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Obama’s energy secretary just backed building more oil pipelines

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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While the Obama administration delays its decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the U.S. will need more pipelines to get energy where it needs to go safely.

Moniz told Capital New York that the country’s railroad infrastructure was not ready to handle to huge increase in oil production coming out of places like North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation. Moniz added that there needed to be more pipelines to get the oil to market.

“The Bakken shale has gone from close to nothing to a million barrels a day in a very short time,” Moniz said. “And the infrastructure certainly just isn’t there, certainly in terms of pipelines to manage that.”

Moniz’s remarks come despite the Obama administration’s delaying its decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone Xl pipeline, which has been waiting for approval for more than five years. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because of its impact on global warming.

“What we probably need is more of a pipeline infrastructure and to diminish the need for rail transport over time,” he added. “Frankly, I think pipeline transport overall probably has overall a better record in terms of cost, in terms of emissions and in terms of safety.”

There have been growing concerns over the safety of huge amounts of crude oil being transported by rail. Since 2008, there have been at least 10 major accidents since 2008 involving freight trains derailing and spilling huge amounts of crude oil — most of the accidents resulted in explosions and fires.

Energy experts now say that with the U.S. energy boom in full swing, a lack of oil pipeline capacity means that trains carrying flammable crude must travel through major populations centers, a prospect that has some cities worried.

Though trains are still considered a safe way to get crude from the oil fields to refineries, the 40-fold increase in the number of trains carrying crude oil since 2008 does mean there is still a risk.

“I’m absolutely positive the railway industry will come up with techniques to define how to minimize risk,” Allan Zarembski, head of the University of Delaware’s rail-safety program, told the Associated Press. “The key word is ‘minimize.’ You can’t eliminate risk.”

The AP reports that federal records show the huge increase in crude transport by rail has been “accompanied by a dramatic spike in accidental crude releases from tank cars. Over the next decade, rail-based oil shipments are forecast to increase from 1 million barrels a day to more than 4.5 million barrels a day, according to transportation officials.”

“There’s been a handful of train accidents and that’s been quite troubling,” he said. “We have been transporting oil products by train with a decent safety record over time and there’s a lot of it.”

Moniz said that the Energy Department was working with the Transportation Department to possibly come out with new rail regulations next year. But even Moniz recognized that energy inadequate infrastructure contributed to this winter’s propane shortage and skyrocketing energy costs in the Northeast.

“It looks even more important now as we see all these infrastructure constraints, whether it’s the tremendous spot prices in New England because of inadequate infrastructure for natural gas, whether it’s the huge problem of getting propane form the south to the North in this period or it’s this issue of this increased reliance on trains because we don’t have the systematic infrastructure,” Moniz said.

The bottom line: the country needs more pipelines. House Republicans have passed two bills that address the country’s lack of pipelines. One bill would have approved the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline which would bring oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

The House also passed a bill that would streamline the permitting process for natural gas pipelines.

“Despite all the gridlock in Washington, the House has found a real bipartisan solution to ensure that natural gas energy is more affordable for Americans,” said Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, who introduced the gas pipeline bill. “This bill ensures that America’s revolution in energy production reaches more households and factories across the country, keeping homes warm, factories humming, and utility bills low, all the while cutting needless red tape.”

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