Trainpocalypse: Real Danger To The Environment Is In Not Approving The Keystone XL Pipeline

The following is the opinion of the writer of this piece and not necessarily of Rise News.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a divisive issue in American politics. Typically, Republicans favor it, stressing its economic benefits:

“This decision isn’t surprising, but it is sickening. By rejecting this pipeline, the president is rejecting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.”House Speaker Paul Ryan

While Democrats mostly oppose it, with an intense focus on its environmental impact:

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” – President Barack Obama

Given how difficult it has become for both sides to agree on anything, let’s just start out with some indisputable facts.

  • The Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada have a substantial amount of oil
  • Around 48 companies have a stake in the oil sands, the majority of them not American-based
  • A pipeline is one of a few different ways to transport oil

The Keystone XL Pipeline is commonly depicted by American politicians as the single determinant in whether this dirty oil is going to be extracted from the ground, but that is a narrow minded take on a large-scale problem.

Whether or not America decides to build one pipeline will not stop Canadian businesses and state and local governments from exploiting the economic windfall of this massive supply of energy. With no major pipeline to move this oil to one of its most logical destinations, many of these businesses have turned to a myriad of options.

America’s railroads have become a much more popular method to distribute their cargo, with western transportation spiking in this last quarter after President Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline.

“The environmental impact is negative either way, but when pipelines burst, they usually don’t present the immediate danger to life and property that derailed oil trains do.”

Transporting oil in a sealed compartment while speeding along metal rails is a much more dangerous option than pushing it through a pipeline.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration even says that “pipelines are currently still the safest means of transporting hazardous liquids and natural gas.”

If a train becomes derailed, multiple massive explosions are a possibility, as evidenced by the 2013 tragedy in Quebec that claimed 47 lives, the deadliest in the history of oil by rail.

WATCH: 2013 BBC report on the Quebec oil train tragedy

According to federal data, more oil was spilled from trains in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined. By creating a political football out of one project, we have avoided talking about the real consequences of action or inaction.

Inaction has led to a situation where oil that is especially combustible is being moved through cities and along rivers, and the problem is accelerating.

Nine railroad incidents spilled 4,900 gallons of oil throughout 2010; in 2014, 143 episodes released 57,600 gallons.

Even in the face of mounting calamities, the oil industry is dragging its feet on implementing new rail safety rules.

Granted, the rate of rail accidents has been declining since 2005, but the amount of oil being moved in the last five years isn’t even comparable to the ones preceding them. The issue has evolved into uncharted territory for the current model.

The Alberta tar sands oil industry is preparing to triple production by 2030. They are under immense pressure to find various methods to export this oil, especially since labor and materials have become more expensive.

Vetoing the creation of a pipeline into America will not keep this oil in the ground. There is plenty of demand for oil here, and any time we have the opportunity to lessen our dependence on Middle Eastern despots in order to become closer to our northern ally, we should take it.

Yes, a pipeline will have negative effects on the environment, but that oil is coming out regardless – the market has spoken. If we don’t buy it, someone else will. Saying no to a pipeline just means that more of this oil will be transported to the United States by alternative methods like rail, and there will continue to be tragedies that cost innocent lives.

The environmental impact is negative either way, but when pipelines burst, they usually don’t present the immediate danger to life and property that derailed oil trains do.

The United States should build a pipeline to the Canadian tar sands in order to alleviate the stress that is being placed on our railroads, and use the tax windfall to invest in an energy future where we don’t have to choose between a handful of lousy options.

Cover Photo Credit: Greg Gjerdingen/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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About the Author
Jacob Weindling grew up in Denver, Colorado and graduated from UMass Amherst with a political science degree in 2009. He lives in Boston now, spending most of his time outside of work either reading, writing, or yelling at one of his teams on TV, as sports and politics are his true passions. The most sage advice he can provide comes from hall of fame college basketball coach Bobby Knight: "Stupid loses more games than smart wins."
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