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Jeff Mosner, Park Rapids, Minn., Published April 05 2014

Letter: Pick your poison: moving oil by pipeline or rail tank cars

Putting aside the larger, global issue of what all this fracking and tar sands extraction is doing to our environment, let’s assume we need the oil and that we want to move it to refineries and ultimately to its market in the safest manner. While 70 percent of North Dakota’s Bakken crude is now transported above ground by rail, the increased pressure on the rail system and the frequencies of horrific accidents makes this mode of transport questionable as a sustainable preferred method.

But pipelines spill more oil than rail and truck combined by nearly a 10 to 1 ratio. While railroads and pipeline companies profess adherence to safety standards, the standards in both cases are too low to provide for adequate protection of our communities and our environment.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation set new standards for tanker cars, but there is still no requirement or plan to update the aging fleet of flimsy tankers that are better suited to hauling vegetable oil, not highly combustible ethanol or fracked and/or tar sand oil. I recently read that Minnesota has only one state railroad inspector for 4,500 miles of rail.

Think pipelines are better managed? Government oversight of pipeline routing, construction and monitoring is practically nonexistent. In Minnesota, this responsibility now rests with the Public Utilities Commission. “Rest” seems the operative word. While the PUC proclaims to have an open process allowing for citizen input in the routing of new pipelines, they make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to provide this input in the format and time frame they require. Instead of working with the public and other government agencies, they hide behind rules and statutes that are tilted in favor of the pipeline companies.

The system is broken. Citizens need to get informed and speak out or we will have more train wrecks and more pipeline spills doing irreparable harm to communities and environment.

One example of a citizen environmental advocacy group that was formed to raise awareness of the risks involved in Enbridge’s proposed new Sandpiper pipeline through northern Minnesota can be found at: www.friendsoftheheadwaters.org