Bomb Trains

Trump Order to Allow LNG by Rail Would Expand ‘Bomb Train’ Risks

Read time: 8 mins
Fiery detonation of a propane train in Utah

On April 10, first responders in Durham, North Carolina, responded to a suspected natural gas leak. While they were evacuating people from the area, the gas exploded, killing one person and injuring at least 25.

The same day Durham was dealing with the aftermath of a deadly natural gas explosion, President Donald Trump was issuing an executive order directing federal regulators to create new rules allowing rail companies to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) by train in the next 13 months, or less.

Despite Risks, Canada's Tar Sands Industry Is Betting Big on Oil Trains

Read time: 6 mins
Canadian Pacific train

Last year, Canada exported a record amount of tar sands oil to the U.S., despite low oil prices leading to major losses once again for the struggling tar sands industry. That achievement required a big bump in hauling oil by rail, with those daily volumes in late 2018 more than double the previous record in 2014 during the first oil-by-rail boom.

Canada's oil industry essentially has reached its limit for exporting oil into the U.S. through pipelines. That's why it's turning to rail to export more and more oil, but as an ever-increasing number of oil trains hit the tracks of North America, expect more accidents and oil spills to follow.

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.

Canadian Government Declares Oil Trains Safe and Plans to Get Into the Oil Train Business

Read time: 8 mins
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on September 5, 2018 to discuss the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

As Canadian oil-by-rail numbers reach record new volumes (and expected to rise), Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) announced recently that it would no longer list shipping the hazardous material by rail as a top safety concern.

Just a month later, the Alberta provincial government — where the majority of tar sands oil is produced — announced plans to bail out the tar sands industry by getting into the oil-by-rail business.

Here's why that's bad news for the communities in both Canada and the U.S. where this influx of oil train traffic will pass.

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.

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.

Exporting Gasoline by Rail to Mexico Likely to Recreate Mistakes of Explosive Bakken Oil Trains

Read time: 9 mins
Rusty rail car reading 'Texas Mexican Railway'

The oil industry learned an important lesson from its rush to move by train the highly flammable oil drilled in North Dakota's Bakken Shale. The lesson wasn't that those oil trains were unsafe and even dubbed “bomb trains” by rail workers (although they were). The lesson wasn't that their derailments caused several major oil spills in North America as well as the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, which killed 47 people and leveled the downtown area (although they did).

No, what the oil industry learned from this experience was that when it doesn’t have adequate pipeline capacity, its companies can still make money moving flammable petroleum products by rail, despite the well-documented risks outlined above. And the industry is now taking the same steps to move refined petroleum products — including gasoline — to Mexico 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?

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.

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