New data on crude oil shipments by rail released by the Department of Energy this week show that there are relatively few oil trains taking the path of the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
In its first monthly report on crude by rail, the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the bulk of oil shipments by rail are moving from North Dakota’s Bakken region to refineries in the mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Northwest.
Far less is moving from either Canada or the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, the location of 45 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Only about 5 percent of the crude oil moved by rail nationwide in January was bound for the Gulf Coast from either Canada or the Midwest.
A series of derailments has brought increased scrutiny to oil transportation by rail. Since the beginning of the year, four oil trains have derailed in the U.S. and Canada, leading to spills, fires and evacuations.
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The White House Office of Management and Budget is reviewing new regulations intended to improve the safety of oil trains. They are scheduled for publication next month.
Some supporters of the 1,700-mile Keystone project have said it would reduce the need for rail shipments. The pipeline would have a projected capacity of 830,000 barrels a day and would primarily move heavy crude oil from western Canada to the Gulf Coast.
The government’s new data confirm, however, that the primary flows of oil by rail are not to the Gulf Coast. Northeast refineries, concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have come to rely heavily on Bakken crude delivered by rail, and to a lesser extent Canadian oil.
Oil trains have resulted in a 60 percent decline in oil imported to the East Coast from overseas countries, according to the EIA.
Of the roughly 1 million barrels a day of oil that moved by rail in January, according to the EIA, 914,000 barrels were from the Midwest petroleum-producing district that includes North Dakota, while 130,000 barrels a day crossed the border from Canada.
In a report last month, the Energy Department projected that shipments of Canadian oil by rail could more than triple by 2016.
The mid-Atlantic region received 437,000 barrels a day from the Midwest district, and only 61,000 barrels from Canada. That’s roughly the equivalent of six or seven 100-car trains, each carrying about 3 million gallons.
About 171,000 barrels a day from the Midwest, or about two to three 100-car trains, supplied West Coast refineries, mostly in Washington state.
The Gulf Coast region received only 107,000 barrels of oil a day from the Midwest and Canada combined. About 107,000 barrels came from the Rocky Mountain petroleum-producing district, which includes the Niobrara region of Colorado and Wyoming.
Including oil that comes from west Texas or New Mexico, the equivalent of about three to four 100-car trains arrive at the Gulf Coast every day.