Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

Pipelines vs. Rail: A False Choice

tumblr_inline_mm5rwtlaL81qz4rgpAs we release our North American crude-by-rail online map and report, it is worth taking a look at one of the most repeated false claims that the oil industry and its supporters make about crude-by-rail.

A major talking point for pipeline proponents is the assertion that crude-by-rail is growing simply because pipeline projects are being blocked by environmentalists.

In particular, the ongoing battle over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is often cited as a trigger for crude-by-rail.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that crude-by-rail has grown in spite of, not because of, pipeline permitting delays.  The industry is in fact simultaneously pushing both pipelines and increased crude-by-rail on the North American public.

In reality, suggesting there is a choice between pipelines or crude oil trains is a bit like suggesting that being hit by a bus or a truck is a valid choice. You lose either way.

Crude-by-rail is the preferred method for oil producers to ship oil out of the North Dakota Bakken oil field, over pipelines.

Some 70 to 80 percent of crude oil loaded onto trains in the U.S. and Canada today is loaded in North Dakota. These oil producers have found that sending their crude to market by rail is a better deal than sending it by pipeline. As a result, two major pipeline projects that were designed to bring North Dakota crude to market (the Bakken Crude Express and the Dakota Express) have been cancelled for lack of interest from oil producers.

Interest from Bakken producers to take advantage of Keystone XL has waned because of rail’s rise, not because of the delay in the Keystone XL decision.

Keystone XL is a pipeline designed to bring tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast to feed refineries that are primarily focused on exporting diesel, gasoline and petcoke. While there was interest from some North Dakotan oil producers to fill a small percentage of the pipeline’s capacity via a branch into North Dakota, interest has waned as rail has proven to be a more convenient option over pipelines.

So crude-by-rail has emerged as just another dangerous aspect of the ongoing North American oil boom, rather than as a response to increasing public scrutiny of pipeline projects.

Transporting crude oil in any fashion poses dangers. Both spill. Both carry a commodity that is destroying our climate. The choice between more crude-by-rail and more pipelines is not a choice we should have to make.

The fact is that the more industry drills, the more they spill. Pipeline spills have increased recently as have crude-by-rail accidents.

While we need much stronger regulation and enforcement to reduce the number of spills from both methods and hold those responsible to account, ultimately we need to end our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels in order to protect our climate and our communities.

The choice we should be making is not between dangerous crude oil trains or dirty pipelines, but between a clean energy future and a safe climate on the one hand, or business as usual, a wrecked planet and blighted communities on the other.

The right choice is very clear.

Comments (19)

  1. This is absolutely correct. The externalities to the costs (these and others) are never revealed and accounted for by the fossil fuel industry. Look at the history of coal and its use
    of trains — then look at the land and water damage that it has done permanently to our environment.

  2. Ronnie says:

    We choose clean air and water, We reject all shale oil products and say NO to all its forms of transportations!

  3. Truth says:

    Nonsense. Cars, buses, trucks, trains, boats, ships, barges, ferries, etc primarily operate on biproducts created at refineries that use crude as an input. Demand for transportation is the reason refineries purchase crude. Refineries and oil companies react to our population’s demand for transportation not the other way around as stated in this incorrect article. The idea that oil company’s push their product on our public is absurd. One could liken the analogy that a restaurant decides what each customer should eat rather than the customer. We live in a capitalistic society not a communistic one.

  4. Bill says:

    Why don’t the build refineries in Canada? That way Canada gets the revenue and jobs that refineries create rather than the Gulf coast. And we might use the end products in North America rather than shipping them to China.

  5. Kim says:

    “Truth”: You are, in fact, the incorrect one here. If you’re using the angle of capitalism, you certainly must understand what an artificially inflated market means. Fossil fuels are indeed in this category, and the product is forced upon the society. This industry invests an incredible amount of time and money into suppressing competition (renewables), buying politicians and media to create the dialogue that we need them.

  6. John says:

    Are people stupid. All these tree huggers can turn their car keys.Start walking.Theres to big of a demand for gasoline.The oil and gas industries just need more rules and laws. Again sell your cars and walk.Pull your furnaces,hot water tanks,hot tubs,and cook stoves out of your house.You wont will you?

  7. Del says:

    A reply to Truth: Your comments are so convoluted and misleading that it is difficult to respond, but I’ll make a few basic statements.

    1. The fuels produced for all the vehicles you mention: The fuels are the main products, not biproducts [sic; see byproducts].

    2. Regarding the next two sentences, it is necessary to accept a basic premise of many people: there would be no great demand for oil-based fuels if there were more environmentally friendly alternative modes of powering vehicles and, more generally, engines and motors of all kinds.

    3. You completely distort the message of this article. The point is that oil companies are offering a variation of a Hobson’s choice: two methods of transporting dangerous crude oils. Neither method is very desirable, and they could minimized or eliminated if there were better alternatives for fueling and operating motors of all sorts. This article is not saying that oil companies are pushing their products on the public. It is saying that the companies are pushing the two modes of shipping crude oil.

    In essence, your statements are quite nonsensical — lacking in a few basic facts and premises, lacking in logic, lacking in clear thinking.

  8. Jim says:

    I’m in the automotive industry.
    I fix dents in cars without having to paint.Cars and trucks are a huge part of our society and probably will be for some time to come but if we could power them with any thing other than fossil fuels that’s what we should be doing.Its a no brainer.I don’t own a house so I’m at the mercy of my landlord as what type of fuel or energy source that is used to heat and power my residence. But if I owned I would be working on getting as far off the grid as I could. Also a no brainer.but most people rent so they are also at the mercy of big oil etc.. The whole point is that we should be striving to adopt sustainable energy sources and phasing out the NON renewable,ECOLOGICALY damaging resources.Its available and if we really wanted to we could swap it out tomorrow.Yes there would be some hardships but we could do it.But failing an instant change over we should be transitioning as fast as we can. Any thing else is just illogical and dangerous to our planet and health….period.Any arguments to the contrary can only be attributed to either ignorance or greed.i challenge anybody to refute these statements.Their way……death by asphyxiation.The other way ……free breathing life.Why haven’t the big oil companies just adopted the right way to do it? They could still be the energy suppliers and make shit loads of money yet they still insist on ruining our planet.And last of all why the f&$k are we still arguing about this.

  9. Jim says:

    I’m in the automotive industry.
    I fix dents in cars without having to paint.Cars and trucks are a huge part of our society and probably will be for some time to come but if we could power them with any thing other than fossil fuels that’s what we should be doing.Its a no brainer.I don’t own a house so I’m at the mercy of my landlord as what type of fuel or energy source that is used to heat and power my residence. But if I owned I would be working on getting as far off the grid as I could. Also a no brainer.but most people rent so they are also at the mercy of big oil etc.. The whole point is that we should be striving to adopt sustainable energy sources and phasing out the NON renewable,ECOLOGICALY damaging resources.Its available and if we really wanted to we could swap it out tomorrow.Yes there would be some hardships but we could do it.But failing an instant change over we should be transitioning as fast as we can. Any thing else is just illogical and dangerous to our planet and health….period.Any arguments to the contrary can only be attributed to either ignorance or greed.i challenge anybody to refute these statements.Their way……death by asphyxiation.The other way ……free breathing life.Why haven’t the big oil companies just adopted the right way to do it? They could still be the energy suppliers and make shit loads of money yet they still insist on ruining our planet.And last of all why the f&$k are we still arguing about this.

  10. Justsum Guy says:

    Ray Hankinson Don’t think of it as a choice between pipeline or rail. It’s more of a choice between pipeline, rail, … or turning off your TV, computer, air conditioner, a
    nd selling your car.

  11. David Blough, Sr says:

    That’s what they have said about every WAR America has been involved in….”We MUST keep the WAR MACHINE in place” to keep our FREEDOMS” Talk re: faulty thinking! We are going the way of the Neanderthrals and Dynosaurs with this ARCHAIC WAY of THINKING ! We should be developing —Sustainable Energy that doesn’t destroy the Earth we live on, not tear apart the world we live in. The same kind of thinking came about when we put a Rail Way across the US. We ended-up killing all the Buffalo that we here for 100′s of years before we ran from King George and killed a Great Majority of the Indigenous (American People); all in the name of taming and civilizing the Wild-wild West. In the Military, we called that “stinking thinking” and we need to move beyond that!

  12. Roberta Charles says:

    We need to get out of the fossil fuel industry. The Canadian provinces will not allow pipelines through their territories, which is why they want to ship it through the U.S. Refineries already being built in TX in preparation to receive this filthy oil. If politicians would get out of the oil companies’ pockets & truly serve their country, they would put their efforts in renewable sources of power.

  13. Climate First says:

    Justsum Guy: It is a choice between escalating dependence on fossil fuels and transitioning to clean energy.

  14. Robert Handelsman says:

    Safety is more imprtant than anything and everything else

  15. Teri Sonnenberg says:

    Change is easy. We went from records, to 8 tracks, to cd’ s and computers, smart phones, in a few short years and technology continues to change at exponential rates and the world has no problem adjusting with the right media attention and education. We have to same capability to do thus with renewable energy too, bit we don’ t. There are electric and solar cars and there would be green jobs for people to build, install, and repair alternatives, without causing so much destruction to the earth, people, animals, and the future. “Technology is great, it’ s just how we use It.”

  16. Teri Sonnenberg says:

    Change us easy. We went from records and 8 tracks, to cassettes, to cd’s, computers, ITUNES, smartphones, on a few short years. With the right media focus and education people’s ways, ideas, and lives changed overnight. “Technology is great. It’ s just how we use It.” We ate capable of doing the same thing with renewable. We would still have green jobs, we would still need people to build, repair solar and electric cars which do exist. We would still need people to build, install, and repair, and training for it all. And we could do it at a much less cost to the earth.

  17. Tom Schneider says:

    Kind of Ironic, burning our ancestors to poison our future. But we do it.
    Lots of talk about the obvious and distractions galore, but our gluttony impedes our ration. Keep talking.
    The energy industry has killed cultures and societies, why would we think ours is sacred?
    Whether we burn carbon chains, heavy metals or light gases, someone will gather the supply and dole it out at maximum profit with little consideration for people or planet.
    I am the problem and I am the solution. I have wasted vast amounts of energy and I can control and reduce loads. It is entirely up to me. When I can find more sense in reducing loads than blaming others, we all win.

  18. boblecht says:

    These relatively “inexpensive” carbon treasures should be harvested, processed and used in the regions where they are found. I live in Pennsylvania where oil companies are making huge profits harvesting natural gas at increasing amounts within our borders, and are trying hard to find ways to export it to China to power the factories and the homes of workers that today are manufacturing products that used to be made here in Pennsylvania. Harvest and use this treasure locally. Use it to rebuild local manufacturing and reinvigorate our regional economy. Inexpensive energy is becoming scarce and it is likely cheaper to build a factory where there is fuel to power it than it is to move the fuel thousands of miles to another factory site. Harvest it responsibly, use it locally and use it for the common good over a generation or more, instead of for massive short term profits of corporations. That’s local, that’s sustainable, that’s safer, that makes sense.

  19. Gene Nagy says:

    Ronnie’s comment of “we reject all forms of shale products” is such a ridiculous statement. Ronnie is such a saint – in his own mind. BUT he uses the stuff just like all of us.
    When he tapped in his message it was on the plastic keys on his keyboard – a SHALE product… He cannot avoid the stuff. He buys it, uses it, depends on, lives in it, wears it, and unless he is a hermit on a desert island walking around naked he will continue to do so.
    How do you think the satellites that transmitted his message got up there that transmitted his message? Yep, SHALE products. Jet fuel. Clearly unavoidably omnipresent.
    The point is don’t be a silly hypocrite. You simply do not “reject” shale products. What I may be able to believe is that you want to use it sensibly and safely.
    So to that end, don’t tell me what you don’t want; tell me a solution! Tell me what the alternative is.
    When recycled paper came on the market it was slightly more expensive. But the Ronnies of the world purchased non-recycled paper at non-union Walmart and then marched up an down flouting save the planet at the same time.
    It’s easy to say what is wrong: tad harder to say what we could do about it.

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