Local Blogs

By Tim Hunt

Anti-fracking folks rail against railroads

Uploaded: Apr 15, 2014

The anti-oil folks in Richmond and Berkeley are preparing to battle against trains carrying fracked oil to refineries in California. Richmond and Contra Costa County, in particular, has a cluster of oil refineries.
These same folks share the philosophy of people who have railed against the Keystone pipeline that would connect Canadian heavy oil fields with American refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Given the choice between rail cars and pipelines—it's easy—pipes which typically are buried.
That said, rail cars routinely carry many hazardous materials safely across this country. Rail is safer than putting these in 18-wheel tractor trailers and even trucks operate quite safely given the miles traveled. Judge by how few news stories you hear about accidents. A spill of any hazardous material generates substantial news coverage and we just do not hear about that many, particularly given the volume of materials being moved.
The irony in all of this is the United States, thanks to the improvements in the decades-old fracking technology with horizontal drilling, is poised to be energy independent and a net exporter of fossil fuel products. That's particularly true when natural gas is factored in.
The anti-oil folks, who share the philosophy of the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency that are shutting down the U.S. coal mining, despise using any carbon-based fuels. Costs do not seem to matter nor does technology that has made gasoline-burning vehicles much cleaner than they were 20 years ago to say nothing about cleaner burning natural gas.
From a geopolitical standpoint, Comrade Putin wields way too much economic power over Western European because of the exports of natural gas and oil. Germany and the European Union embraced alternative power generation within the last decade and did so by providing huge subsidies to firms providing the alternatives. Within the last month, EU officials have indicated they will back down on the subsidies that have driven up electricity costs because the high costs are making their manufacturing operations non-competitive.
That's a path that California is running down thanks to Governor Brown's mandate of one-third of electrical power be generated by renewable sources. Solar panels on roofs make good sense as do windmills in certain places. Windmills, of course, must be complemented by other sources to ensure steady power supplies.
If the United States cranks up production and exports to drive a competitive world-wide market, that will put economic pressure on Putin and the Russian economy, which based almost entirely on export of carbon-based natural resources.
So, let's consider carefully whether knee-jerk reactions to safe transportation of natural resources (albeit carbon-based) should determine public policy both locally and nationally.