Quebec Train Derailment Might Be The Best Argument Yet For The Keystone Pipeline

Yesterday a train carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Canada. As of the time of this post, 13 people are confirmed dead and another 37 are still missing.

Thanks to the rapid increase in oil production in North Dakota, and the slow growth in pipeline capacity, there has been an explosion in the regional rail industry as the oil is loaded onto rail cars. As Amy Dalrymple points out for Forum Communications, the North Dakota oil boom relies on rail (emphasis mine):

WILLISTON, N.D. — The Bakken crude involved in the deadly train derailment and explosion in Quebec represents only a fraction of the oil shipped by rail from North Dakota each day.

About 675,000 barrels of Bakken crude leaves North Dakota rail facilities daily, according to the most recent figures from Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. …

Seventy-five percent of oil produced in North Dakota leaves by rail, in part due to a lack of pipelines and also because producers have found access to premium prices by shipping to refineries not served by North Dakota-linked pipelines.

That last statement is a little misleading. The entire problem is an absence of pipelines. There’s simply not enough pipeline capacity for all the oil in North Dakota, and what capacity there is sometimes goes to less-than-optimal markets for the oil.

But the key is pipelines. So why aren’t more being built? They could be, but for regulatory delays born more of ideological opposition to fossil fuels than any really valid concerns over safety or environmental impacts.

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, and as we see in Canada, creating safety problems outside the state too.

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? And on the environmental side, it’s worth noting that pipelines leak a lot less than trains derail or trucks crash.

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.

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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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  • Matthew Hawkins

    Wow, bodies aren’t even buried yet and you are politicizing a tragedy.
    Isn’t that what you always harp on liberals for doing?
    Hypocrite!

    • awfulorv

      On the contrary, these deaths can be laid, without too much effort, at the feet of Obama and the Pollyanish environmentalists.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Actually, after Newtown, I was just fine with having that debate. Politics are demcoracy. Public debate is how we settle differences in our society.

      I’m pointing out that pipelines are a lot safer, and a lot more environmentally friendly, than trains or trucks. And i’m right.

      • Matthew Hawkins

        How many times have you criticized the Obama administration for the philosophy of “Never let a good crisis go to waste?”
        BTW, Canada is claiming that this wasn’t a random accident but the train was tampered with.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Actually, the owner of the train company is specifically saying that they don’t suspect it was tampering.

          “There are a number of missing pieces here,” Burkhardt told the paper, saying he didn’t suspect “the event was malicious or an act of terrorism.”

          http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/world/americas/canada-runaway-train/

          And I’ve been writing about the advantages of pipelines over trains and trucks to ship oil for a while. So shoot me if I point out that there would be fewer opportunities for derailments like this one if Obama would quit his pipeline obstructionism.

          It remains an accurate point.

      • Eurekacon

        Saying a pipeline is “more environmentally friendly” is like saying Marlboro lights are more healthy. I’m not necessarily against the pipeline, but thats the line of the less-than-pragmatic environmentalists.

    • zdavid53

      Rob is only saying what he has been saying for a long time. Pointing out the root of the problem is not politicizing a tragedy but rather shining a light on what is part of the cause, and showing how flawed the delay of pipelines issue is.

  • Dakotacyr

    So, now Obama is causing traffic fatalities in North Dakota, in fact “significant” ways. Yet, just a year ago, you were downplaying those same traffice fatalities. this is what you wrote in July, 2012, ” Traffic is up but the rate of traffic accidents is actually a little lower than before (probably because a lot of the new drivers on the roads are professionals.”
    You just make shit up to suit your meme.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      So, now Obama is causing traffic fatalities in North Dakota,

      Well not just traffic accidents, and not just in North Dakota. His resistance to expanding energy infrastructure is contributing significantly to a spike in less-safe means (and less environmentally friendly, I’d add) of transporting oil.

      That’s a fact. Pipelines are safer than trains and trucks.

      As for traffic accidents in North Dakota, the rate is down (or was, I haven’t seen most recent numbers) and that’s important context, but cold comfort when the number of accidents is up.

      The point is, if more oil was moving on pipelines there would be less moving on trucks and trains, and thus fewer accidents.

      Leftists like you want to gripe about the impact of the oil boom on transportation safety even as you support a President who is sandbagging infrastructure that could make that transportation safer.

      • mickey_moussaoui

        I’m surprised the libs didn’t just blame Bush

  • zdavid53

    The delay of the Keystone pipeline has everything to do with ideology and nothing to do with the reasons being cited. Oil produced from sand tars in Canada rubs activist environmental groups in a double way. Open pit mines and fossil fuel usage are the double sword to them. More is at stake than what is seen at the surface. If the sand tar project in Canada does well, there are other known sand tars in North America. In particular, the one in the western parts of Colorado and Wyoming is thought to have more reserves than the one in Canada. Activist environmental groups would like to chock the Canadian project off, but that ship has already sailed. Canada will pipeline it to the west coast if they have to. Obama should quietly allow congress to pass bills calling for the pipeline and then not veto the bill. This pipeline is not a winning issue for him and he should get rid of it. He himself is too much of an ideology to do that. It would ,however, be good for North Dakota and good for the country.

  • zdavid53

    I’ve said for a long time that the prosperity of our oilfield is only one major accident from being over without adequate pipelines. We haven’t seen the affect yet as the discussion moves along. Just imagine if this had happened in Fargo, or Kansas City, or Dallas, or Minot. Why are we exposing ourselves to such a high safety risk, and economic risk, when it is not necessary. There are tens of thousands of miles of pipelines in the US. Its time to stop letting the activist big environmental lobby dictate this ill advised policy.

  • awfulorv

    No doubt Liberal environmenists also protested digging the Erie Canal. Their argrument would have sounded somewhat like this. “The trunks roads are plenty good enough, anyway, all those goods transported so inexpensively, will just clog up the landfills”.

  • mikemc1970

    Obama is blocking pipeline because his crony, Warren Buffet, has a significant interest in oil transporting rail cars. The pipeline will never be built, if Obama gets his way, and it doesn’t matter how many people have to die because of it. He has already shown his callous disregard for human life with his Fast & Furious cartel arming scheme.

  • awfulorv

    With just a bit more fortuitousness this accident might have occured near the town square of a Northern California town, where a rabid group of environmentalists had gathered to hear their wacko politicians Feinstein, Pelosi, Boxer, and Miller, denounce the XL Pipeline.

  • borborygmi45

    I was wondering when you were going to jump on this. Taking a page from the Democrats playbook …make sure you use a tragedy for political gain. Very good Rob.
    Now on the plus side for the keystone when a pipeline goes up or breaks down it doesn’t kill a bunch of people. If this is for Bakken Crude eliminate the border crossing and the Canadiens and just ship Bakken oil.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      How do I stand to gain from this one way or another?

      I’ve written about trains and trucks being riskier alternatives to pipelines far in advance of this crash. Pointing out that this crash proves right things I’ve already been saying hardly seems like opportunism to me.

      And in my defense, I should add that I had no problem with the proponents of gun control jumping on Newtown. Of course things like that should be politicized. Politics is democracy.

      The gun control people are wrong, but they’re entitled to use current events to illustrate their points.

      As for this:

      If this is for Bakken Crude eliminate the border crossing and the Canadiens and just ship Bakken oil.

      It’s a pipeline being built by a company based within the borders of our friendly trading partners to the north. In addition to being beneficial to Canadian energy development, it’s beneficial to American energy development as well.

      Why would we shy away from a win-win situation like that?

      • mickey_moussaoui

        Just wait untill Obama dumps $9 billion dollars in green energy on Africa. When the dust settles from this scam those people will still be w/o electricity

  • kjuu

    But Bush.

  • CentralNoDak

    (Full disclosure, I work for the railroad industry)

    Believing a pipeline will reduce truck traffic in western north dakota is completely false. Trucks will still be required to transport the crude to the pipeline. It will reduce interstate traffic slightly, however there are multiple points of entry into the railway system. Pipeline entry points will be much more finite.

    Who takes the tax burden building and maintaining the pipeline? I honestly don’t know, however I do you that railroads pay for their own right of way and maintenance. (Save for subsidies that support Amtrak routes).

    The derailment in Canada is tragic. But, stamping an entire industry as unsafe due to a low percentage accident is reckless. Millions and millions of tons of freight are transported safely across the rail system every day. I can not begin to believe that the failure rate would be lower with a pipeline. The Federal Railroad Administration also regulates railroads in the US (canada has a similar governing body). Who regulates safety measures and policies for a pipeline? (Again, an honest question)

    Lastly, blaming crossing accidents on the trains involved is blindly looking at data. The fact is the very vast majority of crossing accidents are driver fault and/or suicides. Driver education and active protection crossings are the better answer.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Believing a pipeline will reduce truck traffic in western north dakota is completely false. Trucks will still be required to transport the crude to the pipeline. It will reduce interstate traffic slightly, however there are multiple points of entry into the railway system. Pipeline entry points will be much more finite.

      I don’t think that’s true. There are plenty of feeder pipelines that will be about as numerous as terminals for rail.

      The derailment in Canada is tragic. But, stamping an entire industry as unsafe due to a low percentage accident is reckless. Millions and millions of tons of freight are transported safely across the rail system every day. I can not begin to believe that the failure rate would be lower with a pipeline.

      According to the data, pipelines are significantly safer:

      Between 2005 and 2009, rail shipments were more than three times as likely as pipeline shipments to lead to a spill or fire, after taking into account the volume of oil being shipped, according to the Manhattan Institute. Road shipments were more than 30 times as likely to lead to a spill. Pipeline shipments also result in fewer injuries, according to the institute.

      http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/07/08/pipeline-vs-train-safety-in-focus-after-quebec-accident/

      • PK

        Why do we want to ship all the oil out of state? Why don’t we demand some refineries that give us cheap energy with the oil taken out of our ground? But i guess $4.00 a gallon gas isn’t a big deal, and a foreign corporation not getting their pipeline to send ND oil south is a travesty.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Lastly, blaming crossing accidents on the trains involved is blindly looking at data. The fact is the very vast majority of crossing accidents are driver fault and/or suicides. Driver education and active protection crossings are the better answer.

      I don’t disagree, yet the fact remains that more trains = more collisions.

    • mickey_moussaoui

      27,000 gallons of light crude spilled from the tankers and made its way into nearby waterways. I can’t state for fact but I don’t believe any pipeline has ever spilled that much at one time. Keep in mind also that the rail transportation for oil here in America is owned by Obama’s favorite crony capitalist Warren Buffet. A true enviromentalist would choose a pipeline over a rail road for safe transport of oil. Just sayin

      • Mikes

        A simple google search proves you wrong. Prudhoe bay was 267,000 gallons. Kolva river was 84 million gallons.

  • awfulorv

    Those poor schmucks, who were incinerated, will have a great tale of unintended consequences to tell to St. Pete…

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