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Rail union leader: North Dakota doesn't need the Dakota Access Pipeline

I have been deeply troubled by the unnecessary confrontations over the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I grew up in Mandan, N.D. and have a home in Bismarck. I hauled coal, oil, goods and so on for more than 30 years as a railroad worker.

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John Risch

I have been deeply troubled by the unnecessary confrontations over the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I grew up in Mandan, N.D. and have a home in Bismarck. I hauled coal, oil, goods and so on for more than 30 years as a railroad worker.

The truth is, North Dakota doesn't need this pipeline.

The pipeline itself is unnecessary because we have ample rail capacity to haul all of North Dakota's crude oil safely by rail with newer and safer rail cars. We are currently only shipping three or four oil trains a day out of North Dakota, and we have the capacity to ship 100 trains a day with our state's 21 oil train loading facilities.

Over the past five years, those loading facilities were built, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. During the same time, the BNSF railroad invested more than $1 billion in North Dakota's track infrastructure to haul all this crude oil.

So building the pipeline means hundreds of millions of dollars in stranded assets and lost opportunities for our state.

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Building this pipeline hurts North Dakotans, too. We have more than 200 railroad workers who are currently furloughed who would be put back to work if we shipped more oil by rail.

While I support union construction workers who build pipelines, the truth is, most of these folks are from out of state, and this pipeline creates some jobs for a few months. North Dakota railroad workers live here, and shipping oil by rail will keep them employed for decades.

Shipping oil by rail doesn't just benefit rail workers and our state's railroads. Revenues from shipping oil help pay for the maintenance of our entire rail system, and that benefits other shippers such as farmers, who depend on good rail lines to get their crops to market.

The Dakota Access Pipeline ... well, it will ship oil.

There are some who make the unsubstantiated claim that shipping oil by pipeline is safer than by rail. However you ship oil, there will be leaks and extensive clean-up projects; that's an unfortunate reality.

But if a train does derail, it's almost always easily cleaned up compared with an underground pipeline leak. And besides new tank cars that are stronger and less likely to rupture and catch fire in a derailment, North Dakota has implemented new oil volatility rules that reduce the flammability of today's crude oil shipments, making shipping by rail far safer today than it was just two years ago.

We already have the needed infrastructure in place to safely move all of North Dakota's crude oil by rail and put lots of railroad workers to work for decades, compared with employing hundreds of out of state workers for several months.

That's the inconvenient truth about the construction of this unnecessary pipeline.

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John Risch

Washington

Risch is national legislative director of the SMART-Transportation Division, the nation's largest railroad labor union. SMART stand for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

Risch is a Bismarck State College graduate and a former North Dakota state legislative director for the United Transportation Union.

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
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