Select Page

SOURCE: DeSmog Blog

DATE: March 14, 2019

SNIP: Last year, Canada exported a record amount of tar sands oil to the U.S., despite low oil prices leading to major losses once again for the struggling tar sands industry. That achievement required a big bump in hauling oil by rail, with those daily volumes in late 2018 more than double the previous record in 2014 during the first oil-by-rail boom.

Canada’s oil industry essentially has reached its limit for exporting oil into the U.S. through pipelines. That’s why it’s turning to rail to export more and more oil, but as an ever-increasing number of oil trains hit the tracks of North America, expect more accidents and oil spills to follow.

This could result in a near doubling of the current record volumes of Canadian crude moving by rail. Trains potentially could haul over 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the next two years, an outcome I predicted four years ago when the Canadian industry was moving only 150,000 bpd of oil by rail.

To put these volumes in perspective, the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline will have a capacity of 760,000 bpd. Oil trains amount to a veritable pipeline on wheels.

If the oil and rail industries do end up moving 600,000 bpd or more of oil by train, one thing is for certain: Accidents will increase.

Existing regulations ignore many of the risks of moving oil by rail. That means as oil volumes increase, we should expect derailments to increase too. And while the rail industry likes to tout its safety record, 2018 was not a good year for the Canadian rail industry — which experienced an increase in accidents.

“Overall, 1170 railway accidents were reported to the TSB in 2018, a 7% increase over 2017 and a 13% increase from the 5-year average of 1035. Most of the increase relates to non-main-track derailments of 5 or fewer cars.” — TSB of Canada

The big increases in moving oil by rail will push the Canadian rail system to its limits over the next two years.

Activists have blocked many proposed projects on America’s West Coast and expansion efforts to the East Coast as well. Local municipalities for port cities have passed laws banning new fossil fuel infrastructure, which effectively blocked new oil-by-rail facilities in Portland, Oregon, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Despite these efforts, oil-by-rail volumes in America were 88 percent higher in October 2018 compared to the previous October.