Bakken oil

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.

Gas Barge Grounding in New York Shows Risk of Turning Hudson River into ‘Pipeline on Water’

Read time: 5 mins

On April 4 a barge carrying 60,000 barrels of gasoline ran aground in the Hudson River and was stranded for hours while New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation tried to determine if the barge was leaking. Luckily the Hudson is a tidal river and when the tide rose, the ship was able to be freed. No gasoline had spilled this time. 

However, the nature of the accident highlights the risks of moving petroleum products in barges and tankers on the Hudson River — something that may become a lot more common in the near future. Basil Seggos, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, explained to the Albany Times Union what caused the accident but couldn’t explain why it happened. 

What Have We Learned From the Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster?

Read time: 6 mins
Lac-Megantic's downtown before the oil train disaster.

Brian Stevens first learned about the Lac-Megantic disaster — in which an unattended oil train caught fire and exploded, killing 47 people in the Quebec town — when he saw the news reports on TV.

Stevens is currently National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, but he previously spent 16 years as an air-brake mechanic working on trains. At a recent conference in Ottawa examining lessons from the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster, he recounted his reaction to seeing those initial scenes of destruction.  

That ain’t Canada, that can’t happen in North America because our brake systems won’t allow that,” he said when he eventually learned the images he was seeing were from Canada. “My heart sank … It was crushing.”  

Why Do Oil Trains Derail More Often than Ethanol Trains?

Read time: 13 mins
Unit train of graffiti covered DOT-111 tank cars.

This is part two in a DeSmog investigative series examining why oil trains derail at higher rates than ethanol trains. More ethanol was moved by rail from 2010-2015 than oil, but oil trains derail at a higher rate and with more severe consequences. Part one addressed train length as a potential factor in derailments

“Sloshing is an issue. It increases in-train forces. It would be like having a heavy box in the back of your SUV that is not tied down. If you have to slam on the brakes, what happens? The box slides forward into the back of the seat in front of it.” 

That was former locomotive engineer and rail safety consultant Bill Keppen describing the effects of “sloshing,” a phenomenon which happens when the liquid contents of incompletely filled rail tank cars start to move — or “slosh” — back and forth during transport. According to Keppen and others in the rail industry, that can potentially increase the chance of a train derailing. 

Senator Promoting Dakota Access Pipeline Invests In Bakken Oil Wells Named After Indian Tribe

Read time: 3 mins

U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) recently came out in support of the Dakota Access pipeline, the hotly contested Energy Transfer Partners-owned pipeline envisioned to move oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. As the pipeline transports oil across North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, it will cross farms, natural areas, and perhaps most notably, ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which is one of several tribes disagreeing with Sen. Hoeven's assessment that this pipeline is “infrastructure we need.” 

What Sen. Hoeven — an outspoken supporter of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — did not mention, however, is his personal investment in 68 different oil-producing wells in North Dakota under the auspices of the company Mainstream Investors, LLC according to his most recent congressional personal financial disclosure form

Seventeen of those wells are owned by Continental Resources, the company whose CEO Harold Hamm also serves as a campaign energy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Those wells have a value of between $11,000–$171,000, and 14 of them, named Wahpeton, are located within 18 miles of the Dakota Access Watford City terminal site

Judges Nixing Keystone XL South Cases Had Tar Sands-Related Oil Investments

Read time: 7 mins

On August 4, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 10th Circuit shot down the Sierra Club's petition for rehearing motion for the southern leg of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The decision effectively writes the final chapter of a years-long legal battle in federal courts. 

But one of the three judges who made the ruling, Bobby Ray Baldock — a Ronald Reagan nominee — has tens of thousands of dollars invested in royalties for oil companies with a major stake in tar sands production in Alberta.  And his fellow Reagan nominee in the Western District of Oklahoma predecessor case, David Russell, also has skin in the oil investments game.  

The disclosures raise questions concerning legal objectivity, or potential lack thereof, for the Judges. They also raise questions about whether these Judges — privy to sensitive and often confidential legal details about oil companies involved in lawsuits in a Court located in the heart and soul of oil country — overstepped ethical bounds. 

These findings from a DeSmog investigation precede President Barack Obama's expected imminent decision on the northern, border-crossing leg of Keystone XL.

FBI Advisory: Oil Trains At Risk of "Extremist" Attack, But Lacks "Specific Information" To Verify

Read time: 5 mins

A documentmarked “Confidential” and published a year ago today, on July 18, 2014, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluded that “environmental extremists” could target oil-by-rail routes, as first reported on by McClatchyBut the Bureau also concedes upfront that it lacks “specific information” verifying this hunch.

Rail industry lobbying groups published the one-page FBI Private Sector Advisory as an exhibit to a jointly-submitted August 2014 comment sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT), which has proposed “bomb trains” regulations currently under review by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)

How Many Voluntary Easements Has Energy Transfer Partners Signed With Iowa Landowners For The Bakken Oil Pipeline?

Read time: 4 mins

By David Goodner

Texas-based Fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners claims to have signed voluntary easement agreements with nearly 60 percent of Iowa landowners in the path of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline which would transport Bakken crude through the state. But a DeSmog investigation into publicly accessible information has verified less than half that number, casting doubt on Energy Transfer’s claims.

Energy Transfer Partners owns the proposed Dakota Access pipeline, set to carry up to 575,000 barrels of oil per day obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin through North and South Dakota and Iowa and into the southern Illinois town of Patoka. The proposed project has faced stiff resistance from environmentalists, farmers and other Iowans along the proposed route and across the state.

BNSF Challenges Lawsuit From Engineer Who Ran For His Life From Exploding Oil "Bomb Train"

Read time: 3 mins

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has responded defensively to the oil-by-rail lawsuit filed by former BNSF locomotive engineer Bryan Thompson, a case recently reported on by DeSmogBlog.

BNSF — the top rail carrier of oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin — denied all charges. The company also argued that some federal laws protect the company from liability for injuries allegedly suffered by Thompson. 

The  Answer to the Complaint signals the likelihood of a protracted legal battle ahead. Lee A. Miller, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based attorney representing BNSF against Thompson, filed the company's response in Cass County, North Dakota. 

Miller argued that the damages allegedly suffered by Thompson — which include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from living through and running away from the December 2013 Casselton, North Dakota oil train explosion — were “caused or contributed to by Plaintiff's own contributory or sole fault.”

He also argued that the explosion occurred due to “unknown causes for which BNSF is not responsible” and “are the result of acts or omissions of persons, entities, or corporations other than BNSF…over whom” they have “no control or right to control at the time of the alleged incident.”

BNSF Responds to Former Engineer Lawsuit
Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

BNSF Engineer Who Manned Exploding North Dakota "Bomb Train" Sues Former Employer

Read time: 3 mins

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) employee who worked as a locomotive engineer on the company's oil-by-rail train that exploded in rural Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013 has sued his former employer

Filed in Cass County, the plaintiff Bryan Thompson alleges he “was caused to suffer and continues to suffer severe and permanent injuries and damages,” including but not limited to ongoing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues.

Thompson's attorney, Thomas Flaskamp, told DeSmogBlog he “delayed filing [the lawsuit until now] primarily to get an indication as to the direction of where Mr. Thompson's care and treatment for his PTSD arising out of the incident was heading,” which he says is still being treated by a psychiatrist.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the oil-by-rail world, the only time to date that someone working on an exploding oil train has taken legal action against his employer using the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

BNSF Engineer Casselton Lawsuit

Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

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