The opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline, many of them political extremists with a propensity for vandalism and violence, told us that the line was a risk.
The truth beyond those talking points is more complicated, as it so often is. According to a recent report from the North Dakota Pipeline Authority (see below), rising pipeline capacity has reduced oil by rail shipments sharply. The Dakota Access Pipeline, specifically, has reduced those shipments by 20 percent in its first month of operation.
Here’s a break down of how North Dakota’s oil output was shipped in June of 2017:
This chart, showing the trend line for oil by rail shipments, shows that steep dip in June which was the first month the Dakota Access line was in service:
This is a big deal, on multiple fronts.
While rail is an important component of the infrastructure serving North Dakota’s largest industries – agriculture and energy – it’s not the most optimal way to ship oil. Remember that spate of oil-by-rail derailments from a few years ago? The ones which sometimes resulted in big explosions? Pipelines don’t derail.
Of course, pipelines aren’t perfect either. They, too, can fail. But usually with less disastrous consequences.
“Pipelines usually run through remote areas and are often underground while trucks and trains carrying similar products often move through dense metropolitan areas,” two research analysts for Strata, an energy and environmental policy research organization in Logan, Utah, write in a column for the Grand Forks Herald today. “That means that when trains or trucks spill, it can be much more devastating for humans.”
Also, the presence of additional pipeline capacity makes the market for oil transport more competitive in North Dakota. That reduces costs for oil producers, at a time when low oil prices make that sort of efficiency important.
Oil is something every single one of us uses every single day. Even the environmental activists who tell us they want to block pipelines and keep oil in the ground use it. Since that’s reality, it behooves us to find the safest and most efficient ways to produce and transport the oil.
Pipelines are an important part of that process.
Here’s the full report: