In the wake of the explosive Casselton train development, which I think everyone knows could have been far more tragic than it was if it had occurred in one of the population centers along the rail line, there’s been a lot of talk about the explosion in rail traffic in North Dakota driven by the oil boom.
Right now roughly 70% of the oil produced in North Dakota is transported by rail. Some projects indicate that figure jumping up as high as 90%. But rail is a more expensive, and less reliable, method for transporting oil, so why is so much oil going out on rail instead of pipelines?
In a word, cronyism.
KVLY’s Chris Berg has an excellent segment about the financial political ties between Burlington Northern Santa Fe owner Warren Buffett and President Barack Obama as well as Senator Heidi Heitkamp (I put together some of this data myself in a recent post). Not only did Warren Buffett and his employees contribute heavily to Senator Heitkamp and Barack Obama’s election campaigns, but Senator Heitkamp specifically has somewhere between $160,000 and over $400,000 worth of stock in Buffett’s company (which, in turn, owns BNSF) according to Senate financial disclosures.
It’s hard not to see a connection between the financial interests of Warren Buffett and Heitkamp/Obama and the political roadblocks for pipeline infrastructure which create a glut of rail traffic.