RAIL vs. PIPELINE?
When it comes to safety, which mode of transporting hazardous liquids or gas is better – pipeline or rail?
With an increasing volume of petroleum products being transported by rail, and tragic accidents like the one that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, questions are being asked about the relative safety of transporting these hazardous liquid and gas products by rail vs. by pipeline. Currently pipelines are used for the vast majority of oil and gas transportation – roughly 70% of US volumes – whereas rail still accounts for less than 5%.
In general, the information we’ve reviewed leads us to the following conclusions:
- Pipelines spill more, both based on sheer volume, and on a per-ton-mile or per-barrel-mile basis.
- Rail transport accidents cause more injuries to humans on a per-barrel-mile or per-ton-mile basis.
- The probability of a spill from Rail is greater on a per-barrel-mile or per-ton-mile basis, though the majority of spills tend to be quite small in volume.
In addition to the other resources about pipelines on our website, here are sources of information that provide details from a variety of perspectives on different oil and gas transportation modes, or specifically rail vs. pipeline transport:
Fraser Institute, Centre for Natural Resource Studies: Safety in the Transportation of Oil and Gas:Pipelines or Rail? By Kenneth P. Green and Taylor Jackson
- Railway Association of Canada report: Canadian Crude Oil Transportation; Comparing the Safety of Pipelines and Railways, by Oliver Wyman, published Dec 2015.
- US Government Accountability Office report: Department of Transportation is taking steps to address rail safety, but additional actions are needed to improve pipeline safety, published Sept 22, 2014
- Congressional Research Services: U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil:Background and Issues for Congress, June 2014
- Manhattan Institute for Policy Research report entitled “Pipelines are Safest for Transportation of Oil and Gas” published in June 2013
- American Association of Railroads information and statistics on transporting oil (includes information through 2012)
- American Petroleum Institute Analysis of US Oil Spillage, published in 2009
Articles on this topic:
- A change is gonna come? Improved ANS crude prospects in a lower price environment (RBN Energy, July 12, 2015).
- Recent derailments have raised questions of safety, method of transporting oil. (Toledo Blade, March 29, 2015).
- It’s a lot riskier to move oil by train instead of pipeline (Wash Post, Feb 20, 2015).
- Oil train derailment in West Virginia: Are pipelines safer? (Feb 17, 2015)
- Safest mode of transport for oil and gas debated (Feb 8, 2015)
- With the boom in oil and gas, pipelines proliferate in the US (Oct 6, 2014)
- Derailed: Railroad delays first responders on riverside oil spill (Sept 22, 2014)
- In Dakota oil path, trains trump pipelines (Mar 3, 2014)
- More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades, federal data show (Jan 20, 2014)
- Crude oil spills are bigger from trains than pipelines (Jan 8, 2014)
- California getting more of its oil by rail (Sept 26, 2013)
- New Louisiana Rail Facility to Bring in Crude Variety (Aug 26, 2013)