This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
A fiery train derailment that scattered freight-rail tank cars carrying crude oil andÂ forcedÂ the evacuation of hundreds of families in West VirginiaÂ has revived the ongoing debate of pipelines vs. railroads.
â??That argument has been there for quite some time,â?ť saidÂ Bob Schulz, professor with the Haskayne School of BusinessÂ at the University of Calgary.
Itâ??s also drawn into the fray the long-running battle over the Keystone XL pipeline.
Officials are trying to figure out why the 109-car train went off the track alongÂ the KanawhaÂ River Monday and ignited at least 14 tankers, promptingÂ the stateâ??s governor to declare a state of emergency.
â??All you heard was a big boom,â?ť Becky Nuckols of theÂ town of BoomerÂ told Associated PressÂ Monday night. No injuries have been reported.
The CSX trains wereÂ heading from the BakkenÂ oil fields in North Dakota toÂ an oil depot in Yorktown, Virginia.
â??It may indeed lead to more callsâ?ť for using more pipelines rather than railÂ to move oil across long distances,Â Tony Hatch, a transportation analyst who has worked with major railroads including CSX,Â said in an email to Watchdog.org, adding, â??that is what politicians do but we need to know why this happened.â?ť
With oil production booming in recent years, capacity is running high and more crude is being shipped by rail. TheÂ numbers have nearly doubledÂ from 2012 to 2013.
The West Virginia crashÂ marksÂ at least the ninthÂ rail mishapÂ carrying crude oil inÂ less than two years in the U.S. and Canada. A similar crashÂ occurred last yearÂ on the same CSX lineÂ in Lynchburg, Virginia.
â??If you multiply the percent of oil traveling over the rail lines, I donâ??t think the probability of an accidentÂ would go down, it would go up because thereâ??s extra traffic,â?ť Schulz said in a telephone interview.
The railroad industry insists itâ??s doing a good job.
â??Freight railroads move each oil train under rules as rigorous as those required for morehazardous materials,â?ť theÂ Association of American Railroads websiteÂ says. â??Thanks to a nationwide rail network infused by years of major private investment reaching into the hundreds of billions of dollars, railroads are transporting what Americaâ??s economy needs and helping the nation achieve energy independence.â?ť
Hatch said 2014 was a good year overall for rail safety, and the number of incidents is going down. â??They spend billions on it, so it had better,â?ť Hatch said.
Even before Mondayâ??s derailment, someÂ energy industry advocatesÂ have called forÂ more pipelines and less railroads.
ButÂ rail defenders sayÂ pipeline leaks can be more damaging than a train derailment because a leakÂ can be harder to spot at first andÂ canÂ potentially release more oil. However,Â aÂ report released by the State Department in March 2013Â said rails have an â??increased statistical likelihood of spills.â?ť
â??Every piece of the data Iâ??ve seen says pipelines are safer than rail,â?ť Schulz said.
Environmentalists donâ??t like either method, urgingÂ thatÂ both rail and pipelinesÂ be phased out.
â??The recent spate ofÂ rail accidents and pipeline leaksÂ and spills doesnâ??t provide arguments for one or the other,â?ť Canadian scientist and environmental activistÂ David Sukuzki wrote last year. â??Instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage â?? even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.â?ť
The West Virginia derailment comes asÂ Congress clearedÂ a billÂ approving of theÂ Keystone XL pipeline and sending it to President Obama, who has said he will veto the measure.
If ultimately approved, theÂ 1,179-mile Keystone pipelineÂ would have aÂ capacity to carry 830,000 gallonsÂ from the oil-sands fields in Canada,Â connecting in NebraskaÂ and then taking oil to refineries in southern states along the Gulf of Mexico.
â??I think this (West Virginia accident) will be an argument forâ?ť Keystone XL,Â said Schulz. â??If the Keystone pipeline were in, the probability of less oil shipped by rail would be quite significant.â?ť
Hatch said he isnâ??t so sureÂ the West Virginia derailmentÂ will have much effect on the Keystone debate.
â??This has nothing to do with (Keystone) XL,â?ť Hatch said, pointing out thatÂ the derailment was on a different route and the â??Canadian oil-sand product wouldnâ??t explode.â?ť
Another factor to consider when comparing moving oil via pipeline to rail is cost.
â??Shipping by rail costs $8 to $9 a barrel more, so oil companies would rather ship it by pipeline,â?ť Schulz said.
But since the pipeline structure in some placesÂ such as the BakkenÂ is spotty or canâ??t handle the current volume,Â companies resort to rail â??Â or even moving their oil shorter distances by truck,Â which is even more costly.
The railroad industry has been waiting for monthsÂ for word on new U.S. Department of TransportationÂ regulationsÂ forÂ phasing outÂ aging freight-rail tank cars.
â??Youâ??ve got older tank cars that are more risky,â?ť Schulz said.
But late Monday,Â CSX announcedÂ the rail cars involved in the West Virginia derailmentÂ were newer models designed to be puncture resistant.
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