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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Lac Megantic Train Wreck

After the explosion of the Lac Megantic train, some people have expressed the opinion that such a disaster shows that pipelines are a safer way to transport oil, and, therefore, the Keystone XL should be allowed to be built.

That is illogical.

What the disaster demonstrates is :

(1) as the complexity of oil production increases, so also does the size and cost of accidents, and

(2) the probability of accidents happening may be correctly estimated beforehand, but the Expected Value of the cost of such accidents - the probability of a given accident times the  cost of such an accident - is usually vastly underestimated, and

(3) environmental impact statements are formalities, not science.
(The British Petroleum Deep Horizon event shows that the probability and cost of such a disaster cannot be properly dealt with, for even given a low probability, the cost is so high that the future expected value would still be astronomical. Therefore, such events obviously are ignored in the planning stage, or - and this is regularly done - the cost of human lives is grossly undervalued.)

It is interesting to look back on things, such as the Alaska pipeline, when these things occur, and seeing that in review, whether the expected costs to the environment were a good predictor of the eventual accidents which did occur.

photo: Reuters

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