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REPORT: Transport of Crude “Environmentally Catastrophic” By Rail; Keystone XL Safer

Bakken explosion

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A pair of recently released reports show that failure to move the Keystone XL pipeline forward could lead to increased environmental harm resulting from the transportation of crude oil by rail.  Together the reports suggest that demand for crude oil is independent of the pipeline’s construction and that oil companies in states such as North Dakota are relying increasingly on railways for transport.  

One Energy Information Administration (EIA) report highlights the accelerated rate at which trains are being used in lieu of a pipeline:
According to a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released this week, oil producers in the Bakken shale formation, from which Keystone would transport oil extracted by hydraulically fracturing shale, are increasingly transporting their products by rail.

Oil pipeline infrastructure is no longer expansive enough to carry the massive volumes of oil being extracted from the Bakken, EIA noted.

“The number of rail carloads of crude oil began rising in 2012, as production in the Bakken shale and other shale plays grew,” the report found. “According to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, Bakken rail outflow capacity totaled 965,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) at the end of 2013, compared to 515,000 bbl/d of pipeline capacity.”

Without adequate pipeline capacity, the report said, “producers have increasingly moved crude oil out of production areas by rail.”

The second Energy Information Administration (EIA) report suggests that incidents are more likely to occur with “environmentally catastrophic consequences” attached. Thus, Keystone XL may be the safest realistic option to deal with the demand for oil from the tar sands.

The State Department’s report was actually an update to previous projections of the relative hazards of transporting oil via pipeline and rail. It initially found that the uptick in rail transit that would result from a rejection of the pipeline could cause 700 injuries and 92 deaths over 10 years.

Last week it increased those numbers substantially. Without Keystone, the State Department said, crude transportation could cause accidents resulting in 2,947 injuries and 434 deaths over the same period.
The relative safety of oil pipelines has been a selling point for Keystone supporters. “Crude oil, regardless of where it is produced, is safest when transported by pipelines,” insists TransCanada, the company building Keystone.

A spokesman reiterated that position last week. The State Department’s report “reaffirms what we have been saying for years: the safest, most environmentally responsible and affordable way to move oil to the markets where they are needed is a pipeline,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard told the New York Times.


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