As we noted in The most Pyrrhic of victories, the Senate Democrats defeated a bill to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline last November, when some of them hoped that hey could save the seat of then-Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in her run-off election. Whether authorization would have enabled her to save her seat is doubtful, but it wasn’t authorized, and she lost. We have also previously noted the expanded use of railroads to ship crude oil. The oil is still getting shipped, the oil is still getting refined, and the oil is still getting used. Delaying and (probably) stopping the Keystone XL pipeline has not stopped any of that, because, the protests of the left notwithstanding, the country needs to use petroleum to power our modern civilization.
Well, the left have gained yet another Pyrrhic victory against the Keystone XL pipeline; after the Republicans took control of the Senate, a Keystone authorization bill was passed, but President Obama has done as he promised, and vetoed it; there will not be anywhere close to enough votes on the Democratic side of either House of Congress to override that veto. The obvious question remains: just what have the Democrats really won? From The Wall Street Journal:
Obama’s Oil-by-Rail Boom
Activists get their jollies blocking pipeline construction, but the crude still flows through your neighborhood.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. | Feb. 24, 2015 6:45 p.m. ET
It’s better to be lucky than good. President Obama, who arrived promising to heal the planet and halt the rising seas, instead presided over a fossil-fuel renaissance in America. If you were unemployed and found a decent job in Obama’s economy, there’s a good chance it was a fracking job. If things are finally looking up for the middle class, cheap gas is a major contributor.
He was lucky again on July 6, 2013. Thanks to various competing news stories (a plane crash in San Francisco, the Trayvon Martin shooting trial), Americans did not dwell on a fiery oil-train accident in Canada that killed 47. For if there’s one boom Mr. Obama can claim authorship of, it’s the oil-by-rail boom.
A business that barely existed when he took office now moves an impressive million barrels a day. The oil pouring forth from America’s resurgent fields, after all, has to reach market somehow. And as the Journal explained in December, political opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has “emboldened resistance to at least 10 other pipeline projects across North America. . . . The groups coordinate their moves in regular conference calls and at meetings in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.”
The publication Energy Monitor Worldwide elaborated in September: “Environmentalists and governments are making it more and more difficult to get approval to build pipelines, so producers are increasingly using rail to get their oil to refineries for processing into products that the American public needs. . . . If all the railcars carrying crude oil on a single day were hitched together to a single locomotive, that train would be about 17 miles long.”
There’s a lot more at the original, but the key point is simple: as the author states, blocking Keystone and other pipeline projects will not have anything more than an infinitesimal impact on fossil fuel consumption, but will simply fuel the oil-by-rail boom.
And “boom” is exactly the right word; multiple tanker rail cars carrying crude oil derailed Monday afternoon in Fayette County, (West Virginia) triggering explosions and a 100-yard-high flames as several cars rolled through a residential subdivision and into the Kanawha River. There was no loss of life, but at least one home was destroyed; it could have been much, much worse.
No method of transportation is 100% safe, but, as we have noted previously, shipping oil by rail cars, an obvious necessity, has proved a bit more dangerous than other methods. If an oil pipeline leaks, the danger is spilled oil, a nasty mess that costs a lot of money to clean up, but is only very rarely explosive; when a rail car derails, there can be a massive impact, sending out sparks, possibly causing fires and explosions. From an environmental point of view, a ruptured oil pipeline and a wrecked tanker-car train are about the same problem; from a safety standpoint, shipping oil by rail is clearly more dangerous.
“The rescue of Pyrrhus” by Nicolas Poussin
So, what victory have the environmentalists gained? If their goal is to reduce the use of fossil fuels, they have gained none at all, because modern society needs energy, and fossil fuels are the primary source of such. If their goal is to prevent oil spills, they haven’t accomplished that, either. Given that the new pipelines they have succeeded in blocking would be just that, new, and that their efforts have simply rerouted the oil over the rails, some of which are nowhere close to new, and in tankers of varying ages, the environmentalists’ actions have made oil spills more probable, not less.
The real problem is that the environmentalists, and pretty much the left in general, do not think things through. As much as we would all like to see some sort of Star Trek future, where all energy is cheap and completely clean, that future does not yet exist, and we still need energy today. Until we get to that Star Trek future, the most sensible thing to do is try to make what sources of energy we have to use today as safe as possible, something the shortsighted environmentalists continually try to block.
They are their own worst enemies.