oil trains

'Bomb Trains,' a New Book on the Deadly, Ongoing Threat of Oil by Rail

Read time: 7 mins
Bomb Trains book cover crop

On July 6, 2013, a train hauling crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, resulting in fires and explosions that killed 47 people and wiped out a large part of the small Canadian town's center. At the time I was living in Albany, New York, which had become a major distribution point for Bakken oil delivered to the Port of Albany in mile-long trains like the one that devastated Lac-Mégantic. In the six months following the deadly disaster, several more trains of Bakken oil derailed and exploded across North America.

As the risk of these oil trains became very apparent, I began investigating how the trains could be allowed to travel through communities like mine in Albany and started publishing my findings here at DeSmog. Now, just after the six year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, I have compiled all of that research into the new book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk.

US Poised to Approve Shipping LNG by Rail for Export With No New Safety Rules

Read time: 3 mins
LNG ship

On June 6, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that the company Energy Transport Solutions LLC had applied for a special permit to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) in unit trains 100 cars long and for the express purpose of moving LNG to export facilities. The notice in the Federal Register starts a comment period, ending July 8, for the public to weigh in on the proposal, which represents a new mode for transporting LNG and includes no new safety precautions.

The permit documentation and environmental assessment from PHMSA suggest that federal regulators — instead of learning from the deadly mistakes of the essentially unregulated oil-by-rail boom — are poised to allow the fossil fuel and rail industries to repeat the same business model with LNG, with potentially even higher consequences for public health and safety.

Companies Blocked From Using West Coast Ports to Export Fossil Fuels Keep Seeking Workarounds

Read time: 6 mins
Proposed fossil fuel export site in Washington state

By Shawn Olson-Hazboun, Evergreen State College and Hilary Boudet, Oregon State University

A year after Washington state denied key permits for a coal-export terminal in the port city of Longview, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would proceed with its review — essentially ignoring the state’s decision.

This dispute pits federal authorities against local and state governments. It’s also part of a larger and long-running battle over fossil fuel shipments to foreign countries that stretches up the entire American West Coast.

3 Reasons the Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Could Happen Again

Read time: 10 mins
Oil trains burning in Lac-Megantic, Quebec

In the five years since the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, claimed 47 lives, the world has learned much about the risks that hauling oil by rail poses. One of the clearest lessons is how little has been done to address those risks, which means that deadly event could easily happen again.

News Not to Miss: Oil Train Spill, China Petrochemical Deal, Methane Leaks

Read time: 4 mins
Oil train cars

It's hard to keep up with the flood of news these days. Here's your weekly round-up of news not to miss from DeSmog.

Justin Mikulka has been on the oil train beat for years. He's documented how the oil boom and pipeline bottleneck in the Bakken Shale has led to more, longer, and heavier trains shuttling oil across North America and how various factors also have led to another type of boom: the literal “boom” of exploding oil trains. (In fact, train operators have given them the nickname “bomb trains.”)

This week, Mikulka writes about the latest oil train incident, this time involving a BNSF train carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, across northwestern Iowa.

American Petroleum Institute Failed to Respond to Concerns of Oil Train Safety

Read time: 4 mins
American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard

On July 29, 2013 Thomas J. Herrmann of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) wrote a letter to Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API). The letter was in response to the oil train disaster that occurred earlier that month in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people and reduced the downtown to a vacant lot (and it remains so over four years later).

Herrmann was writing to Gerard because the oil tank cars hauled by trains are actually owned or leased by members of the American Petroleum Institute, not by rail companies.

Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Was Avoidable Corporate Crime

Read time: 4 mins
Lac-Mégantic before oil train explosion leveled its downtown

Damning new testimony from an engineer of the locomotive involved in the deadly 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, reveals several ways corporate cost-cutting directly led to the accident, which claimed 47 lives.

Federal Railroad Administration Nominee Plans to Push Rail Industry to Self-Regulate

Read time: 6 mins
Train in Alaska

Ronald Batory — President Trump’s nominee to lead the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) — will be pushing for the controversial self-regulatory approach to safety known as “performance-based regulations,” according to his July 26 statement for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Shifting toward this self-regulatory approach could have major implications for the safety of trains carrying potentially dangerous cargo, including oil and ethanol.

“We Got Lucky” - Four Years After Lac-Megantic, Another Oil Train Accident

Read time: 7 mins

We were very lucky in this instance,” Plainfield Fire Chief David Riddle said. “There was no fire, nobody got hurt by the grace of God.”

As the residents of Lac-Megantic were preparing to acknowledge the 4th anniversary of the oil train disaster that leveled and poisoned their downtown and killed 47 people, residents of Plainfield, Illinois were happy to just be complaining about the odor of spilled oil after a train pulling 115 tank cars of Canadian crude oil derailed near their neighborhood.

Regulators Helped Oil-by-Rail Company Avoid Environmental Review, California Court Rules

Read time: 6 mins
Oil train cars

This week, a court in California overturned a permit allowing the expansion of an oil-by-rail terminal near Bakersfield, California. The opinion from that court ruling reads like a case study for corporations looking to avoid the two biggest hurdles to getting such a project approved: environmental review and public notice and comment. 

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