Pipelines vs Oil Trains

By Juliana Henao, Communications Intern

Media outlets have been very focused recently on reporting oil train derailments and explosions. Additionally, the Keystone XL pipeline has hastened political debates and arguments for years by both political parties since its initial proposal in 2008 – and the May 19th pipeline oil spill in California isn’t helping matters. In the midst of all of this commotion, a million questions are being asked, yet no one can seem to reach a conclusion about what method of transporting oil is truly safest and economically feasible – or if we are just stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Some say the solution to this problem is transporting the volatile crude via pipelines, while others believe it is a matter of increasing regulations, standards, and compliance for transport by train. The answer is simply not simple.

In light of this, a few of the folks at FracTracker gathered some facts on pipelines vs oil trains to lay out this issue in a clearer fashion.

Let’s start with trains.

Benefits

Due to the increasing demand of crude oil supply, there has been increasing activity in the transportation of crude oil by rail, which provides flexibility and quick transportation throughout the U.S. and its 115 refineries. Railroads are also willing to offer shippers shorter contracts than pipelines and other transportation methods, making them a more favorable method of crude oil transportation.

In 2008, U.S. freight trains were delivering somewhere from 9-10,000 carloads of crude oil. In 2013, they delivered roughly 435,560 carloads of crude oil, showing a 20-fold increase in crude oil shipments.

Risks

Oil trains, as well as pipelines, can pose a detrimental risk to communities and public health in the case of an explosion and/or spill. Danger Around the Bend describes in detail the dangers of transporting Bakken Formation crude oil from North Dakota to parts all over the country.

Some of the risks of transporting volatile crude via train have been clearly depicted in the news with announcements of spills, derailments, and explosions in urban and suburban areas, putting many people in harm’s way. Despite the decrease in spills between 1996 and 2007, devastating train accidents like the one on July 6, 2013 have raised questions about the safety of transportation by train.

train_incidents_english

Learn more about this trend and the increasing risk of exploding oil trains in a post by Randy Sargent of CMU.

Trains and train tracks in general can be very dangerous, as demonstrated by the deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia this May. The total number of incidents in 2014, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, sum up to 11,793 – with 818 of those being fatal. These fatalities have been linked to a range of possible causes, but the numbers depict the gravity of safety issues within the railroad regulations.

Regulations

When it comes to train safety and regulations, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is in charge. Some of the current efforts to increase the safety of oil trains include safer tank car design, adding breaking power, reducing the train speed limits through urban areas and increasing crew size. One of the most important improvements, however, includes an increase in oil spill response, which is managed through the National Oil and Hazardous Substance Contingency Plan.

Now, let’s talk pipelines.

As we all know, finishing the Keystone XL pipeline has stirred years of controversy, since this project was initially proposed back in 2008. On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport up to 830,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day through an 875-mile long pipeline running from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast area. Below we have mapped the current and proposed tracks of the Keystone, along with the numerous ports, refineries, and rail lines:


The Keystone XL, Alberta oil sands, North American oil refineries and associated ports. View fullscreen and click Details for the metadata behind this map.

The SEIS discussed the impacts that the proposed pipeline would have on the environment and public health based on research, modeling, and analysis. One of the many purposes of the SEIS is to focus on whether the proposed project serves the national interest by comparing the risks to the benefits – discussed in more detail below.

Risks

The current risks associated with pipelines are similar to the risks associated with other modes of transporting oil across the United States. Oil spills are among the highest risks, but with the XL pipeline, it’s a more profound risk due to the type of oil being carried: tar sand oil. Tar sand oil, also known as heavy oil, is known for its tedious processing and its many environmental implications. Burning one single barrel of oil produced from Canadian tar sands generally emits 170 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It also requires large amounts of energy and water, much of which cannot be recycled, to separate the oil from the tar sands and transform the oil into a form of petroleum that can be processed by refineries.

According to the final SEIS:

The proposed project would emit approximately 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year during the construction period (up to three times as much than producing conventional crude), which would be directly emitted through fuel use in construction vehicles and equipment as well as land clearing activities including open burning, and indirectly from electricity usage.

Additional risks associated with the XL pipeline include potential groundwater contamination of major aquifers – particularly the Ogallala Aquifer – as well as deforestation, habitat destruction, and fragmentation.

In the event of an oil spill from the Keystone XL or other pipelines crossing the U.S., the responsibility for who cleans it up does not fall on TransCanada. According to a report from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), tar sand oils are exempt from paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Amendments that would require TransCanada to pay the 8-cent-per-barrel fee to the fund have not been passed.

Devastating oil spills such as the one in Santa Barbara in mid May reflect the impact it not only has on wildlife, but on the local culture, especially on those who depend on fisheries and whose lives revolves around surfing in the brisk waters of the Pacific Ocean. 21,000 gallons of crude oil covers roughly 4 miles of Santa Barbara’s coast now, extending about 50 yards into the water.

Benefits

Jobs, jobs, jobs. The economic stimulus is one purported advantage to the XL pipeline. During construction, proposed project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs, directly and indirectly and around $2 billion in earnings throughout the US, according to the final SEIS. Despite different job creation estimates, any number will contribute significantly to the US gross domestic product, associating a huge economic growth with the construction of the proposed XL pipeline. (TransCanada estimates around 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs, which is about 3 times higher than the State Department’s estimate.) In addition, the cost of paying for the Keystone XL project ($3.3 billion) would not be placed on the U.S. but on Keystone.

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA), the industry and their operators have reduced the risk of hazardous materials transportation incidents with death or major injury by 4% every 3 years, and since 2002, they have reduced the risk of a pipeline spill with environmental consequences by an average of 5% per year.1

Still, there is more work to be done. Safety issues that the pipeline industry is aiming to fix include:

  • Infrastructure: Repair obsolete pipeline infrastructure through a pipeline integrity management program and investigate new technologies that can detect pipeline risks.
  • Improving human error and safety culture: Increase the focus on safety beyond compliance standards and evaluate the potential value of safety management systems.
  • Adding secondary containment: Limit the spread of HAZMAT in the event of a failure in the primary container, and improve leak detection.
  • Transparency: Increasing transparency for companies and their accountability

Check out the infographic below for a summary of all of these pros and cons:

Moving Forward

All methods of transporting oil present various risks and benefits based on the available data. Explaining both sides of this coin allows us to assess each method’s impacts on our economy, environment, and public health. Through these assessments, we can make more informed decisions on what truly serves the nation’s interests. Oil and gas transport is a dangerous business, but all transportation industries are improving their management programs and increasing their regulations to provide citizens peace of mind and the safety they deserve. In light of ongoing issues, however, some would ask if these risks are even necessary.

For example, the growth of safer energy resources such as solar energy would significantly cut down the risks mentioned above in addition to providing jobs and stimulating the overall economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Solar Foundation, the growth in direct industry jobs for solar has outweighed oil and gas for the past 3 years. In 2014, new jobs created for the solar industry were more than twice the jobs created for the oil and gas industry. Based on 2014’s economics, Kepler Cheuvreux stated that all renewables are already more competitive than oil priced at $100 per barrel — This is because renewables have a higher net energy return on capital invested (EROCI).

As a reader and a citizen, it is important to know the pros and cons of the current activities taking place in our country today. We must be aware of loopholes that may be putting our states, cities, or counties into harm’s way, as well as recognize alternative energy sources and regulatory oversight that lessen the threats that oil extraction and transport pose to our health and environment.

Footnote

1. These statistics are based from the Census Bureau analysis and Bureau of Transportation Statistics as of July 2012.

A Bird’s Eye View of Pipeline Oppositions

By Samantha Malone, FracTracker Alliance

New York State is not the only area where opposition to fracking and its related activities is emerging. A 108-mile proposed PennEast pipeline between Wilkes-Barre, PA and Mercer County, New Jersey is facing municipal movements against its construction, as well. The 36-inch diameter pipeline will likely carry 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. According to some sources, this proposed pipeline is the only one in NJ that is not in compliance with the state’s standard of co-locating new pipelines with an existing right-of-way.1

PennEast Pipeline Oppositions

Below is a dynamic, clickable map of said opposition by FracTracker’s Karen Edelstein, as well as documentation associated with each municipality’s current stance:


Click here to view map and legend fullscreen.

Additional Projects and Pushback

In Ohio, many communities are working on similar projects to prevent over 40,000 miles of proposed pipelines according to recent news reports.

And in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, municipalities are working to ban, reroute, or regulate heavily the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (opposition map shown below):

MA Opposition Map

Northeast Energy Direct Proposed Pipeline Paths and Opposition Resolutions in MA & NH

Why is this conversation important?

Participation in government is a beneficial practice for citizens and helps to inform our regulatory agencies on what people want and need. This surge in opposition against oil and gas activity such as pipelines or well pads near schools highlights a broader question, however:

If not pipelines, what is the least risky form of oil and gas transportation?

Oil and gas-related products are typically transported in one of four ways: Truck, Train, Barge, or Pipeline.

Truck-Spill

Drilling mud spill from truck accident

Megantic-Train

Lac-Mégantic oil train derailment

Barge-Sand

Using a barge to transport frac sand

Pipeline-Construction

Gas pipeline construction in PA forest

Trucks are arguably the most risky and environmentally costly form of transport, with spills and wrecks documented in many communities. Because most of these well pads are being built in remote areas, truck transport is not likely to disappear anytime soon, however.

Transport by rail is another popular method, albeit strewn with incidents. Several, major oil train explosions and derailments, such as the Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013, have brought this issue to the public’s attention recently.

Moving oil and gas products by barge is a different mode that has been received with some public concern. While the chance of an incident occurring could be lower than by rail or truck, using barges to move oil and gas products still has its own risks; if a barge fails, millions of people’s drinking water could potentially be put at risk, as highlighted by the 2014 Elk River chemical spill in WV.

So we are left with pipelines – the often-preferred transport mechanism by industry. Pipelines, too, bring with them explosion and leak potential, but at a smaller level according to some sources.2 Property rights, forest loss and fragmentation, sediment discharge into waterways,  and the potential introduction of invasive species are but a few examples of the other concerns related to pipeline construction. Alas, none of the modes of transport are without risks or controversy.

Footnotes

  1. Colocation refers to the practice of constructing two projects – such as pipelines – in close proximity to each other. Colocation typically reduces the amount of land and resources that are needed.
  2. While some cite pipelines as relatively safe, incidents do occur quite often: ~1.6 incidents per day.
Clearing land for shale gas pipeline in PA

Resistance Mounts to Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline Across MA and NH

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator

As the pressure to move domestic natural gas to market from sources in Pennsylvania and beyond, residents in Massachusetts have been learning about a planned project that would cross the northern portion of the state.

Gas infrastructure build-out on the radar

The proposed Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas Pipeline Expansion, known as the “Berkshire Pipeline,” or more recently as “Northeast Energy Direct,” would link existing pipeline infrastructure near the New York-Massachusetts border and Dracut, MA, north of Boston. TX-based Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. says that the 250-mile-long, 36-inch diameter pipeline construction would temporarily create about 3000 jobs, and deliver upwards of 2.2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to the northeastern United States. Along the course of the proposed pipeline, 50 miles of the run would use existing Tennessee Gas Pipeline rights-of-way. Nevertheless, 129 miles of the new pipeline would be located in “greenfield” areas: locations that had previously not seen disruption by pipeline infrastructure. If approved, construction would begin in April 2017, with a targeted completion date of November 2018.

In addition to the main pipeline, the project would also include meter stations, at least two new compressor stations in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire, and modifications to existing pipeline infrastructure. Part of a growing web of pipelines that are moving Marcellus Shale and other gas across the continent, this project would have further connections to the Spectra Energy’s Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline that goes through Maine to the Canadian Maritime provinces, to terminals on the Atlantic coast. In addition, six lateral lines off the main pipeline include:

  • Nashua Lateral (Pepperell, MA into Hollis, NH)
  • Worcester Lateral
  • Pittsfield Lateral
  • Haverhill Lateral
  • Fitchburg Lateral Extension
  • Lynnfield Lateral

Municipalities React, Resistance Mounts

The plan was announced in late January 2014. Despite the endorsements of governors in six states in the Northeast to increase the region’s supply of natural gas, more than three dozen Massachusetts towns in the path of the pipeline have passed resolutions opposing the project (map below). After the December 8, 2014 release of a substantially revised route that would run 71 miles of the pipeline through New Hampshire rather than northern Massachusetts, Granite State municipalities have also raised their voices in opposition. Residents have cited concerns about the accidental releases of gas or chemicals used in during hydraulic fracturing in general, as well as the direct impacts that the pipeline would have on sensitive wetlands, conservation lands, state parks, private properties, and other critical habitats in Massachusetts, including crossing under or over the Connecticut River. We’ve also included point locations of federally designated National Wetlands Inventory sites on or adjacent to the current and newly-described pipeline routes, as well as other environmental assets such as waterways, lakes, state parks and forest lands.

Proposed Pipeline Paths and Opposition Resolutions


For a full-screen view of this map, with a legend, click here.

Currently, approximately 37% of residents contacted by Tennessee Gas for the pipeline rights-of-way have agreed to surveys of their lands. Massachusetts towns likely to be in the path of the pipeline include Richmond, Lenox, Pittsfield, and Dalton. In addition, Hancock, Hinsdale, Peru, Savoy, Stockbridge, Washington, West Stockbridge and Windsor counties are expected to be in the path.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), 50% of New England’s electric power supply comes from natural gas, with a mere 9.3% sourced from renewable resources. Opponents of the project, such as the citizen group No Fracked Gas in Mass, are pushing for more resources and policy-planning to focus on alternative, renewable energy, rather than enhancing fossil fuel dependencies.

Additional concern has come from the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition (MLTC). MLTC sent a letter to Governor Deval Patrick expressing their alarm that while Tennessee Gas has asserted that they will be using existing gas pipeline rights-of-way, landowners across the northern tier of Massachusetts have received letters from the gas company asking for permission to use their land. Were the pipeline to go this route, MLTC says, it would also run directly through public- and privately-owned stretches of conservation land.

In early August 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick indicated to opponents of the pipeline his growing skepticism about the plan. A few days later, the New England States Committee on Electricity filed for an extension of a schedule looking at a proposal that would levy new tariffs on electric customers in order to finance projects such as this pipeline.

Additional Resources

NOTE: This article was updated on December 27, 2014, to include information about the revised pipeline route that we were not aware of when this article was originally released earlier in the month.

Clearing land for shale gas pipeline in PA

International Pipelines and Proposals


This map shows all proposed and existing hydrocarbon pipelines outside of the U.S. A very detailed map of North American pipelines and proposed pipelines can be found here.

Map Last Updated: November 2017


This is an evolving map of existing and proposed oil and gas pipeline proposals across the globe, as well as an inventory of all 355+ currently-operating oil refineries. It was last updated in November of 2017. If you have questions about this map, please email us: info@fractracker.org.

Map of proposed pipeline through New Jersey

New Jersey

Oil & Gas Activity in New Jersey

There is currently no drilling activity in New Jersey, but there are proposed and existing pipelines. Click on the image below to explore one of these proposals: The Pilgrim Pipeline, 2016.


Limited Data

There is a limited amount of data available about exploratory hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) occurring in New Jersey. We will continue to look for data that can be mapped. However, pipelines are being proposed through the state that will carry fracked oil and gas from other parts of the country to refineries along the coast. Contact us with questions or recommendations.

Earthworks NJ Oil & Gas Threat Map

Active oil & gas wells, & the counts of people, schools, & hospitals that live within ½ mile of these facilities. Project Launch: 2016

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West Virginia Oil & Gas Activity

Click on the image below to explore our WV map of oil and gas extraction-related activities.


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Earthworks WV Oil & Gas Threat Map

Active oil & gas wells, & the counts of people, schools, & hospitals that live within ½ mile of these facilities. Project Launch: 2016

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