As another oil train is dangling over a railroad bridge in Philadelphia, some wonder whether pipelines or trains are better for transporting oil. The answer from available evidence in the United States seems that the difference is fairly negligible.
Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.
The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.
The March 2013 Exxon Mobil Pegasus tar sands oil pipeline disaster in Mayflower, Arkansas that poisoned nearby wetlands and killed dozens of birds, turtles and snakes. Exxon has never provided a definitive total of how much oil spilled, estimating 210,000 to 294,000 gallons. Mayflower and its wildlife are still struggling to recover.
An 840,000 gallon oil pipeline rupture in North Dakota discovered last October, but that may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to one news report, there have been hundreds of publicly unreported oil pipeline spills in North Dakota in the last two years.
A 27,000 gallon fuel leak in Utah last March that could’ve been much more disastrous if not for a beaver dam.
17,000 gallons of crude oil spilled by the Koch Pipeline Company in Texas last October.
In other words, transporting oil from Canadian tar sands is going to be terrible for the environment and public health of the United States whether it comes via pipeline or rail and both need to be opposed.