North Dakota train crash to heighten oil-by-rail debate as U.S. reviews Keystone pipeline
The train derailment and fire in North Dakota that forced the evacuation of a nearby town is sure to trigger more debate about the safety of transporting oil as the U.S. reviews TransCanada Corp.’s proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Any time there is an incident, you have heightened talk and scrutiny on oil transportation,” Brigham McCown, a former director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said in an interview. “It will add to the conversation.”
More than 2,000 North Dakota residents were urged to flee possibly toxic fumes from the fire that engulfed BNSF Railway Co. cars carrying oil after they collided yesterday with another train about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Fargo. BNSF is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha.
While climate change has been the focus of the fight over Keystone, a subset in the debate has been the relative safety of pipelines versus trains as the U.S. State Department weighs whether the project is in the U.S. national interest. The agency has jurisdiction because Keystone crosses the border. The US$5.4-billion project would link Alberta’s oil sands and refineries along the Gulf Coast.
The accident in North Dakota is the fourth major North American derailment in six months by trains transporting crude. Record volumes of oil are moving by rail as production from North Dakota and Texas have pushed U.S. output to the most since 1988 and pipeline capacity has failed to keep up.
“I think this – seemingly yet another rail incident – will add to the clamor,” for more regulation of shipping oil by rail, Tony Hatch, an independent rail analyst based in New York, said in an e-mail.
Critics of Keystone have pointed to pipeline spills in Alabama and North Dakota to show that method of transporting oil carries its own hazards.
“Rail built the West. Rail built most of the towns,” he said in a phone interview. “As a consequence, there are more rail lines going through more populated areas.”
North Dakota train crash to heighten oil-by-rail debate as U.S. reviews Keystone pipeline | Financial Post