On Fox, A Train Spilling Oil Is An Argument For Keystone XL, But A Pipeline Spill Isn't News

After a massive oil tanker derailed in West Virginia, several members of Fox News claimed that the accident demonstrates the need to build the Keystone XL pipeline because it is supposedly “safer” to transport oil by pipeline than by train. However, pipelines spill even more oil than trains, and when a major pipeline spill recently occurred near Keystone XL's proposed route, Fox News barely mentioned the spill and didn't once connect it to legitimate safety concerns about Keystone XL.

Oil Train Derailment In West Virginia Prompts Evacuations In Nearby Towns

Explosive Derailment In West Virginia Caused Fires, Prompted Evacuations. On February 16, 25 cars from a CSX oil train derailed in the town of Mount Carbon, West Virginia, causing fires that prompted the evacuation of two nearby towns and destroyed one house. [Reuters, 2/18/15]

Fox News Cited The Rail Accident As Argument For Building The Keystone XL Pipeline

Fox Anchor Jon Scott: Keystone XL Supporters Say Pipelines Would Be “A Much Safer Way” To Move Oil. On the February 18 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, host Jon Scott repeated claims by Keystone XL supporters that transporting oil by pipeline would be “a much safer way to move oil” than trains. Correspondent Leland Vittert noted later in the segment that opponents of the pipeline argue that “crude is dangerous no matter how it is moved,” but he also repeated Keystone XL supporters' claim that Keystone XL would “eliminate the need” for trains like the one that derailed in West Virginia:

SCOTT: There is new political fallout from that fiery derailment and oil tanker explosion in West Virginia, with the Department of Transportation considering even tougher safety standards for trains hauling flammable crude. Just as supporters of Keystone XL say that pipeline would provide a much safer way to move oil.


VITTERT: Now, the cars that crashed here are the newer design railcars that are supposed to be a lot safer in the event of a crash, and this has reignited the debate about how to move millions of gallons of crude oil around the United States, not only in rural areas like West Virginia but also through major cities. The proponents of the keystone XL pipeline say that the pipeline itself would eliminate the need for many of these trains, a number of which have crashed with deadly consequences in the past few years. Opponents, of course, say that this proves the point that crude is dangerous no matter how it is moved.

Fox Host Bret Baier: Proponents Claim Keystone XL Is A “Safer, More Reliable Manner Of Transportation” Than Pipelines. Introducing a segment of the February 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, Baier trumpeted claims by Keystone XL proponents that the pipeline would be a “safer, more reliable method of transportation”  than oil tankers. [Fox News, Special Report, 2/18/15]

Fox Correspondent Leland Vittert At Site Of Oil Tanker Spill: “Some Here Say, 'Build The [Keystone] Pipeline Tomorrow.'” During the Special Report segment, correspondent Leland Vittert said that Keystone XL supporters “say their pipeline would get oil to market cheaper and far safer than the trains,” while "[o]pponents argue pipeline accidents mean leaks, just like in rail cars." Vittert concluded the segment, which featured Association of Oil Pipe Lines President and CEO Andy Black and Natural Resources Defense Council Director of Editorial Content Bob Deans, by saying:

VITTERT: On Capitol Hill the debate has been as hot as the fireball from West Virginia. Congress has approved the 1,100-mile project. The president says he'll veto it. While Washington continues to debate, folks in communities like this all over the country live with the dangerous reality of crude oil trains in their backyard everyday. It's no surprise some here say, “Build the pipeline tomorrow” as they look at this crash and realize it could have been so much worse.

But When A Major Pipeline Spill Occurred, Fox News Looked The Other Way

Fox News Failed To Connect Keystone XL To A Major Pipeline Spill In The Yellowstone River. After a pipeline recently leaked 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and contaminated the drinking water for residents of a nearby town with a cancer-causing chemical, Fox News provided only a brief mention of the accident and failed to connect the accident to Keystone XL -- despite the fact that the spill occurred near Keystone XL's proposed route. [Media Matters, 1/26/15]

Government Data Show That Pipelines Spill More Oil Than Trains

IEA: Pipelines Spill Three Times As Much Oil As Trains Over A Comparable Distance. In their 2013 Medium-Term Oil Market Report, the International Energy Agency analyzed U.S. Department of Transportation data and found that although the risk of a train oil spill is higher than the risk of a pipeline incident, “pipelines spill 3-times more per 1 billion barrel-miles of crude oil transported, over the 2004-12 period.” A “barrel-mile” is one barrel of oil, transferred one mile. [International Energy Agency, 2013; Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, 8/29/07]

And Keystone XL's Environmental Risks Are Heightened By The Company Behind It And Type Of Oil It Would Carry

TransCanada's Existing Keystone Pipeline Has Poor Safety Record. TransCanada, the company that wants to build Keystone XL, insists that there is little risk of a spill from the pipeline, and that it is prepared to contain leaks quickly and effectively. But TransCanada gave similar assurances about the current Keystone pipeline, which spilled 12 times in its first year of operation -- including a major leak of about 21,000 gallons in North Dakota. [Media Matters, 10/3/11]

Tar Sands Oil Sinks To The Bottom Of Bodies Of Water, Making It Much Harder To Clean Up. In a report about tar sands oil, which is the type of oil that Keystone XL would carry, National Public Radio's All Things Considered described how a tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan revealed the immense difficulty of cleaning up this type of oil from water bodies:

[Michigan State University professor Steve] Hamilton says this tar sands oil sank to the river bottom because it's heavy -- heavier than almost anything that's considered oil.


Tar sands oil has to be diluted to make it liquid enough to flow through a pipeline. But once it's back out in the environment, the chemicals that liquefied it evaporate. That leaves the heavy stuff behind.

Cleanup crews didn't know what they were dealing with. They expected it to act like oil usually does and float on water. So they focused on vacuuming oil and skimming it from the surface.

But about a month into the cleanup, some fish researchers got a surprise. One of them jumped from a boat into the river. With each step he took, little globs of black oil popped up.

That kicked off a search for sunken oil.

“And everywhere they looked, they found it,” Hamilton recalls.

EPA's Midwestern chief Susan Hedman says they had to develop new techniques to remove all of this submerged oil.

“The EPA staff that worked on this, that have responded to oil spills over many, many years, had never encountered a spill of this type of material, in this unprecedented volume, under these kinds of conditions,” Hedman says.

Scientists say they're only beginning to study how tar sands behave after a spill. [National Public Radio, All Things Considered, 8/16/12]