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The Best Argument Against The Keystone Pipeline Comes From: The Manhattan Institute?

The Manhattan Institute is a conservative, somewhat libertarian think tank here in New York, probably best known for pushing the "broken windows policing," that has defined law enforcement in the city since the Giuliani era.  They are generally free marketers and pro-law enforcement conservatives.  They very often, like the contributors to Reason magazine or CATO classic, come up with some novel ideas and are worth checking in with every now and then, even by lefties.

In Slate today, one of their Senior Fellows, Robert Bryce, takes a swipe at the environmentalists campaigning against the Keystone Pipeline.  The premise of the argument is that environmentalists are fools to think that stopping Keystone is going to keep all of those atmosphere dirtying fossil fuels from getting to the users who need them.  Take away Keystone, he says, and the oil will be moved to port by rail.  You can't stop the markets! Indeed, Bryce points out, new rail capacity is already being added, without protest, to transport the oil while the industry waits for Keystone to be built.  The demand for the oil is there now and it's being met now.

Also, says Bryce, the rail people have competitive advantages:

"Rusty Braziel, RBN’s president, told me that the surge in moving oil by rail will continue because railroads give oil producers advantages that aren’t available when shipping their oil by pipeline. The most important one, says Braziel, is “optionality.” With a pipeline, producers can ship their oil only from Point A to Point B. By putting oil on rail cars, if prices at Point B are too low, the producer can ship to other buyers by simply rerouting the train. Furthermore, says Braziel, with pipelines, oil producers often have to make a commitment to ship their product on a given pipe for 10 or even 20 years. “The railroads will build a terminal for an 18- to 36-month commitment,” says Braziel. “The pipeline guys have got to be scared.”"

This is not an answer that's going to make Bill McKibben happy.  I understand that he wants Keystone to be the line in the sand on fossil fuels.  This might be the wrong front for that fight.  Or maybe it is the right one.  McKibben knows more about this than I do.

But I would argue this: Fossil fuel reliance is not the only reason to oppose Keystone.  Groundwater contamination from pipeline spills is a big issue.  (*)Rail seems safer in that regard.(*)  Eminent domain is a big issue.  People are having their land taken from them for Keystone.  Most rail infrastructure has already been built.  Along those lines, Keystone is supposed to be a job creator.  Maybe it will be and maybe it won't.  But the rail industry already exists.  It can ramp up hiring now in response to increased demand.  Heck, Warren Buffett bought a railroad last year.

Of course The Manhattan Institute isn't against the Keystone Pipeline, but their argument really means that the Pipeline is unnecessary.  If the pipeline is stopped, the oil will just move by rail.

Fine.  Let it.

(*) I should not have written this line.  Even when I first put it in, I knew I was on shaky ground and writing based on hunch.  In the comments below, a better informed poster (Verified Atheist) suggests that train derailments that lead to chemical spills occur more frequently than my flip comments suggests.

We really are coming to the point where we do not need Saudi Oil or oil located anywhere but the New World and soon we shall need no oil from South America, at all!

We need to allow this Keystone project for a number of reasons that I might discuss at a later time.

Politically, socially, economically and morally; I do not think that we have a choice.

Now, my conclusion does not mean that huge insurance premiums should not be paid by the big oil companies.

And I would never just allow these oligarchies to drill and convey energy with impunity.

But we need to lessen our dependence on 'foregn oil' as a nation.

the end

All the arguments you state are the ones I list for objecting to the KXL as well. If that Canadian tar sand is going to be slopped around both of our countries, we need to be able to keep an eye on it at all times.

Some time ago I read about the use of rail and supertankers as an alternative way to move the oil and I remember thinking at that time those modes of transportation were preferable to a buried pipeline. It was shortly before a buried oil pipeline here in Michigan burst and ruined a 35 mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River so the danger was literally brought home and I was convinced buried pipeline was inherently dangerous.

Not all environmentalists are rock headed extremists. Those extremists are stereotypes and the second the word 'environmentalist' is said, a lot of people roll their eyes and turn away. I can't say that I blame them because many of the hard-core enviros I know are obnoxious s.o.b.'s.

There really are enviros who realize that to completely cut off our oil dependency is impossible in this modern world. We have become dependent on technology. But what isn't impossible is using precautions to protect the environment from further damage, possibly reverse it, and that even if there is no perfect answer, at least trying to lessen the harm we do the the atmophere is better than nothing. Eden is gone, but what's still here is still damned awesome.

Personally, I think McKibben and his friends were misdirecting their energies by rallying in DC over the weekend, mainly because the President wasn't even there to see the protest. I mean, for cryin' out loud -- if you are going to go to all the trouble of being arrested at the White House, then for cripe's sake, make sure the Prez sees you being cuffed and dragged off the lawn by big burly DC cops.

I do have a tinfoil hat theory though. Was the Prez's golf weekend away with the guys planned on purpose just so he didn't have to witness the protest? Hmmmm.


Like Robert Bryce noted at the end of his article, Condemning the oil industry, holding rallies, and getting arrested at the White House is easy. Preventing the world’s single most important commodity from getting to the marketplace? That’s a lot harder.

So, I find myself agreeing with the conservative Manhattan Institute's assessment that the KXL is unnecessary. It makes sense.

See? I'm not allergic to all conservative viewpoints. Just the stupid ones -- like the ones ghosted by ALEC.

Conflict-free oil? What? ALEC didn't hear about the Idle No More people?

There is no conflict free solution to our energy problems.



I'd much prefer the pipeline be built above ground and the same supporting structures  be designed to carry a high speed monorail. They get something and we get something in return.

I wouldn't be as concerned about accidents, if the entire length of the pipeline / monorail system, had two layers of protection.

Use thicker mil. buried liners like they use in newer built landfills and add another defensive measure, by using clay to prevent seepage.

There’s no doubt that developing Canadian oil sands will contribute to climate change. All hydrocarbons—coal, oil, and natural gas—emit carbon dioxide during combustion.

Doh! So do volcanoes and forest fires emit carbon dioxide and we know plants love Carbon dioxide and in return they give off oxygen.

Carbon dioxide feeds the smallest creatures of the sea, which in turn supports the food chain.

Really? We're going to pull out the discredited volcanoes and "CO2 is food" arguments?

As for volcanic impact, read what the USGS has to say about it. As for the fact that plants like carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, we're going to need a lot more plants in order to process all of that extra carbon dioxide, but guess what? We have fewer plants (thanks to destruction of wide swaths of rainforests, among other things) now than in the past, not more. Then, of course, there's also the fact that the extra carbon dioxide alters the acidity of the ocean (carbon dioxide + water = carbonic acid).

No need to come looking for a fight.

The discussion wasn't about mankind is destroying the plants; an essential component to life on the planet.

Don’t blame those trying to fuel the Earth and its demands for more energy.

Stop those who are depleting the plants.

Unless you want to return to the dark ages again?

I believe you would greatly benefit from the information provided by the NOVA series.

NOVA | Earth From Space - PBS

NOVA | The Uses of Satellite Imagery - PBS

The Earth will adapt, will the people?

Maybe they should have thought hard about clear cutting large areas?

Corn cobs in the fireplace was good enough at one time.

We've seen the downside of corn to fuel. 

Considering the alternative sources; we need carbon based fuels, from where ever we can get it.  

Just so happens the Obama administration just drew a quite different line in the sand:

Oh, when will I ever learn to not read the comments on conservative sites? frown ... Shift+R improves the quality of this image. Shift+A improves the quality of all images on this page.

It was sometime last year that this exact plan by the Obama administration was considered. An older link 'splains it.

Thanks for the new link, ArtA. I sure never would have looked for it on a site like that.

Rail seems safer in that regard.

Maybe, maybe not. A while back, I was involved in a project proposal to add gear designed to predict when/where the next train derailment would happen. It turns out these are far more common than most people know. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • Every 90 minutes there is a train collision or derailment (not sure if this is US or world)
  • United States train and railroad accident statistics estimate that almost every 2 weeks a train derailment leads to a chemical spill

Yes but I was using my hunch creator!

Thanks for the info, VA.  I'm going to ammend my post.

It's possible I am belaboring the point, but not all train wrecks are created equal. Not all of the incidents last year involved the transportation of hazardous waste.

According to this page from the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, of the total 1545 train accidents in 2012,only 23 (1.49%) of them resulted in a release of hazardous materials.

Compare that statistic to the number of oil pipeline incidents: In 2012 there were only 29 incidents (yes, quite a drop from the 1545 train incidents) but 100% of pipeline breaks involved the release of hazardous materials. Release of hazardous materials from train accidents amounted to 1.49%.

100% vs. 1.49%

Hmmm. I'll still take trains over pipeline even though an increase in the use of rail will guarantee to increase the rate of accidental release of hazardous materials.

What I'm saying is, a malfunctioning oil pipeline always releases hazardous material, sometimes a million gallons or more. With rail, material spills are limited to what a tanker car(s) can hold.

Sorry to be so boring with the statistics and all, Destor, but your first hunch was closer to the mark than not. IMHO

Informed debate is always welcome Flowerchild. :) Thanks for the further info.

Thanks for providing the other side of the equation. I knew about how many accidents there were, but not how many pipeline incidents.

However, I don't think the percentage matters, so much as the total discharge of hazardous materials. One is tempted to use the number of incidents (23 vs 29) as a proxy for that, but that assumes the same amount of discharge per incident for rail as for pipeline incident. My hunch (as dangerous as Michael's/Destor's) is that the pipeline discharges are more voluminous per incident than the train accidents.

The oil pipeline page you link to says that those 29 incidents spilled 1,500 barrels, of which 1,245 were lost (perhaps that's the more pertinent number, but I'm not sure). In order for the train accidents to match that, they would have to spill, on average a little more than 65 barrels (and/or lose a little more than 54 barrels) of hazardous material per incident. A barrel is 31.5 gallons, for those (like me) who didn't already know that. Your basic tanker car (of which a train would have several) contains 22,800 gallons, or just under 724 barrels.

So, I'm going to change my hunch and say that the trains probably spilt more last year. I wish we had a site with those statistics, though, so it wasn't just a guess.

I didn't know when you clicked on the FRASOSA link in my comment that it wouldn't take you to the page proper. Click the "generate report" button at the bottom of this page and you will find the stats you are looking for.
Number of rail cars releasing hazmat is 47.

Good catch. I just wish I knew how much hazardous material was actually lost during those incidents. If we assume each car was at typical capacity and that the entire contents were lost, that's over 34,000 barrels, which definitely dwarfs the pipeline losses (for 2012, at least). That's an assumption, of course, and I have no idea how justified it is.

In looking for more information, I found this, which still doesn't completely answer the question, but does show (in table A-1) that in 2006 there was a single accident involving 485,278 gallons (15,406 barrels, or 10 times the pipeline loss for all of 2012). In 2008, on the other hand, one accident involved only 2 gallons, so I definitely have to say my assumptions in the previous paragraph are wrong. I just don't know what assumptions/data to replace them with.

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating for the pipeline. smiley

Here's another railroad site.

List of rail accidents (2010–2019) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rail lines tend to serve communities along its path.

I believe above ground pipelines would be easier to survey, in order to identify problem areas.

A pipeline with electronically activated, shut off valves, would measure flow rates, enhancing the ability of the pipeline operators, to respond quicker, to minimize the loss if a breach occurred.

The flow reading at up line (A shutoff valve)  should match (Factoring in resistance)  the flow reading at down line (C shutoff valve)  The moment there is an inconsistency, the line shuts off,  the pumping stops. 

Rail lines have to contend with the many more factors, that cause derailment.

Besides, it wasn't that long ago, the railroads gouged consumers; I prefer to keep them out of the loop of middlemen. 

Allow the railroads to piggy back on the concrete infrastructure, needed to support both the pipeline and the High speed (mono)  (bullet train ) rail system, patterned off the model and reason for the Transcontinental rail line, that connected the nation from East to West,  this one would connect the nation, North  and South. 

I also think if we absolutely MUST have another oil pipeline, it should be completely above ground.

Keep in mind this is a map of the oil pipelines in use right now. This doesn't include gas lines or lines that are out of commission and just left in the ground to corrode.

So, what's one more, eh?

The site below  asks a very good question.

What's really going on?

Maybe it's the lack of refineries?

Another good site

North America Pipelines map - Crude Oil (petroleum) pipelines ...

After looking at the maps... Why do we need another route other than the ones we have?

Transporting Diluted Bitumen (DilBit) is bound to be hazardous no matter how they do it. Ordinary crude transports at less than human body temperature and 600 PSI. DilBit is kept at 158 degrees Fahrenheit and 1440 PSI. DilBit is more acidic, viscous, sulfurous and corrosive than ordinary crude, too.

Oh hi Donal.

I just attempted my first attempt (must be better English here?) under your post? blog?.

Oh well, I am just pretending to be a hazardous substance?

Gee whiz, just when I think my mind is made up, along comes some facts that makes me have to do some re-thinking.

What happens to the DilBit if that temp and pressure isn't maintained? I mean, does it 'splode or something? Or turn into a big glob that looks like Jabba the Hutt?

It looks like the cost of transporting this stuff makes this project unwise in more ways than one.

Here's a spill report from 2012:

Dilbit is harder to remove from waterways than the typical light crude oil—often called conventional crude—that has historically been used as an energy source.

While most conventional oils float on water, much of the dilbit sank beneath the surface. Submerged oil is significantly harder to clean up than floating oil: A large amount of oil remains in the riverbed near Marshall, and the cleanup is expected to continue through the end of 2012.

- See more at:

Dilbit is harder to remove from waterways than the typical light crude oil—often called conventional crude—that has historically been used as an energy source.

While most conventional oils float on water, much of the dilbit sank beneath the surface. Submerged oil is significantly harder to clean up than floating oil: A large amount of oil remains in the riverbed near Marshall, and the cleanup is expected to continue through the end of 2012.

- See more at:

Dilbit is harder to remove from waterways than the typical light crude oil—often called conventional crude—that has historically been used as an energy source.

While most conventional oils float on water, much of the dilbit sank beneath the surface. Submerged oil is significantly harder to clean up than floating oil: A large amount of oil remains in the riverbed near Marshall, and the cleanup is expected to continue through the end of 2012.

A couple things occur to me in relation to this conversation. First, oil shipped by rail would be done in unit trains, probably consisting of a hundred cars or more as is the case now with coal, grain, containers, and over-the-road truck trailers. These trains are often longer than one mile in length and trains of three and a half miles in length have been operated in the U.S. with power distributed along their length.
 Accidents happen. Pictures are available courtesy google. Spilled coal is easily cleaned up. Spilled muck would be much more of a problem. Trains are remarkably easy to sabotage. A derailment could be deliberately caused anywhere that the train is moving, even within a city. I say this based on twenty years of switching cars in a train yard and also working as a brakeman on thru freight. In a deliberate action it would be easy to ignite the resultant spilled crude or even that crude in intact tank cars. That is assuming that that crap will even burn.

 Above ground pipelines are also more vulnerable than below ground lines. They would also be more exposed to cold temperatures. I do not know how critical the temperature is for transfer by pipeline or for drainage from a tank car, but any break of a pipeline or any derailment of any train, not just the one carrying oil, would cause a significant delay of all other crude already in transit.
 Would the interruption of flow in a pipeline cause the crude to congeal beyond the ability of pumps to move it? Would an oil train sitting in the middle of Nebraska waiting for the line to be cleared have the same problem? An above ground pipeline would be easier to re-heat but also easier to deliberately sabotage.

You ask a lotta questions. First - it isn't crude oil, it is diluted tar sands. The picture that they always show of bitumen tar sands looks like sticky, brown clumps of sand, but also contains, clay, water and bitumen. They dilute it with trade secret chemicals and heat it to 158 F to get it to flow through pipes.

It is mined with large shovels, so I suppose raw tar sand could be shoveled onto a train car rather than piped. I also presume raw tar sand wouldn't have to be heated or diluted to travel by train. It just wouldn't be as fast or efficient as piping it into a train tanker car. And that wouldn't be as fast as piping it all the way.

Unfortunately making it flow fast also makes it more difficult to clean up if it spills.


Thanks. If it is shipped as raw tar sand [I hadn't considered that] then all my major objections, so far, to using trains are satisfied. Of course that means hauling a great volume of extra material to the refinery which would then need hauling off after distilling the desired oil.

 It would seem that the problems I suggest with pipelines would still be in play plus the disposal of the non-oil part of the gook and the added chemicals.

 Maybe refineries should be built close to the source and then the resultant oil shipped to market by established means rather that shipping it along with billions of tons of toxic waste.

No place is good for the toxic waste goo but I guess my choice would be to let the producer deal with it close to its source rather than shipping it to The Gulf Coast and then to where ever it would finally end up.

I wonder if they could put the toxic waste back where they got the oil if they were in the habit of building refineries close enough to the source. I have no idea how viable or healthy that would be, but it's a thought.

Petroleum coke, which is being stored in a massive black pile on the shores of the Detroit River, was described Wednesday as one of the world’s nastiest fuel products. Scary picture included.

The petroleum coke — or ‘petcoke’ as it’s called — recently started to be produced in much greater amounts at the nearby Marathon Oil refinery in Detroit.

The refinery, which sits behind Zug Island next to the I-75 freeway, completed a massive $2-billion facility upgrade last fall allowing it to process heavy Canadian crude oil brought in by pipeline from the Alberta oil sands. The refinery processes 120,000 barrels per day of crude oil.


I suspect they'll sell the goo to some entrepreneur in some third world country? 

If the goo was mixed with other sedimentary materials, would it make a good roadway material to be used in the jungles?  We used Agent Orange as a defoliant; maybe this material is a more solid defoliant? 

When it returns to its solid state, it may be able to stay bonded together, being tar based it would repel the water, decreasing it's breakdown time?    

Could the tar sands, be mixed with solar heated water, piped from the Hudson Bay and then sent as a slurry mix;  just as Peabody Coal did, when they drained the aquifer on the Navajo reservation, when they shipped both the coal in a slurry mix. Getting both coal and stolen water from Arizona, to supply thirsty California.

The water/ tar mix would be separated at the end of the Keystone pipeline.

The water extracted would be redistributed to drought stricken Texas.   

No need to draw down the Great lakes region, to satisfy the demand for water resources, in the USA,  just go to the Hudson Bay which is upstream, of the Great Lakes.  

Images for map of canada and usa

This Bloomberg article from January 2012 indicates shipping by rail will be done in tank cars which means the product will be liquid, at least when heated.

Additionally, from the Kennebec Journal:

A train carrying 104 tank cars of crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota came through Maine last weekend on a 2,435-mile journey to the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick. It rolled through Portland, Waterville and Bangor on Pan Am Railways tracks, on its way to Canada's largest oil refinery.

This so-called unit train -- made up only of oil tank cars -- is an example of how Irving and other energy giants are reacting to a fast-changing North American petroleum market, and how Maine figures into the developments.Snip

The first big shipment was made over the weekend. Each of the 104 cars carried roughly 700 barrels of oil. The train traveled through Chicago to Rotterdam Junction, N.Y., where it moved over Pan Am Railways track through southern and eastern Maine and connected with the New Brunswick Southern Railway for the trip to Saint John. Snip

Irving Oil rarely discusses its business practices, and it didn't respond to email questions from the newspaper; but Grindrod said he's aware that the refinery is ramping up its crude offloading capacity from two cars a day to 100 cars, whether it comes from the Canadian tar sands or the Bakken field.



A few lines from my above comment:

Accidents happen. Pictures are available courtesy google. 

Trains are remarkably easy to sabotage.

A derailment could be deliberately caused anywhere that the train is moving, even within a city.

I composed at least one comment, about the time this subject was the juice of the day because of Keystone, describing ways one or two people could easily cause something with loaded fuel trains like what just happened in Canada. I don't have time to look for it/them and may well have not posted them. I often compose and then don't post for one reason or another.

 This incident was probably an accident. That is just a guess based on statistics and the video is the full extent of what I know, but it is a sad tragic demonstration of serious potentials.

Now I know just a bit more. The train is said to have been parked in a siding, the air-brakes set,  and the engines shut down. The siding was on a downhill grade.
 Some early speculation is that the engines being shut down might have caused a drop in the air pressure of the breaking system and thus caused the rollaway. I very much doubt this but can not be certain. Regardless, safety measures were either ignored or defeated. When the train was parked, and the brakes set, there should have been hand brakes set at both ends. There is some arbitrary standard set by rule as to how many but I would say that brakes on the engines and six to ten cars would be more than sufficient.
When the air-brakes are set they stay set unless the high pressure leaks off and that would be a very long time unless age and wear had compromised the seals. This definitely happens and the brakes on any single car or even a couple cannot be trusted to work properly, but the more cars, the better statistical odds that enough brakes work as designed to hold the train for a long time. As I write this the information I have heard is that it was a seventy-car train. For a sufficient number of air-brakes to bleed off overnight to let that train roll out is a statistically freakish occurrence.  If the crew that left the train actually didn’t tie hand brakes they were very negligent but were also testifying, without knowing it,  in agreement with my view that without other factors coming into play that the air-brakes alone would keep the train in place for days 99,999% of the time. Overnight, to a higher percentage.
 So, what might have happened? Each air-brake has a release valve with a lever going to the side of the car. It can be pushed slightly and a controlled amount of air can be released or it can be pushed sharply and the valve will trip and all the air will release letting the brakes completely free. A person could walk along the track hitting each release lever and in doing so release all the air-brakes. If no hand brakes were in use as a backup the train would take off down hill. A kid might do this ignorant of the consequences just to be doing something as he aped off walking along the tracks or someone could do it deliberately and also release any hand brakes. 
 If it was done deliberately as an act of terrorism a second person could drive a hijacked gasoline tanker truck, or worse yet, a liquefied petroleum gas truck onto a crossing at a strategic spot, maybe next to a refinery or a chemical plant, or maybe just in the middle of a sleepy town late at night, and lock it up giving all involved plenty of time to go to a nearby hill and watch the ensuing fireworks.

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