Pipeline is safest way to transport crude oil
There have been many recent news articles questioning the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. The reality is it is not economically feasible to make a railroad tank car that can safely transport crude oil in its current form. The problem lies with the unique properties of the crude oil itself.
When crude oil comes out of the ground, it has volatile gases dissolved in it. Think of the bubbles in soda pop or beer, but instead of carbon dioxide the bubbles are propane and butane. Anyone who has used a propane grill or butane lighter knows that these gases are easily ignited by a spark. Just like your carbonated beverage, as long as you keep the container sealed and under some pressure, the gases stay dissolved in the liquid. Shake that container up and put a hole in it and you have a mess. That is why railroad tankers catch fire so easily when involved in an accident.
A safer method of moving crude oil would be to put it in a pipeline under moderate pressure to keep the gases dissolved during movement. The problem is people in this country have a Not In My Back Yard mentality, so the pipelines capable of carrying the crude oil haven’t been built. Another option would be to remove the volatile gases from the crude before it is shipped in rail cars. It is estimated that it will take five years after approval to construct refineries capable of this process. Again the NIMBYs have delayed this construction.
The reason crude oil is transported by rail is because under federal law the railroads have the right to transport a commodity without interference from local or state agencies.