U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil: Background and Issues for Congress [May 5, 2014] [open pdf - 513KB]
"North America is experiencing a boom in crude oil supply, primarily due to growing production in the Canadian oil sands and the recent expansion of shale oil production from the Bakken fields in North Dakota and Montana as well as the Eagle Ford and Permian Basins in Texas. Taken together, these new supplies are fundamentally changing the U.S. oil supply-demand balance. The United States now meets 66% of its crude oil demand from production in North America, displacing imports from overseas and positioning the United States to have excess oil and refined products supplies in some regions. The rapid expansion of North American oil production has led to significant challenges in transporting crudes efficiently and safely to domestic markets--principally refineries--using the nation's legacy pipeline infrastructure. In the face of continued uncertainty about the prospects for additional pipeline capacity, and as a quicker, more flexible alternative to new pipeline projects, North American crude oil producers are increasingly turning to rail as a means of transporting crude supplies to U.S. markets. According to rail industry officials, U.S. freight railroads are estimated to have carried 434,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013 (roughly equivalent to 300 million barrels), compared to 9,500 carloads in 2008. In 2014, 650,000 carloads of crude oil are expected to be carried. Crude imports by rail from Canada have increased more than 20-fold since 2011. The amount of oil transported by rail may also be influenced by a tight market for U.S.-built tankers."
CRS Report for Congress, R43390