Robert Bryce dissects the recent protests and arrests in Washington D.C. over the Keystone Pipeline Project. Blocking the oil pipeline from Canada to the US hardly slows the flow of oil. Instead, oil traffic via rail has exploded over the past two years, and Canada is swiftly building  terminals for shipping their oil around the world, including to our Gulf Coast refineries, via oil tanker. 

While opponents of the pipeline have been rallying their supporters, U.S. and Canadian railroads have been hauling record amounts of oil. Last year, the volume of oil delivered by rail in the United States jumped by about 46 percent compared with 2011. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil-related rail traffic increased in Canada by 30 percent. In December, U.S. and Canadian railroads were hauling about 1.9 million barrels of oil and refined products per day, double the volume moved in 2009. Of that total, about 1 million barrels per day is being railed in the United States.

The Keystone XL is designed to transport 830,000 barrels per day. Over the past two years or so, domestic railroads have increased their transport capacity by an amount equal to about 55 percent of what Keystone is supposed to provide.

And that gap between potential Keystone capacity and rail transport will surely close in short order. So the question is not so much, “Should we allow more Canadian oil to flow to the US by building a pipeline?” but rather “What is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to get it here?” Because it’s coming, and if not here, where environmental controls are in place, then to places in the world that care much less about damaging the environment.

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