WSJ - Oil Trains Make Comeback as Pipeline Bottlenecks Worsen

January 31, 2019 – The Wall Street Journal

Oil Trains Make Comeback as Pipeline Bottlenecks Worsen

By Rebecca Elliott and Paul Ziobro

The use of trains to carry crude is surging after dropping in recent years amid concerns about safety, as drillers in parts of North America produce more oil than area pipelines can accommodate.

An average of 718,000 barrels of crude a day traversed America’s railways as of October, the latest data available, an 88% increase from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That compares with a peak average of about 1.1 million barrels in October 2014.

Much of the recent oil train growth is due to record shipments from Canada, where pipeline expansion projects, including Keystone XL and Trans Mountain, have stalled amid environmental opposition and legal delays. Crude-by-rail shipments also have ticked up from North Dakota’s Bakken region and the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, according to energy-monitoring firm Genscape Inc…

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…Since shipping oil by rail is generally more expensive, pipelines remain a more attractive option when available, analysts say.

“People would love to have the optionality to move onto crude by rail whenever they want to, but nobody wants to be signing a check for it,” RBN Energy analyst John Zanner said.

Mr. Zanner said because of limited supply of railcars and other infrastructure he doesn’t expect oil train shipments from Canada to increase significantly as a result of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.