Hofmeister: ‘Rank the risks’ when choosing how to move oil

Fuel Freedom Foundation board advisor John Hofmeister was among the experts The Wall Street Journal sought out when posing the question: What changes are needed for transporting crude in North America?

Specifically, Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil Co., was asked which was a safer way to move crude from place to place, railways or pipelines. The piece, published on WSJ’s “The Experts” blog Monday, led off with the most notorious oil-train disaster in recent memory, the crash in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013 that left 47 people dead.

Against that backdrop, Hofmeister said “the first priority” for transporting crude “should be safety.”

He added that pipelines are “undeniably the lowest risk and most efficient means of transport onshore for point-to-point movement” of oil.

As for trains and trucks, he says they work

… when the distance is short and the volumes not so large. Trains can also provide a temporary longer-distance, higher-volume solution until the costs of a pipeline are justified. Facts are facts, and crude oil in tankers weighs a lot; its contents are volatile under certain conditions; rails are thin, as are train-car wheels, and possibly brittle, depending on age, construction, wear and tear, and weather. Tracks are constantly exposed to breakdown. Trucks are exposed to the same risks, including traffic and other highway conditions. Trucks are also higher risk, being subject to human factors, more so than other transport infrastructure.

It’s not rocket science to use experience and results, real data in real time, to rank the risks and decide fact-based outcomes in the order provided.