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Map and Report on Oil-By-Rail, “Booming Bomb Train Industry”

Map and Report on Oil-By-Rail, “Booming Bomb Train Industry” thumbnail

A new report and website released today by Oil Change International provides a comprehensive overview of the current oil-by-rail industry in North America and it isn’t a pretty picture.

The report and interactive map of the “booming bomb train industry” capture the alarming scope of this very recent development.  As the report points out, 70 times as much oil was moved by rail in 2014 as there was in 2005. That rapid expansion is continuing, placing more North American communities at risk.

“This analysis shows just how out of control the oil industry is in North America today. Regulators are unable to keep up with the industry’s expansion-at-any-cost mentality, and public safety is playing second fiddle to industry profits,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director of Oil Change International and author of the report.

According to the report, Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude By Rail in North America, approximately one million barrels of oil per day are moved on 135 trains of 100 cars or more each day in America.  If all of the currently planned development of oil-by-rail facilities occurs, the full capacity to move oil would be five times that amount.

“This is what the All of the Above Energy Strategy looks like – a runaway train headed straight for North American communities,” Stockman said.

This massive investment by the oil and rail industries to expand their capacity to move oil by rail is one of the main reasons that improving oil-by-rail safety is unlikely when it comes to the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars.  These cars currently make up approximately 70% of the oil-by-rail tank car fleet and there is currently a two to three year waiting list for companies wanting new tank cars.

The planned expansion of the oil-by-rail industry is simply impossible without the existing DOT-111 cars.  In 2013 this point was made by an industry analyst:

“People who want to ship oil can’t get them,” Toby Kolstad, president of the consultant firm Rail Theory Forecasts LLC said. “They’re desperate to get anything to move crude oil.”

Without the oil-by-rail transportation option, the Bakken Shale oil would have no way to get to market.  Despite the fact that the DOT-111 cars are inadequate and the Bakken crude is more explosive, the industry continues to rapidly expand with no new regulations.

The planned expansion of the industry and the current known capacity restraints help explain the recent public relations effort by the oil industry to dismiss any safety concerns.

Last week, the North Dakota Petroleum Council released a new study that said Bakken crude was “comparable in volatility to gas-rich oils from other shale formations in other regions.”

Which is true.  However, in other regions, like the Eagle Ford formation in Texas, the natural gas liquids are stripped from that oil before being shipped by rail which greatly reduces the danger of explosion.

Last week, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers also weighed in with their opinion.  AFPM President Charles Drevna stated their position to Railway Age:

“As the standards are today for flammable liquids, Bakken crude fits right in, and the DOT-111 cars should be fine”

These claims are being made despite testimony by Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board calling the DOT-111’s an “unacceptable public risk” when used to transport Bakken crude.

Last week, the White House announced that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will be proposing new oil-by-rail regulations in July.  However, this will just be a proposal and the beginning of a likely contentious political battle about these regulations.  No one expects any new regulations before 2015.  Meanwhile, the industry continues its expansion plans.

In July, at the same time PHMSA is expected to announce its proposed new regulations for the oil-by-rail industry, activists across the country are planning a week of action.  Starting on July 6th, the anniversary of the deadly explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the “Oil by Rail week of action” will highlight opposition to the shipping of oil by rail through communities and remember the victims of that first Bakken crude oil explosion.

In Lac-Megantic, there is little good news. The town is facing years of clean-up and reconstruction, and billions of dollars of expenses to deal with that disaster.  Recently, Réjean Roy, whose daughter died in that accident, talked about the reality of Lac-Megantic’s current situation and their need to try to revive the town’s tourism industry.

“We need it for my town, because my town is dying. If we do nothing to attract tourists here, the town will die.”

A town will die. But the oil-by-rail industry is booming and regulations are not coming any time soon. It will take a huge public outcry to change that.

Stockman, author of the Oil Change International report, remains hopeful that the tide could turn.

“Communities are already waking up to the dangers of oil trains barreling through their backyards, with spills, explosions and derailments happening all too often. This report and online tool will help provide the critical information that’s been sorely missing in order to shine a light on what’s really going on, and to help stop the runaway train of crude-by-rail in its tracks before more damage is done.”


5 Comments on "Map and Report on Oil-By-Rail, “Booming Bomb Train Industry”"

  1. rockman on Wed, 28th May 2014 7:34 pm 

    “Communities are already waking up to the dangers of oil trains barreling through their backyards”. More ridiculous hype by anti-oil folks IMHO. Yes…tank cars filled with oil are a risk. But for many decades much more dangerous loads have been moving down those same rail lines (and have killed many and caused many tens of $millions in damage). Chlorine, hydrofluoric acid et al are much more dangerous yet not a single word about those dangers that still exist today. If town folks need to worry they should have woke up 30+ years ago.

  2. Grover Lembeck on Thu, 29th May 2014 12:56 am 

    It’s a matter of volume. If there were 135 trains a day of hydroflouric acid, and they were being moved in these DOT-111 cars, you would have heard an outcry years ago. Mainly due to the dissolvng railcars, probably.

    These concerns are valid, and are shared by many pro-oil people who live near train tracks.

  3. paulo1 on Thu, 29th May 2014 8:50 am 


    You forgot to add cars full of caustic soda. They have a nasty reputation here in BC for destroying entire fish stocks with small derailments. They just don’t go ‘boom’. Instead, you see thousands of dead fish floating downstream.


  4. rockman on Thu, 29th May 2014 4:59 pm 

    Grover – “…many pro-oil people who live near train tracks.” There are many tens of thousands of oil patch hands in Houston and we have thousands of tank cars loaded with stuff much more deadly then oil rolling thru town every month. And not one bbl of oil moving by train thru town. Every 8 yo old child here understands the term “shelter in place”…they’ve heard it before when something nasty got spilled and folks were warned to not go outside and breath.

    There is not a city of any size in the US that doesn’t have thousands of tanker truck loaded with gasoline rolling thru their neighborhoods every year. And I’m not talking about on the edge of town but right past schools, hospitals, etc. If you’re worried about a steel rail car cracking open along a rail line in your town think about a less sturdy gasoline truck rolling over and exploding in front of a school full of kids…or your house at 3 AM.

  5. rockman on Thu, 29th May 2014 5:16 pm 

    Paulo – So true. Most folks have no idea the danger their driving next to when they pass a tanker truck carrying hydrogen peroxide. They see a tanker marked so and think it’s just good for disinfecting a cut. Yet: Concentrated hydrogen peroxide is a reactive oxygen species and has been used as a propellant in rocketry.

    Here’s just one of many stories folks can find on the web if they just bother to look instead of learning all they know from the MSM:

    CLEVELAND — Hazardous materials pass through Northeast Ohio neighborhoods each day by train. A CSX train derailed in Rosedale Maryland after colliding with a garbage truck. The derailment caused a fire, and an explosion powerful enough to damage buildings blocks away.

    Among the chemicals on board the train, sodium chlorate, which can be used to make, among other things, herbicides and explosives.

    “We knew we had a threat, and we evacuated to the half mile. We didn’t actually know what was burning,” Mlachak says in recalling the 2007 train derailment in Painesville. Most of the hazardous materials on board, such as ethanol were discovered early because of placards displayed on rail cars.

    “We didn’t know about the phthalic anhydride for quite a while. That could have been a deal breaker. There is no quick easy way to find out what is in that fire.

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