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May 30, 2014
Oil Change International Exposes Growing Crude by Rail
    by Robert Kropp

A new report estimates that an average of 135 trains with 100 cars apiece are moving crude oil via the rail system of North America, and at any given time nine million barrels are being transported by rail.


For sustainable investors and other advocates for environmental justice, engaging with the oil industry must seem at times like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. Challenge oil companies on one unsustainable practice, and the next thing you know they pop up with a new activity that requires challenging as well.

Consider, for example, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which if constructed would carry crude oil from the environmentally destructive tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to export terminals in the southern US. According to the Pembina Institute, “Filling Keystone XL with oil sands will cause a 36 per cent increase from current oil sands production, for which the higher upstream emissions alone will be equivalent to the annual emissions from 6.3 coal-fired power plants or over 4.6 million cars.”

Construction of the pipeline has been delayed for a number of reasons, not least of which has been the resistance of citizens organized by 350.org. So in the absence of pipeline construction, Oil Change International reports in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude By Rail in North America, the transport of crude oil by rail in North America has increased to an alarming extent.

The increase, the report observes, is largely due to the growth of another controversial extraction process, hydraulic fracturing. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, is responsible for 70% of the crude oil currently being transported by rail, and up to 80% of the crude oil being transported is loaded in North Dakota.

“There are currently over 230 crude-by-rail terminals in Canada and the United States either in operation, expanding, under construction or planned,” Oil Change International states. “Today, one million barrels of crude oil per day are loaded and unloaded on the North American rail network, meaning roughly 135 trains of 100 cars each are moving dangerous crude oil each day through the continent. But if used at full capacity, existing loading and unloading terminals could handle 3.5 times more crude-by-rail traffic and by 2016 that capacity could grow to over 5 times current levels.”

“A major talking point for pipeline proponents is the assertion that crude-by-rail is growing simply because pipeline projects are being blocked by environmentalists,” the organization continued. “The truth is that crude-by-rail has grown in spite of, not because of, pipeline permitting delays. The industry is in fact simultaneously pushing both pipelines and increased crude-by-rail on the North American public.”

Furthermore, the report states, “If all the operating, expanding, under construction, and planned terminals were utilized to full capacity, it would entail some 675 trains with 100 cars each, carrying a total of around 45 million barrels of oil through North American communities every day.”

“This analysis shows just how out of control the oil industry is in North America today,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director of Oil Change International and author of the report. “Regulators are unable to keep up with the industry’s expansion-at-any-cost mentality, and public safety is playing second fiddle to industry profits.”

 

 
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