If you’ve watched the show this week, you’ve probably seen Rachel’s coverage of some incredible oil-train derailments. There’s a debate starting to take shape – which is long overdue – about the dangers of shipping crude oil by rail and the areas affected by so-called “bomb trains.”
The story took on new salience this week when many residents in Heimdal, North Dakota, were forced to evacuate their homes after the latest in a series of oil-train derailments, but as it turns out, there’s also a political angle. The Nebraska Radio Network reported yesterday that at least one Republican presidential candidate sees this week’s tragedy as an opportunity.
After a train derailment, fire and evacuations in North Dakota this week, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked about President Obama’s refusal to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline at a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday.“It’s one of the most irrational decisions the president has made, and he’s made a lot of irrational decisions, so add this one to the list,” Huckabee says. “The Keystone pipeline should be an easy decision for any president, an easy decision for anybody with an IQ above broccoli. This is pretty simple folks. It is safer, it is more efficient and it is a job creator.”
According to Dave Weigel at Bloomberg Politics, the former Arkansas governor specifically said the “derailment in North Dakota is one more reason” to approve Keystone.
For those who’ve followed the debate, the argument that the pipeline is a “job creator” is obviously hard to take seriously. Even someone “with an IQ above broccoli” can read the State Department’s report that found the project, once completed, would create roughly 35 permanent, full-time jobs in the United States, largely in refinery employment.
But what about this notion that oil-train accidents bolster the case for the controversial pipeline?
A few months ago at The New Republic, Rebecca Leber noted how common the argument is on the right. She also debunked it.
It’s true that oil rail accidents have shot up in recent years … but that doesn’t make Keystone less dangerous than train shipments. Trains are more likely than pipelines to have accidents, but their accidents are less environmentally devastating: The International Energy Agency’s eight-year analysis of oil spills found the risk of a spill is six times higher for rail than pipeline shipments, but a pipeline accident spills three times as much oil as a rail shipment.Furthermore, it’s unlikely the pipeline will relieve congestion in North Dakota, which is the primary reason for the spike in oil transport. About 10 percent of the nation’s crude oil travels by rail, except in North Dakota, where two-thirds of Bakken crude oil moves by train. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat and a Keystone supporter, had the best argument explaining why this particular pro-Keystone argument fails: “I am not someone who has ever said that the Keystone Pipeline will take crude off the rails. It won’t. Our markets are east and west and it would be extraordinarily difficult to build pipelines east and west.” Keystone would run south through the U.S., to refineries at the Gulf Coast.
There’s little doubt that accidents involving oil trains are incredibly serious and in need of a credible policy response. We can and should have a discussion about train safety, infrastructure improvements, railway repairs, industry safeguards, and even steps to reduce dependence on oil in the first place.
But Huckabee’s rhetoric is as lazy as it is wrong.