Keystone Plan B: Ship Oil Sands to California by Rail

A California legislator warns that if the Keystone XL pipeline is rejected, expect tar sands to be transported by rail to Calif. refineries and ports. Increasing oil production would reduce oil imports, but a fracking moratorium bill has advanced.

2 minute read

April 22, 2014, 8:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

President Obama has delayed his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline while a Nebraska court case is settled, but should he reject it, "the 'Plan B' of Canadian producers is to ship oil by rail to California ports and refineries," warns State Sen. FranPavley (D- Agoura Hills), writes Tim Herdt in the (subscription-only) Ventura County Star, accessible in ENRCalifornia. And there's not much that the state can do about it.

California regulators are largely limited in what they can do to address the rail-oil transport issue. Because of the Constitution's interstate commerce clause, states are pre-empted by the federal government from restricting the shipment of freight between states.

Pavley, author of the nation's stricktest state fracking law, is carrying legislation "to approve a $6.7 million budget augmentation to beef up the state's oil spill response capabilities," requested by Gov. Jerry Brown. "She said she hopes to expand the bill over the next few months to include other steps the state might take to address public safety and environmental concerns."

Ironically, one way to reduce imports, which currently amount to "65 percent from tanker ships bringing in oil from Alaska and overseas" (but none from interstate pipelines which California lacks), would be to increase in-state production. However, a bill is advancing in the state legislature that will place a moratorium on fracking while more scientific studies could be undertaken, particularly in light of the revelation that fracking was deemed to be the cause of recent earthquakes in Ohio. The Los Angeles Times editorial, in support of the bill, explains:

SB 1132 by Sens. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would impose a moratorium ["of indefinite length", according to legislative analysis] on fracking, and on a related process that injects acid into the ground to break up rock, until state research determines whether and how it can be done safely.

The Times calls the moratorium "a reasonable step that properly protects California's environment and residents". Placing a time limit on the moratorium might be more reasonable.

New York has passed three, two-year moratorium bills on fracking for natural gas and appears as much rooted in politics and public opinion as it does in science. "Governor Andrew Cuomo probably won’t decide on the issue until after he faces re-election", probably not until at least 2015, according to Bloomberg News.

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