Crude Oil Transportation Regulations Need to Get Much Tougher

Mon, 7/30/2018 - 9:22 pm by Kirsten Rincon

Crude oil transportationIn the past few months, there has been a lot of talk about oil transport safety, prompted by a series of accidents involving derailed trains while carrying crude oil, many of which resulted in dozens of fatalities. These accidents have raised some questions about oil transportation regulations, with many lawmakers suggesting that they need to be far stricter, especially when it comes to transport by rail, since safety risks involved in pipeline transport and transport via road are much lower.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a safety alert for oil trains, mandating railroads to notify state emergency responders whenever they are about to transport oil through their states. Prior to that, the government ordered all railroads to conduct tests of crude oil before transport by train, in order to determine the risk of explosion or fire during transportation. Oil companies, themselves, through their lobby group – the American Petroleum Institute (API), have been asking for tougher safety standards, proposing new regulations that would require improved track maintenance and more rigorous specifications for tank cars. Tank car design is considered a key factor in ensuring safe transport of crude oil, and experts argue that the crashwortiness of tanks must be enhanced, so that they don’t puncture in case they derail and so that leaks and explosions can be prevented.

Rail transport of crude oil has increased substantially in recent years, but the debate over what the safest mode of transportation is continues, with many people claiming that pipelines are safer than both trucks and trains. Statistics show that pipelines cause much less fatalities and injuries than rail and road, which is attributed mostly to the fact that pipes are buried deep under ground and they are protected from the elements and other potential hazards.

When it comes to the cost of incidents that occur during transportation of oil by rail, road or pipeline, damages caused by pipeline spills are far more expensive, but on the other hand, they rarely result in fatalities. Additionally, pipeline ruptures are more harmful to the environment, since they cause bigger spills, often contaminating water and land, putting public health at risk and affecting wildlife and habitat.

In any case, it’s a fact that it’s much cheaper to transport oil by pipeline, compared to transportation by rail, road, or boat, which is why the U.S. and Canada have invested over $10 billion to build the Keystone Pipeline System. This project is expected to increase oil supply, and help stabilize gas prices. According to some estimates, as much as $50 billion a year could be saved when most of the oil in North America will be transported via this pipeline system, instead of by rail. The Keystone will have a capacity of approximately 35 million gallons a day, which is significantly more than what a train or a truck can carry.

To conclude, pipelines are safer and less expensive, which makes them a pretty good alternative to oil transport by rail, but even so, rail transport is expected to continue to increase, at least for the foreseeable future.