U.S. Energy Secretary on CBR: 'Switch to Pipelines'

Ernest Moniz weighs-in on the exponential, and at times, explosive (literally) growth of moving crude oil by rail (CBR). His main point: pipelines are safer than rail. Science magazine editor Marcia McNutt points to pipelines' environmental benefits.

2 minute read

February 24, 2014, 7:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


"In an interview with Capital, Moniz said pipelines are a much safer way to transport oil," writes Scott Waldman. "Moniz said pipelines are the best way to address the nation's growing production of oil and gas, largely through fracking."

“The Bakken shale has gone from close to nothing to a million barrels a day in a very short time,” he said. “And the infrastructure certainly just isn't there, certainly in terms of pipelines to manage that.”

Crude from the Bakken has been involved in numerous fiery explosions recently, beginning with 47 deaths in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last summer; Aliceville, Ala., Casselton, N.D. and New Brunswick, Canada.

“What we probably need is more of a pipeline infrastructure and to diminish the need for rail transport over time,” he said. “Frankly, I think pipeline transport overall probably has overall a better record in terms of cost, in terms of emissions and in terms of safety.

Similar thinking led "Marcia McNutt, who headed the USGS from 2009 to 2013 and now serves as editor in chief of the journal Science, to endorse the idea of building the Keystone XL pipeline Thursday in an editorial contending that the pipeline would be less damaging to the environment than the “viable alternatives” of transporting oil by rail and truck," writes Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post.

Also listen to NPR interview of McNutt, "one of the country's most influential scientists, about her decision to no longer oppose the pipeline." McNutt focuses on the environmental benefits of shipping via pipeline over "rail and trucks" as it uses less fossil fuel, producing fewer carbon emissions.

One important step toward improving train safety in moving crude was released by DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx in his Feb. 21 letter to the Association of American Railroads describing "additional measures that AAR and its member railroads can take to further enhance the safe transportation of crude oil by train." We noted last month that DOT had brokered an agreement between the various stakeholders in the CBR industry.

Waldman also writes on Feb. 21 about those additional measures that the AAR has committed its members to take, e.g. decreasing train speeds, but notes that they do "not address one of the most significant challenges facing the crude by rail industry, which is the DOT-111 train cars."

That said, "(t)wo oil companies, two Canadian railroads and a tank car manufacturer all have in recent days announced plans to increase the production and use of an updated tank car known as the DOT-111, shunning an older version of the car that many experts believe contributed to recent explosive accidents," reports NBC News on Feb. 15.

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