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.

Rob Port

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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