(Reuters) - Replacing the Keystone XL pipeline with oil-laden freight trains from Canada may result in an average of six additional rail-related deaths per year, according to a U.S. State Department report that is adding to pressure for President Barack Obama to approve the line.
The long-awaited study, released on Friday, focused on the environmental impact of TransCanada's $5.4 billion pipeline, but also spent several pages analyzing the potential human impact of various ways to transport oil, using historical injury and fatality statistics for railways and oil pipelines.
Although it excluded the runaway oil train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Quebec, last summer, the tragedy that first shone a critical light on the rapidly expanding trend in shipping crude by rail, the findings highlight the risks or railway transport versus pipes.
Shipping another 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude "would result in an estimated 49 additional injuries and six additional fatalities for the No Action rail scenarios compared to one additional injury and no fatalities" per year if Keystone XL is built, according to the report.
Keystone XL would carry 830,000 bpd from Alberta's oil sands U.S. refiners, but has been awaiting a presidential permit for more than five years. The "No Action" options refer to the likely alternative outcomes if Obama rejects the permit or the project is not built for some other reason.
The report also showed that carrying crude by rail, instead of by pipeline, was likely to result in a higher number of oil spills and a larger amount of leakage over time.
If Keystone XL is built as planned, according to the study, it would likely spill an average of just over 500 barrels per year, with a leak occurring once every two years. Under the most optimistic scenario involving rail, however, nearly 300 spills would occur per year, with over 1,200 barrels released in total, according to estimates provided in the report.