Repost from the Washington Examiner
[Editor: One significant quote among many: “In the last five years, 423 oil trains have crashed in the U.S. Since 2010, those crashes have cost about $45 million in damages. In just the first six months of 2015, 31 oil train crashes cost almost $30 million in damages…. It’s 5.5 times more likely that oil will be spilled during rail transport than from a pipeline, according to a study by the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian think tank. The risk of deaths, injuries and spills are higher with rail and trucks since vehicles can hit other vehicles, they travel through population centers and the drivers can err. None of those factors exist for pipelines.” – RS]
Dangerous energy gamble: Pipelines vs. railBy Kyle Feldscher, 11/2/15 12:01 AM
Energy companies increasingly have turned to rail to ship crude oil during the fracking boom, but with train crashes becoming more frequent, they are pushing for construction of more pipelines beyond the Keystone XL.
However, that effort is being stymied by the collapse of oil prices and concerns about pipeline safety.
On Wednesday, Shell announced it would stop construction on a site in Alberta, Canada, that potentially holds 418 million barrels of bitumen oil. The company blamed the project’s expense in a time of cheap oil as well as a lack of pipeline infrastructure.
It’s one example of low prices and lack of pipelines prompting companies to reconsider drilling for oil, especially in the Canadian tar sands, where it’s more expensive to drill. Pipeline transportation is typically cheaper than rail, which costs about $30 a barrel more.
Fifty pipelines have been proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this year. They would carry the light, sweet crude from shale regions as well as the natural gas that has helped make the U.S. the world’s energy leader. ”
Because of the costs associated with [rail], it’s going to drive up the cost of oil and it’s going to be significantly higher than pipelines on a per barrel basis,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research.
Another calculation oil companies must make is the safety of their highly flammable product.
In the last five years, 423 oil trains have crashed in the U.S. Since 2010, those crashes have cost about $45 million in damages. In just the first six months of 2015, 31 oil train crashes cost almost $30 million in damages, mostly due to a major crash in West Virginia.
It’s 5.5 times more likely that oil will be spilled during rail transport than from a pipeline, according to a study by the Fraser Institute, an independent Canadian think tank. The risk of deaths, injuries and spills are higher with rail and trucks since vehicles can hit other vehicles, they travel through population centers and the drivers can err. None of those factors exist for pipelines.
The August study also found oil and natural gas production is rising faster than existing American and Canadian pipelines can handle. Those pipelines would be even busier if production increased in the Canadian tar sands.
Keystone XL, proposed by TransCanada in 2007, would be able to transport 830,000 barrels per day from the tar sands to the Gulf Coast to be refined. Due to the viscous nature of bitumen oil, it’s much easier to transport it by pipeline than by rail, experts say.
When a train carrying oil derails, it’s often catastrophic.
In West Virginia, oil burned for days after 26 oil tanker cars derailed in February. Nineteen of those cars caught on fire and oil spilled into a nearby river. The damages from that crash totaled more than $23 million.
A train derailment in a Quebec community that killed 46 people in July 2013 prompted calls for better rail safety and led some to question whether to transport highly flammable oil at all.
The State Department estimates rail transportation of oil is responsible for 712 injuries and 94 deaths per year, while oil pipelines are responsible for three injuries and two deaths per year.
“For our society, we have to evaluate the value we place on human life and we should make that a priority,” said Diana Furtchgott-Roth, a conservative economist who is the director of the Manhattan Institute’s e21 program.
“The families of those 46 people killed in Lac-Megantic would have been happy to have less oil and having the lives of their family members back.”
Dangerous derailments led the Obama administration to introduce new regulations to make tanker cars safer. The rule, announced in May, requires improvements to braking systems, making tanker cars thicker and more fire resistant and new protocols for transporting flammable liquids.
The number of crashes steadily increased during the last five years, as more trains shipped crude and natural gas, rising from nine crashes in 2010 to 144 crashes in 2014. But as the price of oil plummeted, the amount of crude oil being drilled and shipped leveled off in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration.
If drilling in the Canadian tar sands in Alberta were to pick up in earnest, State Department officials believe rail transport would lead to 49 more injuries and six more deaths per year. If that oil were to be moved by the Keystone XL pipeline, there would be one additional injury and no fatalities.
Environmentalists, who have been fighting the Keystone XL, point to the State Department’s finding that pipeline spills are often bigger than those from trains and trucks.
They also point to declining oil use and the collapse of prices as great excuses to leave it in the ground.
Zach Drennen, legislative associate at the League of Conservation Voters, said with oil prices as low as they are, it’s economic folly for oil companies to drill in the Canadian tar sands. Without high oil prices, companies can’t afford to build pipelines. They also can’t afford to ship by rail.
That is why green groups think oil companies could be willing to leave the oil in the earth.
“If you look right now, a lot of oil companies are just deciding that’s not where they want to put their money at,” Drennen said.
To Kish, environmentalists’ goal is to make it too expensive to drill.
“They’re going to try and fight against every damn pipeline they can,” he said, “because if they can choke off production and delay construction of pipelines, it causes disruptions.”
But Ken Green, senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute, said environmentalists’ dream of keeping oil in the ground isn’t feasible.
“The oil in the ground has a market value and everyone knows what the market value is,” he said. “It’s not hard to calculate that market value … My assumption is sooner or later, that value will be sought.”