Transporting oil and natural gas by rail has become a necessary part of business for large energy companies after President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. Railways are a convenient and cost effective alternative to a direct pipeline, but questions about safety and ability to monitor spills and accidents provide a new and different set of challenges.

 

 

Environmental concerns were a key factor behind the decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. Although rail transportation does not require a continent-wide construction project, it could have many potentially negative impacts on the environment. Any type of collision or spill would be a disaster for the surrounding landscape. It could take mechanics and clean-up crews a very long time to reach the accident area since long stretches of railroad are in remote areas, far away from other forms of infrastructure.

 

There are also serious safety concerns over shipping large quantities of flammable materials at high speeds through towns and cities. Any type of malfunction of a train carrying fossil fuels in a major rail hub like Atlanta or Chicago could result in massive property damage and potentially the loss of many lives.

 

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Transportation denied an appeal to overturn a ruling which requires new brake systems be installed on all trains hauling hazardous materials. The ruling will hike up prices on the cheapest method of transportation for oil companies.

 

Despite this ruling, rail transportation is still the best option for transporting fossil fuels. Shipping oil and natural gas is expensive and will require some kind of land transportation to get from the shipping destination to the nearest refinery. Using trucks is incredibly inefficient due to the limited volume each truck can hold and the higher risk of accidents on the highways. In the end, despite the legitimate concerns, rail transportation is the only viable option.

 

Would a pipeline actually be more safe than rail transportation?  Feel free to leave a comment or find me on Twitter @Andrew_Morse4