Why We Need the Keystone Pipeline

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Pipelines are by far the safest way in which oil can be transported around the country. As you can see in the graph above, shipping oil via trucks (on the road) or via trains on rail roads is much more dangerous per mile traveled than pipelines.

Unfortunately for the Keystone Pipeline, there was a small pipeline spill in Arkansas earlier this week. As the Wall Street Journal notes:

The media have played up Friday’s discovery of an oil leak in an old Exxon Mobil pipeline near Mayflower, Arkansas. It isn’t clear how much oil escaped from the 850-mile Pegasus pipeline, but Exxon says it responded with teams and equipment able to handle as much as 10,000 barrels and that by early Saturday it had stopped the flow and begun cleanup.

The real reason for the headlines is that Pegasus was delivering heavy crude from the Canadian oil sands to Texas. This is similar to the oil the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would deliver from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and the anti-Keystone capos are using the Exxon spill to scare up political opposition to the new pipeline.

Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey rewrote a familiar press release, and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said “this latest toxic mess” proves that “it’s not a matter of if spills will occur on dangerous pipelines like Keystone XL, but rather, when.”

All of this is in marked contrast to the non-reaction last week when a Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying crude to Chicago derailed in western Minnesota, spilling about 15,000 gallons. Much of the press also ignored the train accident, though the spill was certainly serious and also took place near a town.

While the point the WSJ is making here is accurate, it seems a bit sloppy or misleading to portray the pipeline figure in barrels and the train derailment figure in gallons, as there’s about 42 gallons of oil in a barrel. This makesĀ  the train derailment here much smaller assuming all the figures quoted are accurate, which one might not notice with a casual reading.

Regardless of the statistics of the most recent pipeline or train spills, it’s very clear that a pipeline is the safer method to transport oil, and the use of road/rail have increased in recent years due to a lack of pipeline capacity. Construction of the Keystone pipeline would help remedy this.

While environmentalists make hay over what will turn out to be a fairly minor event without significant long-term harm, remember, their actions are forcing oil companies to rely on roads and rail roads to move oil around.


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