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Oil spill draws attention to rail transport fears

Keywords: Tags  Canadian Pacific Railway, CP, oil spill, TransCanada, rail, pipelines, Kurt Minnich, derailment oil spill

NEW YORK — An oil spill following the derailment of a Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) train could raise concerns about the increasingly common practice of transporting fuel by rail rather than by pipeline.

"Besides the obvious (environmental impact), any kind of a spill is going to raise awareness and caution," Kurt Minnich, manager at Tulsa, Okla.-based Pipe Logix Inc., told AMM. However, the latest incident was "not a large spill by most standards."

The 94-car train was carrying crude oil from Alberta to the Chicago area when 14 of its cars derailed near Parkers Prairie, Minn., early March 27. CP estimated that less than 15,000 gallons of oil spilled from the three cars that were punctured (, March 28).

Pipeline companies such as Calgary, Alberta-based TransCanada Corp. had previously warned that transporting crude by rail presents a greater environmental risk than moving it by pipeline (, March 15), and the company reiterated its concern after the recent spill.

"When projects like Keystone XL are delayed, the demand for the oil does not go away and we’re seeing increasing volumes of oil moving to market by barge, tanker, truck and rail," a spokesman for TransCanada told AMM in an e-mail. "Obviously, no one wants to see these kinds of things take place, and we certainly hope they (CP) are able to complete their cleanup work as quickly and safely as possible."

A CP spokesman told AMM that the clean-up was "progressing well" and no safety or environmental problems had developed as a result of the spill.

"I would be very interested to know in terms of volumes transported and the accidents that happen what that looks like (for pipeline vs. rail)," Minnich said of the possible safety advantages of one form of transport over another.

Rail car builders have reported a sharp uptick in orders as a result of the crude-by-rail phenomenon, with one describing the market as "very hot" (, Feb. 13).

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