Oil Transportion: Rail or Pipeline?

Rail transport of oil to refineries in the United States are increasing at a frightening pace, according to new data reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) last week.

Renewable energy initiatives, conservation efforts, energy efficient buildings, and more MPGs are helping reduce demand for fossil fuels. But they are like putting out a 5-alarm fire with a bucket brigade. It can be done, but not before everything burns to the ground.

The EIA data comes in the wake of the Lac-Megantic, Quebec oil train disaster where over 8% of the town’s population were killed… 50 people; 30 of them vaporized.

Those townsfolk were killed by North Dakota Bakken oil that likely would have been transported by the Keystone XL pipeline if it had been built. Keystone was originally proposed in 2008.

Though the rate of rail traffic increase is slowing, there remains a significant shortage of pipeline capacity in the USA.

Supply and Demand

Demand for energy world-wide is growing rapidly. Demand is driven by global population growth and emerging nations building their economies to raise the standard of living for their citizens.

Green energy initiatives are helping reduce fossil fuel demand, but not by much.

At this moment in world history, horizontal drilling and fracking provide the only means to supply enough energy to match massive global demand.

With fracking and horizontal drilling, the United States has just become a net oil exporter again. The State of Texas alone is now the 15th largest oil producer in the world, beating out some OPEC countries.

Rail Transportation of Oil and Petroleum Products

From 2006 to 2010 there was a steady 6,000 carloads of oil and petroleum products (like gasoline) transported by rail every week. That doubled to 12,000 by the end of 2012. So far in 2013, according to the EIA, it appears to have leveled off at about 14,000 carloads a week.

14,000 carloads a week is 728,000 carloads/year and 72.8 million barrels of petroleum products per year. Those are BIG numbers.

Pipeline Safety Vs. Rail Safety

From 2005-2009 oil pipelines had 72% fewer accidents per billion ton-miles than rail

Oil pipelines had 28 times fewer injury hospitalizations incidents per billion ton-miles than rail

Extensively drawing on U.S. government data, Diana Furchtgott-Roth wrote a comprehensive research paper on pipeline safety:
Pipelines are safest for transportation of oil and gas
– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, MIPR, Updated 06/23/2013

The U.S. State Department cited Furchtgott-Roth’s research when it recommended approval for the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year.

Speaking of pipelines she concludes:

In addition to enjoying a substantial cost advantage, pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents and personal injuries than road and rail
– Diana Furchtgott-Roth. 6/23/2013


In near-term world history, according to EIA and IEA projections, fossil fuels will remain Earth’s primary source of energy until well after 2035.

Rail transportation of petroleum products has more than doubled since 2010.

Research of the extensively regulated oil and rail industries shows that pipelines are safer for transporting oil than either rail or road.

Nobody wants more horrific accidents like Lac-Megantic earlier this month. They can be reduced.

Like it or not, we need more pipelines and need them now. Pipelines are the safest and most economical way to deliver petroleum to refineries and petroleum products to market.

Update 7/16/2013:
As fate would have it, Diana Furchtgott-Roth cited above is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee this Thursday – 7/18/2013:
Climate Change: Its Happening Now


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Jul 15, 2013, in Business, Climate, economics, Economy, Energy, environment, Government, news, Politics, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Sadly, these important decisons are being made based on the politics and not on the logic.

    Good post, my friend!

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