Train Wreck Shows Need For Keystone Pipeline“:

An oil-laden train not unlike those rolling down American tracks derailed and exploded Saturday in a Canadian town, proving why pipelines are safer and environmentalist opposition to a pipeline from Canada is misguided. At least 13 people were reported dead and 37 missing in the charred Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, after the accident created an inferno of burning crude.

The Canadian tragedy comes amid the controversy over the transport of Canadian crude through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries. Without Keystone, designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of oil, shipments of Canadian crude by rail would rise an additional 42% by 2017.

Railways suffer spills 2.7 times more often than pipelines. The State Department said trains spill 33 times more oil than pipelines. “The evidence is so overwhelming that railroads are far less safe than pipelines,” says Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s energy security initiative.

“One of the unintended consequences of delaying Keystone XL is that more oil has been getting to markets in Canada and the United States using rail, truck and water-borne tankers,” Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada. “None of those methods of transportation are as safe as moving it by pipelines.”

Environmentalists fighting Keystone XL ignore that there would be no greater danger than that posed by any of the more than 50,000 existing miles of safely operating pipeline already crisscrossing the U.S., including Nebraska and the Ogallala Aquifer.

Environmentalists should be clamoring for the Obama administration to approve Keystone. The oil is coming out regardless, and it’s going to be shipped by either pipeline, rail or barges.

Obama has tied Keystone approval to whether it increases carbon emissions. Never mind that the lack of actual global warming makes such concerns irrelevant. Even his own State Department has conceded that shipping the oil mostly by rail would boost carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases by 8% over Keystone.

The Lac-Megantic derailment was a real environmental disaster, not an imaginary one. Each tanker in the 72-car train was carrying 100 tons of crude oil, according to the Quebec environment ministry. And they could be coming to a town near you.

MP: As the chart above shows, oil shipments by rail in the US have doubled during the January-June period in just two years – from 174,000 carloads in 2011 during the first half of the year to more than 355,000 carloads this year through June (data here). With the ongoing increases in shale oil production in states like North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, it’s likely that shipments of oil by rail could double again within a few years, significantly increasing the likelihood of a rail disaster in the US like the one in Canada, with huge environmental and human costs. The Keystone XL pipeline makes perfect economic and perfect environmental sense, and it’s only politics that will hold up its approval.

7 thoughts on “Rail tragedy in Canada underscores the reality that pipelines like Keystone XL are the safest way to transport oil

  1. Two points that pipelines have one disadvantage, which showed up in the WTI Brent differential over the last couple of years when there was insufficient pipeline capacity out of Cushing,Ok. A train can change its destination at short notice. It should be noted that according to reports the one engine was kept running to keep the air brakes applied. However major US railroads appear to have a procedure where if the train is to wait more than a couple of hours, you must release the air brake to ensure that the manual car brakes are really applied, and turn the diesel off not relying on the airbrakes at all. (Also mandated by California air quality rules as idling engines do pollute.) Further it appears that there was a fire on the locomotive, and the fire department turned the diesel off. It appears that as often happens you had a failure to communicate between the railroad dispatcher and the fire department, as well as the railroad not having personel on standby to check the locomotive after the fire department left.
    It should be noted that no pipelines are proposed to run to New Brunswick where the oil was going, all be it that one could tanker it from the Gulf Coast up there.

  2. Refineries in northwest Washington State, supplied to-date mostly by tanker from Alaska, are responding to increasing uncertainty about north slope supplies by building rail loading facilities at a total cost of more than $100 million, in preparation for shipments from new supplies in the midwest US and in Canada.

    The oil unit trains, which should travel the route to Anacortes and Cherry Point, will arrive about daily, and perhaps more often as supplies from the north slope decline.

    At the same time, proposed coal export terminals will result in a considerable increase in coal unit trains in the same area, particularly through Bellingham, Washington. there may be as many as six unit trains a day, ande possibly more, through Bellingham.

    Oil unit trains are only a small part of the problem, but the risk is still pretty small, and there is no pipeline alternative for coal trains.

  3. Environmentalists should be clamoring for the Obama administration to approve Keystone?

    No, environmentalists are really clamoring for cessation of fossil fuel use altogether.

  4. Environmentalist’s key complaint was that Keystone XL was going to pass through environmentally sensitive areas.

    But what about populated areas? What about the risk to people? When they build pipelines they don’t build them to go right through towns. Oil shipped by rail tends to travel on existing rail lines and existing rail lines go right through thousands of towns!!

    This oil was from North Dakota, heading to the east coast refineries. Keystone XL would likely make this trip by rail uneconomical. Further, there is a proposal by Transcanada Pipelines (the Keystone operator) to convert existing nat. gas pipelines that run from Alberta to the East into oil carrying pipelines. This would again make the above rail trip uneconomical.

    If a pipeline blew up in the middle of a town, the hue and cry from environmentalists would be deafening. Instead a train blew up and killed as many as 50 people, destroying much of this town and spilling thousands of tonnes of oil and the silence from environmentalists is deafening. Very sad.

  5. By looking at the data shown by association of American Railroads, Rail freight industry is to stay up-to-date on the latest technological advances; and to provide expertise on the most innovative ideas. As Rail being one of the safest mode of goods transportation, the OIL Supply via rail can be the best idea to go with even in the near future.

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