NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

No Keystone XL Means More Railroad Spills

May 19, 2014

Transporting oil via the Keystone XL pipeline is the safest, most environmentally-friendly way to transport crude oil, contends Terry Anderson, president of the Property and Environment Research Center.

Crude oil is going to continue moving, regardless of whether the president approves Keystone XL. If the pipeline is not approved, oil will have to move via railroad. In deciding to approve Keystone XL, Anderson says, the question should be which method of transport is safer. The answer? Pipelines.

  • A February report from the State Department concluded that pipelines greater than 12 inches in diameter spilled 910,000 gallons of crude oil and petroleum in 2013. Tank cars, however, spilled 1.15 million gallons.
  • Those figures may seem relatively comparable. However, pipelines carry close to 25 times more crude oil and petroleum than do railroad cars.
  • According to State Department projections, the Keystone XL pipeline -- carrying 830,000 barrels of oil per day -- would result in 0.46 accidents each year, spilling 518 barrels annually. But the Department's most optimistic projection for transporting a similar amount of oil via railroad estimates 383 annual oil spills, totaling 1,335 barrels per year.

Moreover, railroad transport carries the potential for human injuries. The State Department report estimates that transporting the oil via railroad cars would cause 49 additional injuries and 6 fatalities each year. The pipeline, however, is projected to cause just one additional injury annually, and no fatalities.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, with 11 pumping stations and several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, has a proven safety record. Anderson notes that its largest spill took place in 1978 when an individual blasted a hole into the pipeline. The resulting 16,000-barrel leak had no dangerous effects.

In fact, it is much easier to control and clean up pipeline spills than spills resulting from railroad car derailments.

  • Keystone XL would drill underneath rivers to avoid disturbance to plants, animals and water bodies in the case of a leak. Between 1992 and 2011, 40 percent of material spilled from pipelines was recovered.
  • In contrast, when a tank car derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, at the end of April, 30,000 gallons of crude oil burned and was spilled into the James River. Similarly, a derailment outside of Denver, Colorado, on May 9 spilled 6,500 gallons of oil, which eventually made its way to the South Platte River.

Whether environmentalists like it or not, Anderson says, oil and gas will be transported across the United States. Preventing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will only lead to more spills, threatening waters, wildlife and people.

Source:   Terry L. Anderson, "Stopping Keystone Ensures More Railroad Tank-Car Spills," Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2014. 


Browse more articles on Environment Issues