Ninety-nine percent of crude oil shipped by rail or pipeline reaches its destination without incident. The 1 percent that doesn't? It raises red flags.
A green flag should be raised by the Obama administration for the Keystone XL pipeline. The project merits approval, but the administration keeps waving the caution flag.
More oil will thus be shipped by rail from Canada to the United States, leading to more disasters like the one that killed at least five people in Quebec over the weekend as a result of a train derailment.
We've said before that the people protesting the southern leg of the Keystone project, from Cushing to the Gulf Coast, should focus instead on railroads. Refinery-bound tank cars can derail and pour a flammable liquid on nearby ground. The Quebec derailment isn't an anomaly: The Canadian Pacific Railroad had three derailments involving oil tank cars in the first four months of 2013.
Shipping oil by rail is partly a market decision and partly the result of lack of pipeline capacity, a lack that Keystone's approval would help resolve. North America is in the midst of an oil boom. The amount of crude oil shipped by rail was up by more than 300 percent in 2012 from the previous year. As the Keystone project languishes, the forecast for rail shipments is for a fivefold increase to 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014, says Bloomberg.com. Keystone is designed to transport 830,000 barrels a day.
Pipelines have their own safety issues, but they pale in comparison to moving crude by rail. The number of spills involving rail transport is three times higher than pipelines. Pipelines are a relatively cheap way to move oil but can be less flexible. Of course, if a pipeline can't be built because of politics, more and more oil will go by rail.
Let's get Keystone back on track, Mr. President!