oil-by-rail

Ethanol Train Derails and Burns in Texas, Killing Horses and Spurring Evacuation

Read time: 6 mins
Fort Worth ethanol train fires

Early in the morning on April 24, an ethanol train derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly destroying a horse stable, killing three horses, and causing the evacuation of nearby homes. According to early reports, 20 tank cars left the tracks, with at least five rupturing and burning.

While specific details have not yet been released, it appears to be a unit train of ethanol using the federally mandated DOT-117R tank cars, based on the images showing tank car markings. This is now the third accident in North America involving the upgraded DOT-117R tank cars, all resulting in major spills of either oil or ethanol.

Federal Government Foot-Dragging Helps Oil Industry Delay Oil-by-Rail Rules

Read time: 6 mins

In an attempt to reduce the risk of fiery oil train accidents, the state of Washington is working to pass a bill that would limit the vapor pressure of oil on trains to below 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a measure of the volatility of flammable liquids and correlates to their likelihood of igniting. Higher vapor pressure means an oil is more volatile and more likely to ignite and burn when a train derails.

If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” state Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said of the bill he sponsored. “There is just too much to lose — for people and our environment.”

Billig's comments point to the federal government's repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America.

Another Oil Train Crashes as Alberta Government Gets Into Oil-by-Rail Business

Read time: 4 mins
Oil train derailment and spill in Manitoba

The government of Alberta, Canada, the heart of tar sands country, recently announced plans to get into the oil-by-rail business. Attempting to work around a lack of pipelines, the provincial government intends to spend $3.7 billion to lease 4,400 oil tank cars and locomotives to export more Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. The announcement came just days after the latest oil train derailment and spill in Manitoba, Canada.

Fatal Rail Accident 'Eerily Similar' to Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster

Read time: 8 mins
Site of a fatal Canadian Pacific train accident near Field, BC

The only way to have a rail accident that is “eerily similar” to the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster that killed 47 people and wiped out the small Quebec downtown is if a massive regulatory failure did not address the causes of that 2013 tragedy.

Which is exactly what has happened. And is why a fatal train accident on February 4 in Field, British Columbia, was dubbed “eerily similar” to the one in Lac-Mégantic by Garland Chow, a professor and transportation expert at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

A Cautionary Tale for Oil-by-rail: the Lac-Mégantic Disaster Five Years Later

Read time: 7 mins
Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, oil trains on fire

By James Wilt, The Narwhal. Originally posted on The Narwhal.

In this Q&A we speak with Bruce Campbell, author of a new book on the disaster that transformed a small Quebec town but left Canada’s neglected regulatory system largely unchanged

It’s now been half a decade since the catastrophic Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in southern Quebec. On the night of July 6, 2013, a runaway train carrying shale oil from North Dakota exploded, killing 47 people and destroying most of the town’s center.

But despite being the deadliest event in Canada's history since the Halifax Explosion in 1917, the Lac-Mégantic disaster has largely faded from the public’s consciousness outside of Quebec.

Oil-by-Rail Rises Once Again as Safety Rules Disappear

Read time: 6 mins
Oil train

While a second oil-by-rail boom is well underway in North America, both the U.S. and Canada are taking steps that ignore or undermine the lessons and regulatory measures to improve safety since the oil train explosions and spills of years past.

South Portland's Ban on Tar Sands Oil Survives Court Challenge

Read time: 7 mins
Location of proposed pollution control towers in South Portland Maine's harbor

The City of South Portland, Maine, won a major legal victory at the end of August when a federal judge ruled that the city’s effective ban on tar sands oil did not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The decision, like a similar one in Portland, Oregon, has potentially widespread implications for other communities fighting fossil fuel infrastructure projects within their borders.

Derailed Oil Train Spills 230,000 Gallons of Tar Sands in Flooded Iowa River

Read time: 7 mins
Iowa oil train spill and derailment

On June 22, a train carrying Canadian crude oil derailed in northwestern Iowa, releasing an estimated 230,000 gallons of oil into a flooded river. As a result of the derailment, over 30 rail tank cars ended up in the water, with 14 cars confirmed to have leaked oil.

To put the size of this spill in perspective, an Enbridge pipeline that leaked in Michigan in July 2010 released roughly 1,000,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup for this spill, one of the largest inland oil spills on record, took years and more than $1 billion. 

Like the Kalamazoo River spill, the train that derailed in Iowa was carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada.

Trump and the Rail Industry Had a Great First Year Together

Read time: 8 mins
Oil tank cars

The election of Donald Trump was a big win for the oil and rail industries. Shortly after the election, Edward Hamberger, CEO of the trade group the Association of American Railroads, addressed a conference in New York City, noting that “the policy landscape in Washington, D.C., dramatically shifted on Election Day.”

The trade publication Railway Age also reported Hamberger saying that “Washington leaders can be powerful change agents in fixing a broken regulatory system.”

Of course when the top rail lobbyist talks about “fixing” a broken regulatory system, what he means is moving to a system where the rail industry regulates itself — which is why the rail industry is so fond of President Trump. And why the American public should worry.

Will Canada’s Latest Boom in Tar Sands Oil Mean Another Boom for Oil-by-Rail?

Read time: 6 mins
Oil by rail accident, with tank cars burning, near Gogama, Canada in 2015

Nothing seems able to derail the rise in Canadian tar sands oil production. Low prices, canceled pipelines, climate realities, a major oil company announcing it will no longer develop heavy oils, divestment, and now even refusals to insure tar sands pipelines have all certainly slowed production, but it is still poised for significant growth over the next several years.

In March an analyst for GMP FirstEnergy commented, “It's hard to imagine a scenario where oilsands production would go down.”

But with pipelines to U.S. refineries and ports running at or near capacity from Canada, it's hard to imagine all that heavy Canadian oil going anywhere without the help of the rail industry.

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