Foreign Policy Blogs

Quebec Oil-Train Accident Assures Building of XL Pipeline

Lac Megantic

Lac Megantic, Quebec, is a little town near the border with Maine, and it’s the kind of place where news doesn’t get made. Unfortunately for the people there, the town made headlines on July 6 when a number of oil tanker cars somehow rolled a few miles from the train’s locomotive, derailed and exploded. The body count still hasn’t been settled, but 50 is the number of dead most are using at the moment. And this accident almost guarantees that the U.S. will go ahead with the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The great fight over the pipeline has dragged on for a very long time, and the best card the environmentalists have had to play is the damage the pipeline could do to the land it crosses. The truth is pipelines leak, and the original path of the XL pipeline would have taken it through the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska. Pollute that with oil, and the people for hundreds of miles have a problem that current technology can’t fix.

The oil producers, though, have been moving oil out of the Alberta oil sands (tar sands for those over 40) and North Dakota’s Bakken formation using rail and trucks from the beginning. It isn’t as cheap as a pipeline, and that’s why the oil guys want to build one connecting the oil wells with the refineries along the Gulf Coast.

And this is where I think they have outmaneuvered the greens among us. I have interviewed the Energy Minister of Alberta, Ken Hughes, and he has made it abundantly clear that the oil will be produced. If the U.S. doesn’t want a pipeline, that changes nothing. Alberta can ship it out in other ways including rail, trucks and pipelines that run to the Pacific Ocean. I have even heard that there is discussion of building a pipeline north to the Arctic Ocean. Thanks to global climate change (ironically caused by burning fossil fuels), it is becoming feasible to send the oil out through where there was once sea ice. An oil spill there would be horrific because in cold temperatures clean up is even harder than in warm ones.

Because the environmental lobby has focused on the pipeline and not stopping the development of the resources in the first place, they are now stuck with an unpleasant situation. Either they can yield on the pipeline construction or they get labeled “indifferent” to the safety of everyday people like those in Lac Megantic. Pipelines are leaky, messy and rather ugly things. Oil tanker cars are bombs on wheels.

That’s the case the Obama administration is certain to make this autumn. It will be with a heavy heart and all of that but the administration now has a trump card to play – 50 dead.



Jeff Myhre
Jeff Myhre

Jeff Myhre is a graduate of the University of Colorado where he double majored in history and international affairs. He earned his PhD at the London School of Economics in international relations, and his dissertation was published by Westview Press under the title The Antarctic Treaty System: Politics, Law and Diplomacy. He is the founder of The Kensington Review, an online journal of commentary launched in 2002 which discusses politics, economics and social developments. He has written on European politics, international finance, and energy and resource issues in numerous publications and for such private entities as Lloyd's of London Press and Moody's Investors Service. He is a member of both the Foreign Policy Association and the World Policy Institute.