How Many North Dakota Lives Could Oil Pipelines Be Saving?

051712-accident-online-jks_oRoe

One continually frustrating aspect of the North Dakota media’s coverage of rising traffic fatality rates is the fact that they refuse to report those rates in the context of rising levels of traffic on the road. Yes, fatalities are up, but so are the number of drivers on the road and the number of vehicle miles driven. Sensationalizing rising fatality numbers might sell newspapers by scaring the public, but the public should know that statistically they’re really not all that more likely to be killed on the roads.

That being said, some of the more recent stories about North Dakota’s rising traffic fatalities are interesting. The Fargo Forum, which reports the story under a predictably intemperate headline decrying “consequences of the boom, notes that it’s not just road fatalities that are up but fatalities caused by collisions between trains and other vehicles:

Train-related fatalities also spiked statewide. Numbers kept by the Federal Railroad Administration show that, through October, 10 people died on a railway in North Dakota in 2012. That’s up from only one railway death in 2011 and five in 2010. The last time the state had ten railway deaths was in 1980, according to FRA data that dates back to 1975.

The oil boom, and government sandbagging of efforts to build out pipeline infrastructure, has caused a spike in the number of trains running on North Dakota rails in addition to a spike in the number of trucks pulling oil. Both are contributing in significant ways to traffic fatalities in the state.

The question is: How many lives could be saved if the government would clear the way for pipeline infrastructure? Specifically, how many North Dakota lives has President Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline cost us?

A year ago a press release sent out by Senator John Hoeven’s office indicated that the oil the Keystone pipeline could handle would have a significant impact on road traffic in the state. “The increase in North Dakota takeaway would be the equivalent of replacing approximately 500 truckloads of oil per day from roads in western North Dakota, relieving pressure on infrastructure and improving public safety,” read the press release.

That same would be true of other pipelines which could be built in the state.

Obviously, there are more challenges to building a pipeline than those coming from the political realm, but perhaps our policymakers should be asking what government red tape is holding pipelines is, and how that red tape might be cleared.

Because it’s clear that lives are on the line.

Update: Remember what Vice President Joe Biden said earlier this week. “If your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.” Of course, he was talking about gun control, but do you think the Obama administration would apply that thinking to building a pipeline?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Roy_Bean

    “As the president said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking. But I’m convinced we can affect the well-being of millions of Americans
    and take thousands of people out of harm’s way if we act responsibly.” (Joe Biden)

    I guess this only applies to guns, not pipelines.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Ha!

  • tomorrowclear

    A bit less than arming every patriotic American with handguns, but a bit more than a ban on all abortions. Somewhere in there.

    Let me see if I understand this sparkling logic: The media is misleading the public by reporting that traffic fatalities are up, which they, in fact, are, because they aren’t mentioning that there are more people on the roads. Aces. Is it your postulation that viewers are unaware that we have more people on the roads and that this might have a causal relationship with more motor fatalities? Are you arguing that all media outlets should employ the Fox News method of connecting the neon flashing dots, as Fox does for its cognitively challenged viewers?

    Rob, did you see that completely misleading reporting by the lamestream media about more people dying of heat stroke last summer without putting it within the context of mentioning that it was hotter last summer? What charlatans!

    BTW, ten bonus tea points for attributing increased fatalities to increased train traffic. That’s just marvelous. Yes, i there’s one mode of transportation that is at the root of our increased fatalities, it would have to be trains. Not only that, but there so damn inefficient, too!

    How many years did you spend at junior college?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Let me see if I can cut through this heavy cloud of smug to address a few of your points:

      The media is misleading the public by reporting that traffic fatalities are up, which they, in fact, are, because they aren’t mentioning that there are more people on the roads. Aces. Is it your postulation that viewers are unaware that we have more people on the roads and that this might have a causal relationship with more motor fatalities? Are you arguing that all media outlets should employ the Fox News method of connecting the neon flashing dots, as Fox does for its cognitively challenged viewers?

      I guess I didn’t think factual context that is pertinent to the story was somehow a right-wing plot.

      BTW, ten bonus tea points for attributing increased fatalities to increased train traffic. That’s just marvelous. Yes, i there’s one mode of transportation that is at the root of our increased fatalities, it would have to be trains. Not only that, but there so damn inefficient, too!

      Actually, the traffic fatalities related to trains were an interesting fact reported in the Fargo Forum article. That’s not something I came up with. And those numbers are growing, due no doubt to both the increase in traffic on the roads and the increase in trains on the tracks intersecting with those roads.

      Again, these are sort of pertinent facts. But who knows, maybe reality itself has a right-wing bias.

      • tomorrowclear

        Train traffic isn’t the variable controlling increased fatalities, it’s the increased auto traffic, combined with incompetent drivers.

        See how all of this dovetails nicely into my query the other day about “liberty” and population? You really owe it to yourself to read my last response in that thread to you.

        I wasn’t speaking of “right-wing bias,” Rob, I was speaking of “dolt bias,” at which Fox excels. My larger problem with Fox and MSNBC is not their biases. Oh, I have problems with that, but I’m most concerned with “news” geared towards the lowest common denominators of intelligence. The kind of people who would require being told that there is probably a connection between more cars on the highway and more highway accidents.

  • SusanBeehler

    Maybe it is the media you are reading: Bismarck Tribune January 2 “North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Iverson said the 2012 traffic statistics can be attributed in part to MORE people driving and MORE miles being driven in the state.”

  • JW-American

    It would be interesting to campare the amount of fuel tax collected for the pat 5-10 years to the amount of traffic accidents, the fuel tax would be public, and not include fuel sold for farm tractors construction, or oilfield power equipment .

    The extrapolation from that would get you close to the increase of Miles traveled vs accidents.

    of course many of the over the road trucks bring in their own fuel on the way in, but must purchase for leaving. Legally they pay IFTA tax which Fong’s office should have record of also.

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