U.S. rail traffic figures from 2012 reflect the significant increase in domestic crude oil production and hefty decline in coal usage to produce electricity last year, according to a report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Crude oil and petroleum products accounted for the biggest increase in rail carloadings among commodities in 2012, while coal registered the largest decline.
"Notwithstanding the changes, coal remained by far the dominant category of carload shipments, accounting for 41 percent of total carloads, compared to a 4 percent share for all petroleum and petroleum products combined," EIA officials said in a press release.
The amount of crude oil and petroleum products delivered by rail jumped 46 percent compared with 2011. In addition, crude oil accounted for an estimated 38 percent of the combined deliveries in the oil and petroleum products category, up from 3 percent in 2009, EIA officials said, citing Association of American Railroads data.
"Typically, about 90 percent of the crude oil and petroleum products in the United States is transported by pipeline. However, more crude is being moved by rail from areas of the country seeing a boost in oil production, such as North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation, that do not have adequate pipeline infrastructure to transport the oil to refineries," they said.
Meanwhile, coal carloadings dropped nearly 11 percent last year to a little more than 6 million. More than 70 percent of the coal burned by power plants is delivered by rail, but deliveries fell in 2012 because plant operators turned to more price-competitive natural gas as a generating fuel, EIA officials said.
Coal accounted for 37.2 percent of U.S. electricity generation from January through November, down from 42.5 percent during the same 2011 period.
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