North Dakota Moves More Oil By Rail Than Alaska Moves By Pipeline


The Alaska Pipeline was an amazing feat of engineering capable of 2.18 million bpd of oil. But these days, North Dakota is moving more oil by rail car than Alaska is moving through the pipeline:

Currently, half of all oil coming out of the Bakken shale is transported by railroad (more than the third by pipelines). In its Draft Assessment of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the U.S. State Department estimates that by the end of this year 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil will be carried out of the Bakken on rail cars. …

For a frame of reference, the 800-mile long Trans-Alaskan Pipeline has a maximum capacity of 2.18 million bpd. In other words, by 2016, the United States could be moving more oil by rail than the entire Trans-Alaskan pipeline.

Even today, more oil is moved out of the Bakken Shale on rail than out of the North Slope via pipeline: the volume of oil transported by the pipeline was around 600,000 bpd in 2012 – down from its peak of just over 2 million bpd in 1988.

That’s great news for the rail industry, but not so great news for the State of North Dakota or oil producers. The federal government’s logjam on approving pipeline infrastructure, particularly the Keystone XL pipeline, has intensified this explosion of rail shipments (and, to a less degree, truck shipments).

Given that both rail and truck are inherently more risky in pipelines both in terms of threats to the environment and public safety (as those in Quebec have learned), this isn’t a positive.

President Obama is pushing North Dakota onto riskier forms of oil transport to satisfy the whims of the environmental mob, something that became especially clear when a less-notorious Canadian pipeline project got approval earlier this week in a fraction of the time it’s taken Keystone to win approval (something for which the clock is still ticking).

Rob Port is the editor of 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.

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  • meh

    As someone who lives in Downtown Fargo I have noticed a lot of freight traffic, it seems there is a constant barrage of trains, sometimes every 15 to 30 minutes only hauling sour crude. As both downtown and freight continues to grow, it can see it becoming more of an issue.

    • Rob

      I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the railroads. They’re pretty safe, and they employ a lot of good people.

      So I’m not trashing railroads. It’s just ridiculous to create a spike in rail shipping because the President is sandbagging the development of other infrastructure.

      • Gern Blanston

        One of the bigger ironies of liberalism in general is the fight against pipelines due to their aid to the ‘evil’ oil industry. Yet they aren’t concerned about rail or truck safety and environmental concerns relating to spills and disasters arising from over-land traffic. I am waiting for the rebuttal from the progressives that pipelines will take away good rail and trucking jobs, thus hurting the economy.

  • Haze Grey

    Let us not forget the big favor Obama owes Warren Buffet for the secretary ‘s paycheck compared to his taxes before the election. It went on for over a month and was a big boost for Obama’s class warfare rant during his campaign speeches. Don’t like the rail traffic? Good luck on getting a pipeline approved.

    • Rob

      Yeah, it’s hard not to see how well this is all turning out for Obama’s friend Warren as a little nauseating.

      • awfulorv

        Friends? Warrens only friends are those he can use today to improve his bottom line tomorrow…