U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil: Background and Issues for Congress [December 4, 2014] [open pdf - 500KB]
"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. Railroads are more willing to enter into shorter-term contracts with shippers than pipelines, offering more flexibility in a volatile oil market. […] While oil by rail has demonstrated benefits with respect to the efficient movement of oil from producing regions to market hubs, it has also raised significant concerns about transportation safety and potential impacts to the environment. The most recent data available indicate that railroads consistently spill less crude oil per ton-mile transported than other modes of land transportation. Nonetheless, safety and environmental concerns have been underscored by a series of major accidents across North America involving crude oil transportation by rail […] Legislation introduced in Congress following the Lac Mégantic disaster would require railroads to have at least two crew members aboard all trains. In addition, policy makers are proposing regulatory changes involving tank car design, prevention of derailments, and selection of preferred routes for transporting oil by rail. Congress may evaluate these changes in the reauthorization of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-432)."
CRS Report for Congress, R43390