AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
The recent train derailment of several rail train cars hauling North Dakota crude oil out of state near the town of Casselton, N.D., should be a wake-up call to not only North Dakota, but to the nation on the need to get more of the state’s oil into pipelines.
The 2,400 residents of Casselton are extremely fortunate that the derailment, in which 10 rail cars of the 104-car train burst into flames, happened on the edge of the city. Had it happened within the city, the results could have been catastrophic. One only has to think back to this past July when a train loaded with North Dakota crude derailed and burned in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. That particular derailment and the ensuing fiery inferno killed 47 residents of that community and incinerated the downtown area.
While rail is one of the safest ways to transport crude oil, as well as other hazardous materials, with the volume of North Dakota oil that is moving out of state by rail, the chance of accidents such as what was witnessed in Casselton is only going to increase. And with these oil-laden trains passing through so many cities en route to refineries, the concern for public safety needs to be a high priority.
It is estimated that currently between 11 to 12 crude oil trains leave western North Dakota’s oil patch on a daily basis. And because of the lack of pipeline infrastructure in the state, currently approximately 69 percent of the state’s oil production is being shipped by rail. And with no slowdown in oil production expected in the future, by 2014 state officials are estimating that as much as 90 percent of North Dakota’s crude oil is going to be carried by trains.
While rail may be the best short-term answer to North Dakota’s rapidly growing oil industry, it is not the best answer. The best long-term solution to get the state’s oil production to market is not rail service, but rather pipelines. There are advantages to pipelines, but the most obvious will be the reduction of truck traffic needed to haul the crude oil to terminals. More pipelines will mean that there will be far fewer trucks on county and state roads, and thereby lessen traffic issues and motor vehicle accidents.
But more importantly, pipelines by their very nature are safer and avoid population areas.
Yes, pipelines can fail and leak. But so can rail cars. In the past year, North Dakota has seen both types of failures. When an oil pipeline leaks, there can be environmental damage such as what happened in the farmer’s field near Tioga. But as we have also seen, derailments happen with rail cars. The difference between the two failures though, is the potential impact on human lives.
The choice should be obvious. Sending North Dakota’s oil to market via pipelines is the only logical choice.
And no doubt, after their close call with disaster, the citizens of Casselton would no doubt agree.