Energy secretary: U.S. infrastructure unready for rail-crude boom
ALBANY—U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the country does not yet have the infrastructure to support the dramatic increase in crude oil now being transported by rail.
In an interview with Capital, Moniz said pipelines are a much safer way to transport oil.
“The Bakken shale has gone from close to nothing to a million barrels a day in a very short time,” he said. “And the infrastructure certainly just isn't there, certainly in terms of pipelines to manage that.”
In 2010, Moniz said, there just ten loading sites for transferring oil to rail. Now there are dozens, and more are planned.
Moniz said pipelines are the best way to address the nation's growing production of oil and gas, largely through fracking. The Obama administration is currently weighing an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
The recent release of an environmental study that found the pipeline will not increase climate change has concerned environmentalists, who fear it may soon receive final approval from President Obama.
“What we probably need is more of a pipeline infrastructure and to diminish the need for rail transport over time,” he said. “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.”
The tremendous increase in trains carry crude oil is a rising issue in New York and across the country, with overall volume having shot up to 400,000 carloads in just a few years. A series of high-profile explosions and spills have drawn more attention to the issue, prompting the Cuomo administration recently to pledge to increase state regulation of the practice.
Moniz did not address any of the specific ways the rail industry can improve oil train safety, but said the U.S. Department of Transportation was looking closely at the issue and could issue new regulations this year. Moniz acknowledged that there has been a “statistically high” number of oil train accidents in recent months.
“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.”
To mitigate that risk and deal with other energy challenges, Moniz said the Obama administration is spending the next year specifically looking at what infrastructure is needed for the transmission, storage and distribution of fuel. He blamed infrastructure constraints for a lot of the nation's current energy woes, including propane shortages and high costs in New England.
“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.”
One proposal for addressing New England's rising need for natural gas is a pipeline that would stretch across New York. Approval for that project would depend on federal regulators.