LA Times: Truck and Train Oil Tanker Accidents Preferable to Pipe Spills

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The LA Times doesn’t mind if cancelling Keystone leads to more rail and road freighting of oil, they think truck and tanker train oil spills are preferable to pipeline spills because they cause less environmental damage.

Editorial Keystone XL is still the wrong project for a world facing global warming. Kill it and be done

A decision Monday by the Nebraska Public Service Commission was supposed to settle the fate of TransCanada Corp.’s controversial $8-billion Keystone XL pipeline, which is designed to carry tar sands oil from Canada to U.S. refineries. But the commission didn’t give the company the green light it was looking for; instead, it approved a different and less-studied route for the pipeline than TransCanada wanted.

Proponents also argue that if the pipeline doesn’t get built, the tar sands oil would move to market anyway through alternative (and more expensive) means such as rail or truck tankers, which they argue pose a higher risk of spilling oil into the environment. But that’s not completely true. Train and truck accidents may indeed occur more often than pipeline breaks, but such accidents leak a small amount of oil compared to pipeline spills. Keystone itself proved that point last week when a single leak in an already operating section of its 2,687-mile pipeline system spewed 210,000 gallons of oil — or about two dozen tanker truck loads — onto South Dakota farmland.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-keystone-xl-transcanada-nebraska-trump-obama-20171121-story.html

In 2013, a tanker train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Canada led to the loss of 47 lives, when the tanker train derailed while rolling downhill in the downtown area of Lac-Mégantic (see picture above).

There have also been some frightening near misses. A tanker train derailed in Gogama, Northern Ontario in 2015, though thankfully no loss of life on that occasion – the train derailed outside the town.

The 1998 Nigerian pipeline disaster led to over 1000 deaths, but Nigerian police believe the pipeline was deliberately ruptured by scavengers – many of the people who died were allegedly trying to steal fuel.

Pipelines can be routed around towns. Trains and Road Tankers usually have to navigate busy transport interchanges, where an accident or spill can lead to disastrous loss of life.

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112 thoughts on “LA Times: Truck and Train Oil Tanker Accidents Preferable to Pipe Spills

  1. OK so I’m living in this parallel universe where it is worse to have a pipeline leak which has all sorts of safety features to cut the flow as soon as anything goes wrong than to have truck or train wrecks usually in built up areas where it is harder to control the discharge apart from it being the total carried on that truck or train?
    Also the amounts transportable on road and rail is tiny compared with what can go through a pipeline.

    James Bull

    • One thought: there was a major accident on a gas pipeline in Belgium a few years ago. One problem was, as I recall, that although the valves were shut down after the breach the distance between the valves was quite long, so a lot of gas escaped (and burned) as the breached pipe section emptied.
      Does anyone know what the average amount of oil is per pipe section for keystone XL? How much will always leak out after an accident?

      • @Keith J : er yes, I know that oil in incompressible. And surprisingly, I even know that diameter * length = volume.
        One could expect, after the valves are shut, that the whole volume of the section between the two nearest valves (one on each side) will leak out. The core of my question was: what would the distance between the valves be? (I don’t know what US practice is on this).
        With that info one can presumably estimate an at-risk spillage-volume, and compare it with the volume of a tank-car.

      • You can pump oil out of the breached section. Once the pipeline is de-pressurized, the leak slows down to a trickle.

      • Seems to me that their goal is to drive up the price of oil by forcing it to be transported in the most costly fashion available.
        It’s far more costly to transport small amounts by train than large amounts by pipeline.
        It would br far better to do everything possible to lower the cost of oil as this would tend to strand oil in the ground due to the lack of profitability

      • It’s also important where the leak in the oil pipe occurs. Up elevation or down from valve? Top of pipe or bottom? This could be a difference between a major and minor spill depending on the distances and elevation changes of the pipe from the shut off valve. Of course “major” is relative.

      • This is a question. “Pigs” are located in the lines to act as separators of the different petroleum products. Would not the “pig” be held in place by a vacuum if the valve was closed behind it preventing a flow condition? Just asking?

    • Maybe you are missing the LA Times real point. Trucks and train wrecks with petroleum products spilling and burning make “great” very visual news for their front page and have a high probability of happening. Therefore it feeds the ‘useful idiots’ and ‘fellow travelers’ gross prejudice to fossil fuels, provides a “large visible object (LVO)” for them to point at. It also filters into the psyche of the average American and feeds the notion of LA Times and other rags are selling, “fossil fuels evil.” Modern pipelines, unless sabotaged, carry on doing what is necessary with a low probability of “making headlines” except when a bunch of greenies make camp.

    • A question to consider is also just who profits from the rail or truck transport of oil versus a pipeline transfer of oil?
      If those who profit from overland transfer of oil have “Gone Green” and are backing the “Green Wave” of pinwheels and solar panels in order to oppose a pipeline, just what “Green” have they gone for?

  2. The Keystone pipeline is designed to carry about 45 million barrels per day. In one day the pipeline could carry as much oil as 240 trains like the one at the Megantic disaster where 72 tanker cars carried about 220 US gallons of oil.

    In one year the Keystone pipeline could carry as much as 75,000 trains the number and size of those in the Megantic disaster. Alternatively, for the pipeline to be as bad as trains there would have to be 75,000 leaks of that size per year. And trucks would be worse because the roads are not as safe as railroads.

    The problem with the LA Times and similar media is the reporters seem either not to be able to do arithmetic or the editors prefer scare stories.

    • blockquote>“ the Megantic disaster where 72 tanker cars carried about 220 US gallons of oil.

      I believe your quantity figure is wrong.

      One (1) pick-up truck could easily transport 220 US gallons of oil.

      If they are full capacity, a RR tanker car carries roughly 30,000 gallons.

    • “45 million barrels a day”
      Wrong.
      I don’t know the capacity but 45 million barrels is nearly 1/2 of the current daily production in the world. Not happening.
      Check your inputs & re-do calculations

    • Pipeline opponents also fail to consider that pipeline pumps consume less energy than train locomotives and trucks do for the same amount of oil transported, which means less CO2 is produced. And our fossil fuel supplies will last longer, and this means more time for the oceans to absorb the CO2 produced by burning them.

    • To be clear, the innocent victims at Lac Megantic were BURNED ALIVE.
      These were horrific, excruciating deaths.
      How the LA Times or anyone else could simply dismiss them is psychopathic.

      • “How the LA Times or anyone else could simply dismiss them is psychopathic.”
        No amount of human suffering to too big a price to pay to save the Earth from Al Gore’s delusional climate emergancy.

  3. I suspect the people of Lac-Magentic, among a host of other towns DESTROYED by such accidents, would disagree.

  4. I know nothing about the business of moving oil, but wouldn’t a pipeline replacement need a pretty constant stream of oil tanker trains (or trucks?) to manage the same capacity? And about 10x the labour to drive & load/unload?

    Just call Elon, I’m sure he’ll have a solution…

  5. 45 million barrels per day ?? That is one hell of a pipelne – enough for 4 times total US or Saudi production. What do they pipe through it AGW hot air?? It is quoted at 930,000 bbls/day in Wilipedia

  6. TransCanada is now “assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-20/transcanada-wins-approval-to-construct-keystone-xl-in-nebraska-ja8e1psp

    It’s not over until it actually gets built. There are strong forces at work still trying to block this and now TC has to start from scratch negotiating with land owners on the new route approved through parts of Nebraska. Not insurmountable, but at some point, is it even worthwhile? Does the USA really want access to long term energy security from a friendly jurisdiction on the same continent. Pipeline politics makes for strange bedfellows, but those that have vested interests in railroads that would like to see shipments continue by rail have other ideas how to sabotage this. It ain’t over til it’s over.

      • Tides Foundation based in San Francisco is a big player. In 2015, Tides paid $4 million to 50 anti-pipeline groups. Of that, $750,000 went to U.S. organizations while $3.3 million was paid out in Canada

  7. Environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill are often overblown. link

    If you wait long enough, nature cleans itself up. If it matters sufficiently, we can speed things up. Anyone who does a calculation and decides that loss of human life can be balanced against “environmental disasters” must be some kind of psychopath.

    • ” Anyone who does a calculation and decides that loss of human life can be balanced against “environmental disasters” must be some kind of psychopath.”
      A very good description of the average environments.

    • Griff, given the green position that renewables are now cheaper than coal, why do we need to take any kind of personal action? Surely simple economics will rapidly eliminate fossil fuels from the economy.

      • And this “just announced” invention will surely “kick-start” that rapidl elimination of fossil fuels into “overdrive”, ……. To wit:

        Car designer Henrik Fisker’s new company, Fisker Inc., recently filed to patent a car battery – which is currently in development – that has a range of 500 miles and can be charged in one minute.

        http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/11/21/fisker-patents-car-battery-with-500-mile-range-on-minute-s-charge.html

      • Griff,

        Do you have a response to Eric’s point?

        I personally go out of my way and shop for the most expensive and least efficient products that I can find; so I obviously am using coal, oil, and other “fossil fuel” products. I am stubborn and somewhat stupid.

        But the vast majority of people are common sense folks that buy/use/look for the least expensive/most efficient combination product that they can find … they are not stubborn or stupid like me. Given that renewables are now cheaper (and better for the environment) it is an economic no brainer that we will use less oil. In fact oil use for energy production will dry up entirely due to simple supply/demand logistics.

        It is obvious that the demand for the refined oil sand product will be too low (not enough stubborn stupid people like me), and the pipeline folks go bankrupt, and the oil sands will not be exploited, and you should have nothing to worry about.

        Unless you are a big ‘ol liar.

    • Griff, stop preaching, start doing it.
      Take the steps needed to ban oil and oil-using stuff from your life, which actually means ALL the stuff you use and eat, anything metallic, plastic, ceramic, electric or electronic etc.
      Grow your food using animal force and wood and stone tools, dwell in a wooden cabin, etc.
      Until then, you are just showing yourself an hypocrite preacher.

    • “another alternative… use less oil.”

      ….you on your way to start up a elec car dealership in Somalia?

    • Oh Griff is around I thought he would be down the pub getting drunk given his couple of weeks with Keystone, Merkel then Carmichael coal mine.

      Griff, so just out of interest have you worked out China is playing games yet?
      Only the Chinese government was willing to finance a coal mine that big and it isn’t a popular idea even in Australia.

    • Oil is the prime source for hundreds of products we all use every day. From your toothbrush to your
      I-Phone case to your quick-dry sports wear. Griff surely has an affordable replacement for all that in mind.

    • Does it help to think of the tar sands as a giant oil spill that we are cleaning up?

      Just because Mother Nature put something somewhere, it doesn’t mean that it is automatically good. She left a mess and we’re cleaning it up. :-) It makes me feel so virtuous.

      • We need a global clean-up fund to help out with the costs. We shouldn’t expect the Canadians to have bear all of the costs of this truly natural disaster … and it’s only a matter of time before ground water becomes contaminated.

        This seems like just the thing U.N. and the World Bank funding. I’m sure will they would be able to find some fiscally responsible nephew, or brother in law, to manage the project/money for the good of us all.

    • The tar sands companies are not forcing people to use their product. Consumers are demanding it for their cars, heating, and other energy and chemical requirements. It is a fallacy to believe that the source of our addiction to oil is the oil companies. The source is “everyman”….

    • How about we turn all the pipeline valves off into California and in and out of California Refineries and only allow trucks and trains.

      Do the same for England. Happy Griff?

    • “Griff November 22, 2017 at 3:59 am”

      Your family exploited coal, right? You are a product of a coal mining family, right? You have stated that before. Why deprive other people from exploiting the very resource your family exploited?

    • “Griff November 22, 2017 at 3:59 am

      another alternative… use less oil.”

      Detail how many products you use, daily, that are not oil derived? A PC is one. Telecoms another. The “internet” too. Can you use less oil there?

    • “another alternative… use less oil.”

      In 18 months Mazda & GM will be out with cars using radical new gasoline-powered engines that consume 30% less gasoline.

  8. So according to the LA Times the deaths of people in the Lac Megantic oil train wreck are less important than the environmental mess with the South Dakota oil pipeline spill.

      • It’s on the same scale as a mass shooting good for 2 days news. Now how many weeks did they get out of Deep Water Horizon and it even got a movie deal. That says it all.

    • Pipeline failures are remotely detected rapidly and the system shut down. I understand that if the system kept pumping, it would be an vast amount of spillage, but that is not how the system works.

      • True.
        We use software originally designed for oil pipelines. Lots of redundancy built into the program along with the ability to have lots of redundant sensors that would trigger the flow to be shut off relatively quickly.

        PS The Alaska Pipeline was built long before computer controls. How many “catastrophic” spills has it experienced?

        PPS They used to have to inject a “pig” into lines to separate gas from diesel, fuel oil, etc. No need for that now. (As long as there is a market for the small bit of the “mixed” product.)

      • I’ve been wrong before.
        But a “pig” is/was a mechanical devise inserted in the past to separate the products (and to clean, at times clean the pipeline.)
        Your comment doesn’t say just how I was wrong.
        I was talking about past “pigs” to separate products, not present “pigs” to clean lines.
        But I am a Layman and speaking from a Layman’s limited knowledge.
        Is water used now when “pigs” where were used then?

      • And why do we still have pig detectors? Now use water detectors? Well, I suppose pig detectors are still required when cleaning and the internal pig sensors/transmitters fail. Yup, happens.

      • “C. Paul Pierett November 22, 2017 at 2:24 pm

        Water is used to separate different products such as gasoline and diesel, because it doesn’t mix with the product.”

        WOW! London transport worked out how to *MIX* diesel with water to save on fuel costs back in the 1970’s.

  9. ‘Keystone itself proved that point last week when a single leak in an already operating section of its 2,687-mile pipeline system spewed 210,000 gallons of oil — or about two dozen tanker truck loads ‘

    How many cars are in an average train load of oil?

    • Probably 100+- RR tanker cars are in an average train load of oil, …. and at 30,000 gallons each that would mean the train was hauling about 3,000,000 gallons of oil.

      So, a pipeline spill of 210,000 gallons of oil would cause far less environmental damage than a major train wreck if more that seven (7) RR tanker cars ruptured and spilled their contents.

    • We really ought to give the number in ounces. Or maybe motor oil quarts. Barrels just doesn’t produce a number which is big and scary enough.

  10. For those with carbonphobia, even those that flunked 1st grade math would be able to derive more CO2 is generated transporting via truck and rail.

      • Sheri – November 22, 2017 at 7:04 am

        …… more CO2 is generated transporting via truck and rail.

        Details…..

        “DUH”, ….. the length of the Keystone XL Pipeline is 1,897 km (1,179 mi).

        Pumping oil down the Pipeline only incurs minimal CO2 emissions ……. and cheapy “transportation costs” for one (1) direction, ……. a total of 1,178 miles.

        Hauling that oil via tanker truck or RR tanker cars incurs horrendous CO2 emissions …….and pricy “transportation costs” for two (2) directions, …….. a total of 2,356 miles.

        Tanker trucks will be, by far, the most expensive because of the cost of diesel fuel and preventive maintenance for each truck.

  11. Why someone in LA would think he can have an opinion of something that doesn’t happen near California, anyway, to start with ?

  12. It just seems like an ends-justify-the-means attempt to justify why they couldn’t really care about the risks to humans of either method. What really matters to them is that the tar sands are made as uneconomic as possible, by any means, and humans are very much of secondary importance. Pretty standard stuff with people on a mission to save the planet.

    • humans are very much of secondary importance

      But don’t you see how selfless this makes the enviroids?

  13. The story immediately went off the rails when one reads the source. Liberal media represents the alternative universe where knowledge and the laws of physics are replaced by noble aspirations and utopian wonderings.

  14. If people knew the massive amount of chemicals, explosives, and hazardous and toxic materials that are transported by rail and truck they would demand more pipelines. These trucks and trains pass through suburban neighborhoods as well as cities where lots of people reside. Tanker after tanker will pass through neighborhoods. All it takes is a careless driver, missed signal, or careless operator and all those tankers could spill their contents. We do have to give credit where credit is due, the number of accidents involving trains and trucks is small, so they are doing something right.

  15. If a half dozen backyard swimming pool’s worth of oil scares them this much just imagine how petrified they’ll be to find out that Mother Nature “poisons” the Gulf of Mexico with ~50 MILLION gallons of crude oil every year?

    • But that’s NATURAL and Nature is kind and benevolent. Heck, humans probably caused those leaks in poor Mother Earth’s skin. Otherwise, the Gulf would be pristine as it was throughout the humanless past. (Which was obviously very, very pristine, of course.)

  16. You miss the point. Environmentalists WANT the fires, the rail spills, the deaths. It’s punishment for using the oil and gas. The more damage and death, the better.

    • I think we should route the pipeline through Yellowstone Park.

      – Then the pipeline can leak, it can cause an explosion, set-off the supervolcano, devastate the continent, kill millions and the greeeeens will have ammo to flagellate us with for YEARS! Think how HAPPY they’ll be!

      /sarc, in case I need to say it… -_-

  17. IMHO, the mutual bashing between pipe and rail has eased up, simply because they have each realized two things. Both are needed at various times and places. More importantly, they finally caught on to the anti-oil crowd simply picking the best negative arguments from each side and using them against the industry generally. Probably the biggest total leaks (not cleaned up by industry) are from the cars and trucks we rely on every day, yet no politician or even “environmentalist” will launch a campaign to force John Q or the car manufacturers to seal all those.

    • I would go with that, you would hate to even try and put a number on amount of oil washed into drains every year.

  18. Simple solution. Build concrete barricades across all LA freeways.
    That is guaranteed to cut down on CO2 emissions and help California meet its legislated climate change CO2 reductions (- though not nearly at the concentrations of 40,000 ppm exhaled by the LA Times Editor!)

  19. It is interesting to watch the Liberal establishment ignoring deaths if it suits their political agenda.

    But we should not be too complacent. ALL humans behave like this. During WW2 the mass of the German people preferred to ignore the rumours of mechanised killings that were going around – US citizens similarly ignored some of the scandals involving the internment of enemy aliens – as did the British. It’s just the way all humans behave…

  20. Lac Megantic: “The equipment that derailed included 63 of the 72 tank cars as well as the buffer car. Nine tank cars at the rear of the train remained on the track and were pulled away from the derailment site and did not explode. Almost all of the derailed tank cars were damaged, many having large breaches. About six million litres of petroleum crude oil was quickly released.”
    Wabamun Lake, Alberta, 2005: 800,000 litres of oil into a lake. Cleanup took years, but the lake is apparently healthy again. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/wabamun-lake-oil-spill-a-decade-later-disaster-still-fresh-in-residents-minds-1.3177556

  21. The thing of it is, the LA Times is hyper-innumerate. Let’s take a page from the scare mongers playbook. An Olympic-sized swimming pool has a volume of 660,430 gallons. So, the leak was less than a third of a swimming pool. Are we all still terrified?

  22. The ecofascists don’t base their policy on common sense or rational thoughts. They have a full on hatred for all things related to fossil fuels and will try to prevent anything new regarding them including building pipelines, Arctic drilling, fracking, Oil Sands development, and so on. They are simply against all of that…full stop…no debate…no thought at all.

    Well anyways, that’s how i make sense of it.

  23. “The delays that will arise from legal challenges to the new route will likely make tar sands oil costlier and harder to sell.”
    Of course. That’s the whole idea. Duh. Envirofascism 101.

  24. In 2009 Warren Buffet sold his shares of Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern to purchase the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad. A lot of people theorized that Obama’s resistance to the Keystone pipeline was driven by Buffet’s support. Oil goes by either pipeline or rail and Buffet is known as a savvy investor (which is easy if you’ve got tentacles dipped in DC).

    BNSF has proved a good investment for Warren. Interestingly, shipping coal was always instrumental to a RR’s bottom line but coal is now down to about 15-16% of their shipped commodities. And UP is set to break out in returns and is pegged by investors as a ‘buy’. Might Warren be considering adding UP back to his portfolio with BNSF. After all, UP has rail lines reaching to the Gulf just where Keystone would be pumping. And, of course, UP is headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. And, of course, Buffet lives in Omaha too.

  25. Hell, building small canals and transporting it by inflatable raft is preferable to a pipeline with safeties that don’t work dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons until a god damned AIRLINE PILOT reports the spill.

    • Incorrect. Airline pilots are blessed.

      By the way, the pipeline companies have light airplanes constantly flying their routes to check for leaks.

    • Yes, if that was the case it would be preferable. But a review of the facts shows otherwise. And if rail and truck transport did not spill many multiples of what has you so upset. And if rail and truck did not also damage property and injure or kill people with a disturbing frequency.

    • The auto sensors alerted the command and control centre when the PSI dropped on the line instantly, within a few minutes. Everything worked as designed, except why did the pipe rupture, which they will figure out as soon as they dig it up. All the more reason to put in brand new pipe with extra corrosion resistance.

      If it waited until some GD airline pilot reported it, it would have been millions and millions of gallons. Unless of course you have a source for that, but not what was reported in a 100 media outlets. Oh I know…it is all fake news. And you probably heard this from Alex Jones, or are just straight BSing everyone here.

      • “All the more reason to put in brand new pipe with extra corrosion resistance.”

        The “old” Keystone pipeline that ruptured is not as leak-proof as the new, parallel version they are building.

      • Absolutely correct Roger. You would think everyone would be thrilled that new thicker pipe with enhanced state of art security and protection would be preferable to an older pipe line that may be more susceptible to leaks. Keystone in SD has now been shut down for a week, and maybe many more weeks to come and perhaps even Regulatory issues before a re-start when fixed. 600,000 barrels a day is now effectively off-line.

  26. 1) the recent leak was about enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool (h/t smalldeadanimals.com)
    2) I live half a block from a rail line. I’ll take my chances with a pipeline, thanks
    3) “use less oil”? Sure, lets deal with the opioid epidemic by telling users to “use less drugs”

  27. In extreme forms, it seems that belief in climate apocalypse claptrap makes the believer immune to reality.
    Pipelines do far less damage to the environment than railroads, highways or wind turbine complexes.

  28. With reference to the battery that can charge up in one minute to run a car for 500 miles, how does one get that much energy into the battery safely. You need either massive cables to connect to the battery or extremely high voltages. Can someone do the maths.
    Not just for a sunny day on flat ground in California, but for a snowy day in February at night with the lights and heater full on when driving a road that goes up and down steep hills.

    • In my electrical experience not safely. My guess is the patent is bogus (Like many others) but then if someone makes one (Patent breach). Clever!

  29. To charge a battery to run a car for 500 miles, we need to spend ten hours or so replenishing the battery with the same amount of energy which was supplied PLUS LOSSES. The so-called invention is a fraud.

  30. Increased oil and gas reliance requires infrastructure improvements. That is a fact, and should be part of any objective decision making process involving energy supply. Greens, however, are incapable of objectivity.

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