One of the most common claims made about the Dakota Access Pipeline, championed by environmental activists and some elected officials, is that the Dakota Access pipeline will be “disastrous” for global carbon emissions. Citing “calculations” some claim that the Dakota Access Pipeline will equate to tens of millions of cars on the road or several dozen coal plants.
These claims are unsubstantiated and ignore the realities of the project.
The following are facts about Dakota Access, various energy transportation systems, and net carbon emissions.
Net Emissions: Pipelines produce a far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternative forms of transportation for oil and other petroleum products.
According to an EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks reports, medium and heavy duty trucks emit 403.4 million metric tons (including CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs), ships and boats produce 40.8 million metric tons (including CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs), railways like the one that already exists on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation produce 46.9 million metric tons (including CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs), and pipelines produce only 40.1 million metric tons.
Safety: Without pipeline infrastructure, the default transportation option would be crude by rail, which not only emits greater greenhouse gasses, but also has a greater propensity for an unintentional release than pipelines.
In 2013 the United States moved about 8.3 billion barrels of oil by pipeline compared with 291 million barrels of oil by rail, or about 29 times greater volume.
The rate of accidents per billion barrels is significantly higher for rail and fluctuates more from year to year. Rail accidents occur more frequently by volume-moved and have the same environmental impact and the tendency toward a more volatile incident.
The Department of Transportation records show that there were 186 incidents of oil leaking from railroad tank cars in 2014, compared to just 12 in 2008. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports that the 1.15 million gallons of crude oil spilled in 2013 by railcar operations exceeded the total amount spilled since the government agency began keeping count more than four decades ago.
In May 2015, a BNSF oil tanker train derailed near Heimdal, North Dakota spilling 94,000 gallons and resulting several large explosions.