Oops: Nixing the Keystone pipeline is probably the more environmentally costly option

posted at 7:21 pm on April 9, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Do you suppose the eco-trendy crowd really, carefully thought this one through before jumping on the self-righteously outraged bandwagon? I have some pretty severe doubts on the matter, but they’re in this thing, and they’re certainly not going to back down now that they’ve invested so much time, money, and media coverage to the issue — even though killing the Keystone XL pipeline will not prevent oil companies from developing Canada’s tar sands even a little bit. Stopping their product from moving through pipelines simply means that they’ll have to seek other markets, i.e. shipping it to China via tankers, or find another method of terrestrial transport across the continental United States, say, via rail. …And it just so happens that rail transport is more prone to the leakages the environmentalists claim to be railing against than pipelines. Oops.

A rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline by President Barack Obama would push more of Canada’s $73 billion oil exports onto trains, which register almost three times more spills than pipelines.

The March 29 rupture of an Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM). oil pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, provided the latest evidence for opponents citing the risk of environmental contamination in their efforts to scuttle the Keystone XL project, an almost 2,000-mile pipeline linking Alberta’s oil sands with the world’s largest refining market on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The alternative, hauling crude by rail, may be worse, said Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s energy security initiative. …

“The evidence is so overwhelming that railroads are far less safe than pipelines, that it would be a serious mistake to use these recent spills to say that Keystone is unsafe,” he said. …

“To the extent that we don’t approve pipelines, rail is going to become an even more critical solution. And that isn’t the most economical solution, nor is it the safest,” Peers said.

None of this is to say that either pipeline or rail is particularly unsafe — it happens all over the country, every day, and both deliver at least 99 percent of their product without incident — but in a side-by-side comparison, most signs point to pipeline as the most efficient option for oil transport.

Trying to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, everyone: Heavy on the symbolism, light on the substance. I do hope the green lobby feels free to take a bow while in the meantime they compel oil companies to use more expensive rail transport, jacking up costs that impose higher prices and depriving Americans of much-needed jobs. Bravo.

Notice, meanwhile, that the White House just keeps kicking back the expected date of their Keystone decision — we’re now looking at a September announcement, and I’ll be shocked if even that happens.


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