In an era where a vast majority of items are still powered by the burning of fossil fuels, may it be oil, coal or natural gas, it has become somewhat of a dream to run society on green energy. Alberta is a province that is abundant in its natural resources; the province is the world’s third largest exporter of oil (Hicks), behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela (Government of Alberta). Crude oil is a term that is used to describe unrefined petroleum; as stated by James Conca of Forbes magazine, it is a “nasty material, very destructive . . . , and very toxic.” With this knowledge and a constant craze put on by the media over train derailments containing crude oil, pipelines are a better option for shipment compared to rail. This is because pipelines provide less environmental damage, are more efficient in transport and cost, as well as cause fewer injuries and deaths.
"A pipeline... is able to carry a
maximum of 2.5 million barrels a day[.]"
Oil companies prefer to ship oil by pipeline, however, pipeline capacity in North America has not kept up with the production of oil (Young and Johnson). In an article by Leslie Young, it is stated that “train spills in transit are larger than those from pipelines.” The average spill volume (in litres) for a pipeline is 12,259 while for a train, it is 70,000.
"In order to achieve these numbers, a train would require more than 1,000,000 million rail cars and 14,000 trains respectively."
With North America in an energy boom and there being a lack of pipeline capacity, the amount of oil being shipped by rail continues to grow rapidly. As stated by Graham Hicks, there is a “forecast to grow from 1.9 million barrels a day now, to 4.8 million barrels a day by 2030”. In 2013, Canadian Pacific (CP) and Canadian National (CN) railways shipped 80,000 cars filled with crude oil. This was six times the volume of what was shipped in 2011 (Robson). A typical train car holds 131,000 litres or the equivalence of 824 barrels of oil (Robson). In order to maintain the volume of oil being shipped, hundreds of additional rail cars would need to be added increasing not only the amount of pollution emitted but also the cost of transport. A pipeline on the other hand is able to carry a maximum of 2.5 million barrels a day and 912 million barrels a year. In order to achieve these numbers, a train would require more than 1,000,000 million rail cars and 14,000 trains respectively (Robson). Operating a train requires more fossils fuels to be burned than does the operation of a pipeline. In addition to the amount of fossil fuels burned to operate a train, more fossil fuels would be needed not only to transport such a vast load but also the amount of train shipments thus increasing the amount of greenhouse gases and other pollution emitted into the atmosphere. In addition to being more efficient in transport, pipelines also offer a friendlier economic alternative. One major oil company, Cenovus, figures that it costs between seven and ten dollars a barrel to ship oil by pipe compared to fifteen and eighteen dollars a barrel to ship by rail (Young).
It does not seem likely that the current energy boom will be slowing down anytime soon, so in order to continue to ship crude oil, pipelines are the best shipment route. This is because pipelines are modestly more environmentally friendly in the amount of oil spilled, energy and cost efficient as well as and most importantly reducing human tragedies associated to the shipment of crude oil.