oil by rail

With Oil by Rail Poised for Comeback, Will Lack of Safety Regulations Mean 'Bomb Trains' Return too?

Read time: 7 mins
Gogama oil derailment and fire

Investors love a good comeback story and right now oil by rail seems to be a story they're pushing to justify investment in rail companies, especially Canadian ones.

But with little change in safety practices or regulations since the 2014 oil-by-rail boom, is the industry setting itself up to once again earn the nickname that rail workers gave oil trains — that is, will “bomb trains” make a comeback?

Canada's Pipeline Challenges Will Force More Tar Sands Oil to Move by Rail

Read time: 8 mins
Gogama oil train derailment in Ontario

The Motley Fool has been advising investors on “How to Profit From the Re-Emergence of Canada’s Crude-by-Rail Strategy.” But what makes transporting Canadian crude oil by rail attractive to investors?

Is This New Tar Sands Technology a Game Changer for Exporting Canada's Bitumen?

Read time: 7 mins
Hockey pucks

A new technology has the potential to transform the transportation of tars sands oil. Right now, the already thick and slow-flowing oil, known as bitumen, has to be diluted with a super-light petroleum product, usually natural gas condensate, in order for it to flow through a pipeline or into a rail tank car. 

However, scientists at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering inadvertently found a way to make tar sands oil even more viscous, turning it into “self-sealing pellets” that could potentially simplify its transport.

Washington Governor Inslee Rejects Major Oil-by-Rail Project

Read time: 5 mins
Vancouver, Washington port

On January 29, Washington Governor Jay Inslee rejected a permit required for Tesoro-Savage to build the Vancouver Energy oil-by-rail facility, the largest such project in the nation, at the Port of Vancouver, along the Washington-Oregon border. The governor explained the basis of his decision, which followed a several year long process, in a letter to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council:

Rail Workers Acquitted in Trial on Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster

Read time: 15 mins
Aerial view of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, after the oil train explosion and fires

The train engineer and two additional rail workers who faced charges for the deadly July 2013 oil train accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, were acquitted on Friday after the jury deliberated for nine days. If convicted of all charges, they potentially faced life in prison. 

The end of the trial of these three employees for their role in the Canadian oil train disaster that resulted in 47 deaths and the destruction of much of downtown Lac-Mégantic appears to have brought some closure to residents of the still-recovering town — although most are still waiting for justice.

As the trial began, the BBC reported the sentiments of Lac-Mégantic resident Jean Paradis, who lost three friends in the accident and thought the wrong people were on trial.

Port of Vancouver Votes to End Lease for West Coast Oil-by-Rail Terminal

Read time: 5 mins

This week, three port commissioners in Vancouver, Washington, put another nail in the coffin for Vancouver Energy's proposed crude-by-rail facility when the commission voted to not renew the company's lease if the project did not have all required permits and licenses by March 31. This move is expected to effectively end the project.

Momentum for this vote began in November when Don Orange joined the port commission after a resounding victory against a challenger who was heavily funded by the oil industry. Orange, on the other hand, promised to oppose Vancouver Energy's planned construction of the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country.

Washington Agency Votes to Reject Vancouver Energy’s Massive Oil-by-Rail Terminal

Read time: 5 mins
Portland, Oregon, bridge with banner reading 'Coal oil gas none shall pass'

In another major blow to the West Coast oil-by-rail industry, a Washington state agency voted unanimously to recommend Governor Jay Inslee reject the Vancouver Energy oil terminal. Proposed for construction in Vancouver, Washington, along the Columbia River, it would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country.

Washington State’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been reviewing the project since 2013 — reportedly the longest review period ever for the council. However, its November 28 meeting and vote on the final recommendation for the Tesoro Savage–backed project only took 10 minutes.

National Academy Study Touts Oil-by-Rail Safety But Supports Weakening Regulations

Read time: 8 mins
national academy of sciences sign in Washington, D.C.

A new study by the National Academy of Sciences concludes that the rail industry should do more to improve the safety of transporting oil and ethanol by rail, which includes addressing track safety and rail tank cars. Both of these are well-known safety issues.

However, the study, “Safely Transporting Hazardous Liquids and Gases in a Changing U.S. Energy Landscape,” also cites a separate NAS study “A Review of the Department of Transportation Plan for Analyzing and Testing Electronically Controlled Pneumatic Brakes” and notes that after reviewing available data, the researchers were unable to “make a conclusive statement” on the safety technology known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.* This is where things get interesting.

Oil Money Pours into Washington State Port Election Ahead of Major Decision on Crude-by-Rail Terminal

Read time: 6 mins
Vancouver, Washington railroad

By Stephen Quirke

An election in southern Washington could decide the fate of the country's largest proposed crude-by-rail terminal, and has recently come under heavy scrutiny as a rush of oil money has flowed into the campaign treasury of Port of Vancouver candidate Kris Greene. Greene’s campaign has ties to a GOP lobbying and PR firm that did crisis communications for the Dakota Access pipeline and created fake grassroots groups supporting the tobacco industry.

Rail Industry Slow on Safety Upgrade for Fleets Carrying Oil and Ethanol

Read time: 6 mins
DOT 117 tank cars

A new government report finds that only 9 percent of all the rail tank cars transporting flammable liquids last year met the stricter safety requirements of regulations set in 2015, which were meant to reduce oil train explosions and accidents. This confirms what DeSmog reported last year showing that the oil and rail industries were not moving to aggressively upgrade the fleet to the higher safety standards. Of course, the regulations gave them over a decade to make the upgrades and provided little incentive for industry to move faster.

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