The rail disaster and Keystone XL
The Canadian train explosion Saturday was a human tragedy and environmental disaster that should give President Barack Obama and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline much to think about. The derailment and explosion of the 72-car train carrying crude oil destroyed much of Lac Megantic, Quebec, incinerating more than two dozen buildings and forcing the evacuation of at least 1,000 people. The number of fatalities is uncertain. Fifteen people are confirmed dead, but officials estimate about 40 are missing, and many are likely victims. Identification will be difficult, as the police told ABC News the victims that have been found were burned "to the bones." In addition, environmental officials say at least 26,000 gallons of crude spilled into the Chaudiere River, which flows into the St. Lawrence River.All this has rightly brought renewed scrutiny to the campaign against the Keystone pipeline, which would deliver Canadian oil to Gulf of Mexico ports. The project is depicted as an environmental monster, yet pipelines are more heavily regulated than trains. Pipelines are, to be sure, hardly accident-free - what is? - but they provide a safe alternative to above-ground transport. As The Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens points out, pipelines account for about half as much spillages as railways on a gallon-per-mile basis. More importantly, pipelines "tend not to go straight through exposed population centers like Lac Megantic." Yet there is fierce opposition to the Keystone pipeline, while little is heard about the heavy and increasing use of rail for oil distribution. The Journal reports that in 2008 the U.S. rail system carried only 9,500 carloads of oil. Last year, that number was 233,811. Spills increased from eight to 69 during this period. U.S. rail, it should be noted, has a mostly solid safety record. The Canadian tragedy occurred when an unattended train started to roll, running seven miles to Lac Megantic, which has 6,000 residents. Police are conducting a criminal investigation into the tragedy. Still, underground pipelines generally pose less of a threat to people and resources - something that appears of little concern to those determined to stop the Keystone. Their goal is to discourage all use of fossil fuels in their effort to curtail climate change, but this is a self-destructive way to achieve it. We agree the nation should thoughtfully pursue clean alternatives to petroleum products. The science is sufficient to take climate change seriously - if not necessarily every doom and gloom scenario. But it is dangerously dreamy to think the nation can simply abandon fossil fuels, which would result in staggering price increases and wreck the economy. This, you can be certain, would do our planet no good. Keystone, which would link Canada's oil sands to refineries that now import crude oil from socialist Venezuela, is more symbol than threat. Stopping it won't affect carbon emissions because that oil will go elsewhere on the world market. The Obama administration, which has been stalling on deciding the Keystone pipeline fate, should see that approving it could actually make energy transportation in the United States safer and cleaner.