Hundreds more fatalities if Keystone XL isn’t built? Not exactly

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 7, 2014 

On Friday, the State Department revised its January report on the environmental impacts of building or not building the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, including the number of potential injuries and fatalities if Canadian oil would move by rail instead.

The New York Times reported that the revisions projected “hundreds more fatalities and thousands more injuries than expected over the course of a decade.”

Frightening numbers that supporters and opponents of the pipeline used to boost their case _ except that the newspaper tied the wrong set of numbers to the no-build scenario.

“The initial study noted that without the pipeline, companies would simply move the oil by rail, and an addendum concluded that the alternative could contribute to 700 injuries and 92 deaths over 10 years,” wrote Times reporter Coral Davenport. “Friday’s updated report raised those numbers more than fourfold, concluding that rail transport could lead to 2,947 injuries and 434 deaths over a decade.”

The January Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement projected that the increase in rail traffic could lead to 49 additional injuries and six fatalities annually, or 490 injuries and 60 fatalities over 10 years.

On Friday, the department said that projection was incomplete based on “an error in search parameters” applied to a decade of Federal Railroad Administration accident data.

“Using these updated statistics, the estimated numbers of incidents correlated to the increased rail traffic that was assumed in the rail scenario would increase from 49 to 189 injuries, and from 6 fatalities to 28,” the department wrote.

So where did those higher numbers come from? They represent the total injuries and fatalities from all rail-related accidents the government counted from 2002 to 2012. The department then used those numbers to project an annual increase in injuries and fatalities.

The numbers include accidents at highway-rail crossings and where trains struck people who were not authorized to be on railroad property. They do not include the 47 people who were killed last summer in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a crude oil train derailed.

The numbers still project an additional 1,890 injuries and 280 fatalties over a decade _ bad news by any measure. But the State Department added this:

“These incident rates are not directly correlated to the type of product/commodity being transported.”

In other words, it the State Department’s analysis only looks at the projected increase in trains, not what’s in them. A similar increase of trains carrying consumer goods, coal, grain or automobiles could mean a similar increase in injuries and fatalities.

So if crude oil trains pose a higher risk for injuries and fatalities than these other trains because of the cargo they’re carrying, the State Department’s report doesn’t measure it.

Email: ctate@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @tatecurtis

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