Some opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have pointed to the potential for spills along the proposed 1,700-mile route, including environmental threats to wildlife, rural land and water supplies.
But every transportation option for oil carries risks, and it is naive to think that a natural resource as valuable as tar-sands oil would go untapped in Canada even if no pipeline were built.
Without a pipeline, that Canadian oil most likely would travel to refineries by cargo train, a great option for most intents and purposes. But as recent events show, train transport, like pipelines and trucks, also carries risks.
Look no further than Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where the fiery wreck of an oil train killed nearly 50 people and burned some 30 buildings in the heart of town.
Train transport often involves hauling combustible cargo through urban areas, which can increase the risks. So does moving the oil by truck, which adds more chances for human error.
It’s not only the exceptional accident that makes the pipeline transport of oil generally safer. Adjusting for the volume of oil they carry, pipelines have fewer spills and cause fewer injuries and deaths per ton-mile than train or truck transport, according to a study of U.S. Department of Transportation data by the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute.
Train and truck transport of fuel are regularly accomplished safely. But any evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline needs to consider the risks that would be incurred by using other methods for transporting that oil.