Lac-Megantic

Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly
Sharon Kelly's picture

A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary

Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400,000 carloads of crude oil, up from just 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to railroad industry estimates.  Each carload represents roughly 30,000 gallons of flammable liquids, and some trains haul over 100 oil cars at a time.

But with this fast expansion has come some astounding risks — risks that have insurance companies and underwriters increasingly concerned.

A string of oil train explosions have highlighted the potential for harm. A train hauling 2.9 million gallons of Bakken oil derailed and exploded on November 8 in Aliceville, Alabama, and the oil that leaked but did not burn continues to foul the wetlands in the area.

On December 30th, a train collision in Casselton, North Dakota 20 miles outside of Fargo, prompted a mass evacuation of over half the town’s residents after 18 cars exploded into fireballs visible for miles. 400,000 gallons of oil spilled after that accident, which involved two trains traveling well below local speed limits.

Those crashes are all on the radar of the insurance industry,” attorney Dean Hansell recently told Law360.

All told, railcar accidents spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil in 2013, federal data shows, compared with an average of just 22,000 gallons a year from 1975 through 2012 — a fifty-fold spike.

Mon, 2013-07-22 10:00Ben Jervey
Ben Jervey's picture

Oil On The Tracks: The Crude-by-Rail Boom By the Numbers

The tragic oil train explosion earlier this month in Lac-Megantic, Quebec has focused a spotlight on the growing role of rail in the transportation of North American crude. But even after that tragedy, the extent of rail’s expansion in transporting oil is still little understood by the typical driver at the pump.

So DeSmog is going to dedicate a couple of posts expanding on an earlier post about this staggering boom in crude-by-rail – why it's happening, where the oil is going, what the risks are, and who stands to benefit most from the trend.  

On November 7, 2011, the Bakken Oil Express loaded up its first railcar with North Dakota crude and started churning south towards a Gulf Coast refinery. This wasn’t the first crude-by-rail shipment in U.S. history (John D. Rockefeller might have something to say about that), nor the first time in recent history that shale crude was shuttled out of the Bakken by rail.

But if you’re looking for a pivot point in the transportation trends of North American crude, the christening of the Bakken Oil Express is a fitting one.

The Bakken Oil Express is just one piece of a rapidly expanding network of North American oil tanker trains, but it's a particularly symbolic one, quickly brought online to handle the spiking production of North Dakota sweet crude. 

According to the Association of American Railroads (PDF), “In 2008, U.S. Class I railroads originated just 9,500 carloads of crude oil. In 2012, they originated nearly 234,000 carloads. Based on the more than 97,000 rail carloads of crude oil in the first quarter of this year, another big jump is expected in 2013.” 

That’s nearly a 2400-percent increase in five short years, and the upward trend looks to be growing even faster in 2013.

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