Monday, May 11, 2015

Pipeline questions should be safety

They roll out of the oil fields in Canada and North Dakota, trains of more than 100 cars holding up to 30,000 gallons of oil per car — about 3 million gallons of crude oil.
Pipeline or no pipeline, the oil still flows. The question remains: What is the best way to transport this oil — train or pipeline?
Oil transported by train is not your father’s oil, as the oil from Canada’s oil sands is thick as peanut butter and has to be diluted with natural gas so it can flow, which makes it as volatile as the North Dakota oil which has natural gas in the oil as it comes out of the ground, making it very volatile.
Then there are the railroad tank cars — old and never designed to carry this type of volatile liquid. Now, new cars are being built with thicker walls, but they still can explode in a bad derailment. Oil trains are now limited to 45 mph as they travel around the country, through rural country sides, small towns and large, populated areas.
Over many years, we have had major oil train accidents:
• In Cherry Valley, Ill., June 2009, 13 cars carrying ethanol ignited, causing one death and $7.4 million in damages.
• In Aliceville, Ala., November 2013, 26 cars derailed, releasing 750,000 gals of oil.
• In Casselton, N.D., December 2013, a 106-car train crashed and caught fire, spilling 476,000 gallons of oil, forcing 1,400 residents to evacuate.
• In Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 2013, a runaway train exploded, killing 47 people and spilling 1 million gallons of crude oil, burning down a quarter of the town’s business district.
• In Lynchburg, Va., April 2014, over a dozen tank cars derailed and three cars fell into the James River; 50,000 gals spilled and burned.
• In Yorktown, W. Va., February 2015, 20 out of 109 tanker cars jumped the tracks and exploded in a huge fireball.
And there have been about three more derailments this year.
The worst scenario is the one that has not happened — yet. There are hundreds of railroad bridges these trains have to pass over that are in need of repair. If one of those bridges gives way, it could be a catastrophe.

Remember the president’s “shovel-ready jobs,” with which the $800-plus trillion stimulus was supposed to help? Well, evidently those jobs turned out to be not so shovel-ready after all.
One of the president’s arguments against the pipeline was that it would only provide 35 full-time jobs, while providing 1,500 part-time jobs. Well, what did they think shovel-ready jobs were? You build a pipeline and when it’s finished you move on to the next job — a railroad bridge, a highway, etc.
Now as far as the pipeline is concerned: One thing a pipeline can’t do is move; the only thing that moves is the oil inside the pipeline so you know where it is at all times.
Could it leak? Yes it could, but the oil can be cut off if there’s a leak. And don’t forget the pipeline still has to be built — about 800 miles of it — and all the safety devices to make sure any leak can be taken care of with minimal damage to the environment.

Bruce Knipp