Pipelines kind of astound me. Miles and miles of interconnecting cylinders delivering oil to refineries is kind of mind-boggling, especially when you realize that hundreds of thousands of barrels can be transported by one pipeline per day.
Despite all this awesomeness, pipelines aren’t the only way we transport oil. We also use rail cars and trucks to get oil and natural gas from A to B. With all of these options, what’s the best (and cheapest) way to transport these precious energy sources?
First off, rail is more flexible than a traditional pipeline. With pipelines, routes are set with no opportunity for deviation, while on the other hand, trains can pretty much go anywhere. Furthermore the upfront costs of adding pipeline infrastructure costs a lot of money, takes considerable time, and often faces extreme environmental and political pressure.
It’s not easy to build a pipeline. However, despite all these challenges, pipelines are still the cheapest and most efficient way to transport oil and natural gas.
Unit trains carry about 60,000 barrels of oil per trip, but a pipeline like the Keystone would be able to handle 700,000 barrels per day. That’s much more efficient than trains–and while the upfront cost of building a pipeline is significantly higher than laying down track, it’s still much cheaper over the long run to transport oil via pipelines.