WASHINGTON — Last week, four dozen opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and environmental activist Bill McKibben, were arrested after they engaged in civil disobedience near the gates of the White House.
Some of the activists attached themselves to the fence around the White House and others refused to move after being ordered to do so by U.S. Park Police. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched in Washington, D.C., to protest the pipeline project.
The demonstrators are hoping to convince President Barack Obama to reject federal approval for the line, which aims to carry crude oil from Canada and North Dakota's Bakken Shale to the U.S. Gulf Coast. But if opponents of the Keystone pipeline are going to stop the flow of crude, they are going to have to do more than just get arrested or hold a rally — they are going to have block nearly every north-south rail line in North America.
When it comes to the flow of northern crude to U.S. refineries, here's the reality: No Keystone XL? No problem.
While opponents of the pipeline have been rallying their supporters, U.S. and Canadian railroads have been hauling record amounts of oil. Last year, the volume of oil delivered by rail in the United States jumped by about 46 percent compared with 2011. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil-related rail traffic increased in Canada by 30 percent. In December, U.S. and Canadian railroads were hauling about 1.9 million barrels of oil and refined products per day, double the volume moved in 2009. Of that total, about 1 million barrels per day is being railed in the United States.
The Keystone XL is designed to transport 830,000 barrels per day. Over the past two years or so, domestic railroads have increased their transport capacity by an amount equal to about 55 percent of what Keystone is supposed to provide.