Keystone XL Pipeline Pushers Sorta Threaten to Rain Fire on Chicago, But Have Oil Train Issue Wrong

Tanker cars are a common site in Chicago. I photographed the ones above while taking my son sledding in Ping Tom Park just south of downtown a few months back.

You know, industry loves to say environmentalists use scare tactics all the time. But check out what is going on in the Keystone XL debate and you will see the pipeline pushers making claims that are designed to scare the pants off of the public. And, oddly, they cast themselves as both the boogieman and savior.

Look at what one of the biggest pipeline advocates out there had to say in the Financial Post recently. Gary Doer, Canada’s Ambassador to the US is quoted about the “consequences” of a delayed Keystone XL decision:

“Every day it’s delayed is another day where more oil is going to come down by rail,” Mr. Doer said. “We are going to continue to say to people: See those trains in Chicago? You see how much crude is going by your door? That is riskier for you and it’s because of the pipeline. It’s not an abstract debate. It has real consequences to your community.”

Yes…if you do not build our beloved pipeline, we will rain fire down on the Windy City in the form of giant combustible oil trains like the ones that incinerated the Canadian town of Lac Magantic and set a river on fire in Virginia last month.

It is a scary thought.

But…as is often the case with the oil industry talking points parroted by the folks politically advancing their agenda…its not really true.

While there has been an oil train boom, the oil riding the rails in America is almost exclusively the light sweet crude from the Bakken fields in the Dakotas. A recent report by Oil Change International shows that North Dakota crude accounts for about 80% of North America’s crude by rail boom. That is the stuff moving along train lines in Chicago. That is the stuff involved in numerous scary incidents around North America. Oil producers in Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Ohio and Kansas are also using rail to ship crude to refineries and have built about one million barrels per day (bpd) of on-loading terminals.

But Keystone XL is designed to move Canada’s super-carbon-heavy and sludgey tar sands oil. Pushing KXL through doesn’t make Chicago or any other rail hub city safe, because it offsets very little oil that would otherwise move by train. According to Reuters, tar sands by rail to the Gulf averaged less than 30,000 bpd in 2013.

Doer either doesn’t understand that there are different types of oil moving from different places, or he is intentionally using a cynical scare tactic. It’s typical of this debate, which had revolved around claims of the pipeline delivering huge numbers of jobs and energy security to the US. They did not stand up to scrutiny as research showed 50 permanent jobs and increased the pipeline’s oil being burned predominantly in foreign vehicles. So, they’ve shifted to this argument, which also doesn’t hold water. It is not just Doer. His boss, Prime Minister Harper has made similar claims.

But make no mistake, pipelines vs. oil trains is a false choice; the industry wants more of both. If we have concerns about the safety of moving oil on rails in this country, we should fix the trains which are largely unregulated, rather than foisting a pipeline that will largely move a completely different kind of oil (it’s worth noting that a half million barrels/day of pipeline capacity has been cancelled in the Dakotas due to lack of interest from oil producers).

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