Pipeline, trucks, trains or boats all spill crude oil

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We notice developments every day in alternative means of transportation, from hybrid to plug-in hybrids to straight electric cars (Apple most recently mentioned) to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

While alternative energy for transportation is showing promise, better batteries and breakthrough technology announced on a regular basis, most of us are going to be dependent on oil for many years to come.

That raises the question: Where do we get it? At what price?

Oil prices are about half what they were a year ago, thanks to OPEC's reluctance to cut production, some say in order to make shale-oil operations economically unviable.

The Rebublican-controlled Congress has sent legislation to President Obama to build the rest of the Keystone XL pipeline, including a portion through the Nebraska Sandhills, but Obama has vowed to veto the legislation, ostensibly because it would derail the review process, but more likely because his environmental activist friends oppose any type of oil development.

The diluted bitumen that is piped from the shale oil fields is a nasty substance, that can do serious harm to rivers and water supplies if it is spilled, but not building the Keystone XL doesn't mean spills won't happen.

In fact, trends indicate they will happen more.

Tuesday, a crude oil train derailed in a snowstorm in West Virginia, forcing nearaby municipal water treatment plants to shut down.

In the United States, 70 percent of crude oil and petroleum products are shipped by pipeline, 23 percent on tankers and barges over water, 4 percent by truck and 3 percent by rail.

It's cheaper to ship oil by pipeline, about $5 a barrel, than by train, $10 to $15, but there are a lot more miles of track in the United States than there are pipelines.

But according to industry sources, more crude oil was spilled in railroad accidents in 2013 than was spilled in the previous 37 years. In Canada, 1.5 million gallons of oil was spilled in a single day in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and 47 people were killed. That shipment originated in North Dakota.

But railroads, which have taken steps to reduce the danger of oil spills, are safe compared to trucks, which spilled about 225 barrels of oil per billion-ton-miles in 2002 through 2007.

Pipelines, like any means of transportation, are far from perfect -- the U.S. Department of Transportation says about 280 "significant" pipeline spills of all types occur each year. "Significant" means there is a fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization or more than $50,000 (in 1984 dollars) in damage.

The decision of whether or not to build the Keystone XL pipeline or rely on other, more dangerous means of transportation, should be based on facts and divorced from emotional arguments.

A reference to total pipeline spills was corrected from an earlier version which indicated the figure was crude oil pipelines; it was actually pipelines of all types.

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  • Build the pipeline.

    -- Posted by dennis on Wed, Feb 18, 2015, at 3:23 PM
  • This article is a little misleading leaving out how much money the rail and truck spills damage was. I also question the number (280) of significant pipeline spills and why is it 1984 dollars? $14,000,000

    -- Posted by etownsley on Sat, Feb 21, 2015, at 8:11 AM
  • The pipeline is more safe than trucking or rail. Constant supply and less cost for sure. Let's get the pipeline going and in place.

    We need it.

    -- Posted by edbru on Mon, Feb 23, 2015, at 8:24 AM
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