As an Albertan and an advocate of pipelines to move oil to refineries and ports, I’ve been asked a dozen times or more since Saturday’s rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, whether I think the tragedy that has left at least 13 dead, will spark politicians to approve more pipelines, such as Keystone XL, Northern Gateway or the doubling of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain.
I recognize that now is a sensitive time even to answer such a question. People are dead — people who were minding their own business asleep in their beds or out for a night at a local bar. Our thoughts and prayers should first be with them.
Others have had their lives overturned, either because they lost a loved one in the blast or because their tiny, picturesque world was obliterated when 73 black tanker cars carrying hundreds of thousands of litres of crude oil came hurtling into the centre of town and exploded, “vaporizing” nearly everything standing within a two-block radius.
But to the extent an answer is appropriate now, it’s this: This is not an either/or proposition. Canada will need both pipelines and rail to get its oil to market. And oceangoing tankers, too. And all three are safe. Each can be made even safer. But each is already very safe, particularly when compared to 20 or 30 years ago.
Both railroads and pipelines deliver nearly 99.9% of their products to their destinations without incident.
Last year, according the U.S. Association of Oil Pipelines, American pipelines carried nearly 475 billion gallons of crude and petroleum products. That’s billion, with a “b.” Meanwhile, just 0.0005% of that amount leaked.
That’s still a large amount — 2.3 million gallons. It is an amount that must be reduced. Still, it is a pretty impressive safety record.
Similarly, between 2002 and 2012, U.S. railroads hauled 11.2 billion gallons of crude, according to the Association of American Railways. Of that, just 95,000 gallons spilled. And most of that (82,000 gallons) came from a single derailment in Oklahoma in 2008.
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