Freight rail and pipelines deliver energy for America

New energy production across North America is leading to an energy renaissance - plentiful supplies, lower costs and new, good-paying job opportunities for American workers.

As we develop these new energy resources, policymakers are asking, which mode is best for transporting crude oil, freight rail or pipelines? The answer is clear: both railroads and pipelines transport crude oil safely and reliably, and each has a role to play enhancing our energy security and delivering energy to American families and businesses.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. crude oil production will reach 8.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 – up from just 5 million barrels per day in 2008 – and is expected to continue to grow in the years ahead. These domestic supplies will reduce, but not eliminate, the need for crude oil imports. Canada is the top foreign supplier of crude oil to the United States and U.S. imports of Canadian crude set a new record in 2012.  Continued growth in U.S. crude oil production and supplies from Canada will reduce the need to import oil from sources like Africa and the Middle East.

These new North American supplies need a world-class pipeline and freight rail network to transport them and deliver benefits to the American people.Pipelines and rail are rising to meet the challenge of new production with new pipelines and rail facilities under construction across America and extending into Canada. Crude from new production areas is flowing by pipeline and being hauled by rail  across the country.

Pipelines have the capacity necessary to meet the high volume needs of U.S. consumers and workers over the long term. Last year, America’s 180,000-mile pipeline network transported over 13 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum product. Large pipelines can deliver over 800,000 barrels per day, enough to supply entire cities and regions of the country. In coming years, new pipeline construction will connect high-volume pipelines to new production areas.

Meanwhile, freight railroads, which today operate nearly 140,000 miles, provide the transportation flexibility required to shift deliveries quickly to different markets as needs change. Enhanced rail networks in new production areas allowed U.S. freight railroads to transport nearly 234,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008. Preliminary data suggest that rail carloads of crude will surpass 400,000 this year.

Safety, of course, is paramount and both pipelines and freight rail have excellent crude oil safety records. More than 99.999 percent of all pipeline shipments reach their destination safely. Over the last 10 years, the number of pipeline releases is down 59 percent and the amount of petroleum released is down 43 percent. Pipeline operators spent over $1.6 billion in 2012 evaluating, inspecting and maintaining their pipelines. 

For their part, freight railroads have an exceptional safety record for moving all hazardous materials, including crude oil. In fact, 99.998 percent of all rail hazmat shipments reach their destination without a release caused by a train accident. In 2012, railroads set new overall safety records, continuing a string of annual safety achievements reaching back decades.

Railroads and pipelines are proud of their safety accomplishments, but they know the safety challenge never ends. Working together with their employees, suppliers, customers and regulators, they are constantly developing and implementing new technologies and operating practices to further improve the safety of crude oil transportation.

Make no mistake, railroads and pipelines are tough competitors, and in the years ahead will compete aggressively for crude oil movements. But as our nation produces more of its own energy and reduces its dependence on suppliers from other regions, we can count on the fact that both modes will continue to work hard to meet our crude oil transportation needs safely and reliably.

Hamberger is president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads and Black is president and CEO of the Association of Oil Pipelines.