Justin Mikulka's blog

Two Ethanol Trains Derail — and One Explodes — as Industry Embraces Riskier Practices

An ethanol unit train of DOT-111 tank cars.

On March 8, a train pulling 80 tank cars of ethanol derailed in Providence, Rhode Island. Luckily, no ethanol was spilled and no one was injured. However, activists immediately began calling for a halt to these “unit trains” of ethanol into and out of the city, noting the potential risks to the community. Unit trains are longer than average freight trains — often 100 cars or more — dedicated to carrying a single commodity, such as ethanol or crude oil. 

These risks were on display two days later when a unit train hauling 100 cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge in Graettinger, Iowa, approximately 160 miles from Des Moines. This time, 27 of the cars left the tracks. At least eight tank cars ruptured and caught fire, and three tank cars ended up in a creek beneath the bridge, releasing about 1,600 gallons of ethanol into the waterway. 

Claims Used to Overturn the Crude Oil Export Ban Are Turning Out False

Oil tanker near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Last week, oil companies in the United States exported approximately 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day, setting a new record for exports since the ban on exporting crude oil was lifted in 2016. To put that in perspective, that is slightly more oil than the U.S. currently imports from Saudi Arabia. 

This level of exports has “surprised” energy analysts, according to a report from CNBC. During the several-year campaign to end the crude oil export ban, the oil industry and its lobbyists peddled many arguments to justify the overturn, but a year after crude oil started leaving the U.S. for global markets, most of these predictions have quickly been proven wrong.

Leader of Standing Rock Sioux: “This Movement Has Been Special”

Dave Archambault II

It’s time to do something and no longer sit back.” That was the message that David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, delivered to an audience at Cornell University on February 16. His comments came just a week before the February 22 deadline set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and echoed by North Dakota governor Doug Burgum for those at the Standing Rock encampments to evacuate.

While the overflow crowd was certainly drawn there because of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, the title of Archambault’s seminar was “Standing Rock: The Violation of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.” While he did discuss the months-long protests, the talk covered a wide range of topics, adding essential historical context to the tribe's modern struggle against the pipeline. 

Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains “Dangerously Flammable”?

Derailed oil train cars still smoking after the fire in Mount Carbon, West Virginia

When President Donald Trump signed executive orders pushing for the approval and expedited review of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, an oil industry-funded think tank put out an interesting comment supporting the move in a press release:

I believe that Canada is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States,” said Christopher Essex at the University of Western Ontario, on behalf of the climate change–denying Heartland Institute. “It gets there in part via huge dirty dangerously flammable trains of oil-bearing tank cars.”  

But why was Heartland, which has received large amounts of funding from ExxonMobil, championing oil pipelines while highlighting the risks of oil trains? 

Rail Industry Eager for a New Trump Era Light on Safety Rules

Elaine Chao

The policy landscape in Washington, D.C., dramatically shifted on Election Day…” 

While clearly not news to anyone, it was part of Edward Hamberger’s address to a conference in New York a week after Trump’s presidential victory. Hamberger is CEO of the rail industry lobbying group, the Association of American Railroads (AAR). The rail industry — along with many others — has seized upon the Trump victory as an opportunity to push a “free market” approach to avoid future regulations — and roll back existing ones. 

Will New LNG-by-Rail Industry Repeat the Mistakes of Oil Trains?

Over and over again, attendees of the 2016 Energy by Rail Conference heard that “LNG by rail is ready to go!”

LNG, or liquefied natural gas, is methane that has been cooled to the point of being a liquid. So, how do we know that shipping this hazardous flammable material on America's aging rail infrastructure is “ready to go”?

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