Safest way to ship crude debated
A rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Obama would push more of Canada's $73 billion oil exports onto trains, which register almost three times more spills than pipelines.
The March 29 rupture of an Exxon Mobil Corp. oil pipeline in Mayflower, Ark., provided the latest evidence for opponents citing the risk of environmental contamination in their efforts to scuttle the Keystone XL project, a nearly 2,000-mile pipeline linking Alberta's oil sands with the world's largest refining market on the Gulf Coast.
The alternative, hauling crude by rail, might be worse, said Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution's energy security initiative.
A denial of Keystone XL this year would “undoubtedly” result in more oil spills by trains, Ebinger said. Trains' higher accident rate mainly is a result of leaking rail car equipment, spill records show.
“The evidence is so overwhelming that railroads are far less safe than pipelines, that it would be a serious mistake to use these recent spills to say that Keystone is unsafe,” he said.
Brookings is a Washington-based nonprofit that says it supports economic and social welfare and a strong American democracy.
The State Department, which has jurisdiction over TransCanada Corp's $5.3 billion pipeline project because it crosses an international border, is expected to make a recommendation to Obama by September.
Shipping more supplies by rail would lead to higher costs for oil producers because train shipments are more expensive than pipelines. Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC is among U.S. and Canadian railroads that stand to benefit should Obama reject the pipeline.
As oil supplies build in the United States and Canada, producers have turned increasingly to rail as they wait for pipelines to carry their crude to market. A debate over the safety of pipelines versus trains has been reignited by the Exxon spill and two railroad spills the same week, said Tony Hatch, an independent rail analyst based in New York.
Two Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. train car derailments, on March 27 in Minnesota and April 3 in Ontario, spilled an estimated total of 757 barrels of oil.
Without Keystone, designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of oil, shipments of Canadian crude by rail would rise 42 percent by 2017, according to RBC Capital Markets.
“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,” said Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada. “None of those methods of transportation are as safe as moving it by pipelines.”
Railways record spills 2.7 times more often than pipelines, according to the Washington-based Association of American Railroads. The State Department, citing a 2012 study from the free-market Manhattan Institute, says trains spill 33 times more than pipelines.
The railroad association calls that report “seriously flawed.”
Pipeline spills are typically four times larger than rail releases, according to Holly Arthur, a spokeswoman for the railroad industry group. While both Canadian Pacific spills were related to derailments, 95 percent of U.S. spills result from problems with valves or fittings, she said.
Comparing the safety record of railroads and pipelines is difficult, and both deliver more than 99 percent of products without incident. U.S. pipelines carried 474.6 billion gallons of crude and petroleum products in 2012 and reported 2.3 million gallons spilled, according to John Stoody, spokesman for the Association of Oil Pipelines.
During the decade ending with 2012, railroads hauled 11.2 billion gallons of crude with 95,256 gallons spilled, the majority from one 2008 accident in Oklahoma that accounted for 81,103 gallons, according to the rail association.
The pipeline-versus-rail safety debate began heating up when the State Department, in its March 1 environmental assessment of Keystone XL, said a denial of the pipeline would not block oil-sands development. Instead, most of the line's capacity of 830,000 barrels a day would shift onto rail, according to the report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stop neighbors from stealing your Internet
- Small stores take big gamble by not upgrading credit card readers
- Amazon raises bar for other retailers with same-day delivery
- Yahoo investors losing patience with ‘star’ CEO Marissa Mayer
- Many Black Friday deals not worth the hassle
- Shopping beacons join list of ‘next big thing’ disappointments
- Mall stores required to open for Thanksgiving
- Self-driving cars met with rule hurdles
- Union leaders warn Post-Gazette newsroom of possible layoffs
- Signs of steady U.S. economy: Pay, home sales up, unemployment applications down
- Smartphones expected to overtake desktops for holiday shopping