The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Quebec Train Crash Explains Why Greens Should Back Keystone

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Tragedy struck in the idyllic town of Lac Megantic, Quebec this weekend. A 73-car oil-laden train derailed and exploded early Saturday. Five people died, and the crash site is still too hot—more than 50 hours later—to look for 40 missing people.

The implications of the accident extend much further than the small border town: crashes like this are why greens should be supporting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Canada has a lot of oil. Much of that is trapped in Alberta’s oil sands, and it is of a particularly heavy and dirty-burning variety. But Canada does not have a lot of oil infrastructure. It lacks the pipelines and the refineries needed to take advantage of its bounty.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would solve this problem by bringing Canadian oil down to American refineries along the Gulf Coast. Prominent greens like James Hanson and Bill McKibben see the approval of this pipeline as “game over” for the climate, due to the amount of greenhouse gas this oil would emit when burned.

Here’s why they’re wrong: that oil is coming out of the ground whether the pipeline is built or not. Canada is considering building a pipeline west to its Pacific coast, where it could be then transported by ship. British Columbia, home to a large number of greens, has so far been able to throw a wrench into this plan. So, lacking any proper pipeline infrastructure, companies are shipping oil by train. And not in trickles, either: Canada’s rail shipments of oil have increased by 28,000 percent since 2009.

Which brings us to Saturday’s tragedy. Accidents happen, and no method of oil transportation is 100 percent “safe.” The industry, like many others, strives to minimize risk, knowing it can’t eliminate them. That being said, pipelines are safer than trains.

What does this tragedy mean for the future of the Keystone XL pipeline? If greens had any sense, they would be clamoring for the Obama administration to approve it. The oil is coming out whether the pipeline is built or not. At this point, it’s about minimizing the risk of events like the Lac Megantic accident.

President Obama hinted that he might approve the pipeline in his recent climate speech. For the environment’s sake, let’s hope he follows through.

[Pipeline Image courtesy of Shutterstock]

Published on July 8, 2013 12:30 pm
  • Corlyss

    “What does this tragedy mean for the future of the Keystone XL pipeline?”

    More idiotic delay from our Dear Leader.

    Sometimes I think God hates cheap energy too and He’s just taunting us with all this accessible stuff that would have made Western every policy maker deliriously happy 30-40 years ago. But now that the old communists lodged deeply in Green movements have their hands firmly on the levers of policy, it’s like squeezing blood from a stone to get any of this great boon to where it can do the most good.

    • bpuharic

      The right thinks everyone who’s not a social darwinist is a commie.

      Should be a Godwin’s law for the right wing…

      • Nick Bidler

        Untrue, I think everyone who isn’t a social darwinist has a sense of irony.

        That said, I also think Barry Obama is doing what he thinks is best for the country, and I think that he’s absolutely incorrect.

  • lasveraneras

    The oil is coming out of the ground whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built or not. If the pipeline is not built, thus funneling the oil to existing U.S. refinery infrastructure, the oil will be transported in tank cars across Canada, through small communities such as Lac Megantic, for shipment overseas. Canada’s rail shipments of oil have already increased by 28,000 per cent since 2009. Continued hysterical overreaction from the environmental idealogues/cultists and the refusal of the USG to approve the pipeline will only divert the economic benefits away from the U.S., put more innocents in danger and result in more real environmental irresponsibility. Again, the oil is coming out of the ground anyway.

    • bpuharic

      Just out of curiosity..what’s in it for us? Our refinery capacity is maxed out. The oil from the pipeline will be shipped to non US customers. The pipeline will create a few hundred jobs.

      What economic benefits do we get?

      • Jim__L

        When your capacity is maxed out, you build more capacity, creating more jobs (both transient and permanent) in the process.

        That means our economy grows. Brown jobs, and all that.

        That was an easy one. Do you have any tough ones this week?

        • bpuharic

          Hmmm…do much work in chemical engineering do you?

          Know what it takes to build a refinery? Know when the last time one was built?

          Uh…you were saying about a tough one…

  • Verific

    Truth is that this accident has NOTHING to do with the Keystone XL.

    In fact, virtually none of the Candian bitumen that the Keystone XL will carry are currently transported by rail. They probably never will, simply because of economics : Rail of bitumen from Alberta to tidewater is some $30/barrel, and at $30/barrel margin, most of the expansion projects for Alberta tar sand development are not profitable.

    So, the only oil that gets transported by rail is “light sweet” crude, actually most of it from our very own increasing DOMESTIC production from the Bakken, because of the location flexibility that rail offers. The Keystone XL will not change the transport choices of “light sweet” crude, so it is despicable that so many journalists are using this disaster as an opportunity to push their pro-Keystone XL agenda.