Writing in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Tom Magness, former commander with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), discusses the disparity in safety between moving oil and gas by pipeline, versus moving it by rail. The unfortunate reality of train derailments is that moving hazardous materials by rail is less safe, “both for the environment and for individuals” than alternate methods—namely pipelines. Although the East Palestine disaster did not spill oil and gas, it stood as a stark reminder that train derailments can be catastrophic, such as the 2013 Lac-Megantic accident in Canada.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, less than one one-hundredth of a percent of all transportation accidents involve pipelines, while “over 1,000 derailments occur every year across the United States, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.”
Magness notes this is potentially an issue because 2020 saw the least amount of interstate natural gas pipeline capacity on record. Regulatory roadblocks such as onerous permitting requirements, coupled with delay to die litigation tactics, have stalled energy infrastructure projects, specifically pipelines, across the country in the past few years. Since it has become more difficult to increase pipeline capacity, oil and gas products could be moved via rail more frequently.
In that same vein, Magness draws attention to the multibillion-dollar merger between rail giants Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific. He says, “this would mean an additional 15 to 20 train cars carrying crude oil would pass through Minnesota every month, making an accident far more likely than if a pipeline was in place. The Keystone XL pipeline, for example, which President Biden canceled on his first day in office, would have transported Canadian oil to the U.S.”
Relying on rail transportation for moving hazardous products instead of pipelines could have potentially disastrous effects. Magness urges Congress to prioritize permitting reform so that more infrastructure projects can be constructed over the coming years, diversifying the nation’s transportation capacity.