Bomb Trains

There Will Be Blood - Oil Train Regulations Fail To Address Known Risks

Railroad rules have been written in blood.” This line was included in the annual report of the Commissioner of Railroads for the state of Michigan — in 1901. The idea was that safety rules were only implemented when enough blood had been spilled.

One hundred and fifteen years later, in an opinion piece on rail safety for CNN, rail expert Fred Failey essentially said the same thing, opening his piece with the statement, “The rules by which trains operate on American railroads were written in blood.”

When it comes to the rules regarding oil trains in America, many regulations that would improve safety have yet to be written. One reason is that, despite the multiple oil train crashes resulting in massive explosions in the past several years, there have been no fatalities in America.

Delta 5 Trial Set To Make History With “Necessity Defense” for Climate Action

In September 2014, five individuals — now known as the Delta 5 — blockaded a train transporting Bakken shale oil at the Delta rail yard in Everett, Washington. This action was taken to oppose the known risks of the explosive Bakken oil and the risks that fossil fuels pose to the climate.

Delta 5 member Abby Brockway explained what led her to take this action.

I met a lot of politicians along the way but each individual said ‘I hear what you are saying but there is nothing that I can do. I feel powerless as your representative,’” Brockway recounted. “I can’t accept that.”

After stopping the train for eight hours, the five protesters were removed and arrested and charged with Criminal Trespass and Blocking or Delaying a Train. The Delta 5 plan to use the “necessity defense” to defend their actions.

New York Attorney General Petitions Government for Oil-by-Rail Volatility Standard

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s recent petition to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to require oil producers to stabilize oil before it is shipped by rail is a detailed 30-page document. However, the essence of the document is summed up in a single sentence (found on page 24).

Without rulemaking on vapor pressure, current Federal standards will not prevent high intensity fires and explosions in future train accidents.”

Vapor pressure is a characteristic of oil used to quantify oil’s volatility and is correlated to the amount of natural gas liquids present in the crude oil mixture. The more natural gas liquids, the higher the vapor pressure.

The high percentage of natural gas liquids (e.g. propane and butane) in the Bakken oil are what make it so volatile and flammable.

As repeatedly noted by DeSmog, with the new regulations failing to address the volatility of the oil, the risk of “bomb train” accidents remains.

The Flipside of Accuracy: NPR Report on Oil and Ethanol Train Derailments Full of Industry Talking Points

Derailment by Sarah Zarling

On November 7th, a train carrying ethanol in DOT-111 tank cars derailed in Wisconsin, resulting in rail cars rupturing and a spill of 18,000 gallons of ethanol into the Mississippi River.

The next day, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in a residential area in Watertown, Wisconsin, resulting in a spill of around 1,000 gallons of oil.

These two spills provide another stark reminder of the dangers of moving oil and ethanol along waterways and through residential areas.

It also apparently provided an opportunity for National Public Radio (NPR) to push multiple oil and rail industry talking points. And the article on NPR's website notes NPR is sponsored by America's Natural Gas (ANGA). 

“We Need Not Be Polite” Hears First National Conference On Oil Train Threats

oil train conference

On November 12th, I boarded a train headed to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the first national independent gathering focused on the topic of oil trains. The trip would take me through Philadelphia where an Amtrak train crashed in May resulting in eight fatalities and over 200 injuries. 

There is general consensus that the accident would have been avoided if positive train control technology had been in place. In 2008, Congress mandated that positive train control be installed by the end of 2015. However, the railroads failed to do this and were recently given a three to five year extension by Congress after the rail companies threatened to shut down rail service if the mandate were enforced.

Risky Shale Oil-by-Rail Expands Despite Lack of Spill Response Preparedness

The worst onshore oil spill in United States history was the Kalamazoo River tar sands pipeline spill in 2010 with estimates of one million gallons of oil spilled. In comparison, the oil-by-rail accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was 50% bigger.

With the oil-by-rail industry proposing large expansions to West Coast destinations, it is understandable that some local communities are worried about the risks of a spill causing major environmental damage and threatening human health.

Watch DeSmog’s Justin Mikulka Interviewed on ‘Ring of Fire’ About Risky Crude Oil Trains

Following up on several recent articles and a video explaining how the risks of Bakken oil “bomb trains” will continue to endanger communities across North America for years to come despite new regulations

Oil-by-Rail Giant BNSF Threatens Shutdown Over Safety

In June of 2014, a representative of oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) attended a meeting with regulators where the American Association of Railroads (AAR) lobbied against any speed limits for oil trains. One of the slides from that presentation – titled “Far Reaching Economic Impacts” (image below) — predicted dire consequences to the American economy if speed limits were put in place.

There was no mention of the safety benefits of such a speed limit in the presentation. 

And now BNSF is back at it, informing regulators that if a congressionally mandated requirement from 2008 that requires all railroads to implement positive train control (PTC) by the end of 2015 isn’t extended, they may just shut down BNSF.

VIDEO: Government, Industry Ignore Scientific Case For Improving Crude By Rail Safety, Let Bomb Trains Roll On

Oil train in Seattle by Brendan DeMelle

Since the tragic Bakken oil train accident that extinguished 47 lives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July 2013, seven more Bakken oil trains have derailed, resulting in accidents involving large fires and explosions. We now know that oil produced in North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation is extremely volatile due to its high natural gas liquid content — resulting in the “bomb train” phenomenon.

DeSmog’s new investigative video, written and produced by Justin Mikulka, details a coordinated effort by the oil industry, members of the U.S. Congress, regulators and the Department of Energy to challenge the known science of crude oil characteristics with the goal of delaying or avoiding any regulatory changes requiring Bakken crude oil stabilization, a safety measure that would protect the millions of people currently living in bomb train blast zones.

Half a Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

A new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that 500,000 students in California attend schools within a half-mile of rail tracks used by oil trains, and more than another 500,000 are within a mile of the tracks.

Railroad disasters shouldn’t be one of the ‘three Rs’ on the minds of California school kids and their parents,” said Valerie Love with the Center. “Oil trains have jumped the tracks and exploded in communities across the country. These dangerous bomb trains don’t belong anywhere near California’s schools or our children.”

Pages

Subscribe to Bomb Trains