Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

More Oil Spilled From Railcars in 2013 Than in Previous Four Decades Combined

Energy
More Oil Spilled From Railcars in 2013 Than in Previous Four Decades Combined

By Ben Jervey

As a direct result of the Bakken shale oil boom, more crude oil was spilled from rail cars last year than in the previous four decades combined. That’s according to a McClatchy analysis of federal data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which governs rail transport of liquid fuels like crude.

The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on Dec. 30, 2013, outside Casselton, ND. Photo credit: PHMSA

The analysis revealed more than 1.15 million gallons of crude spilled in 2013, considerably more than the 800,000 gallons spilled from 1975 (when the government started collecting data on spills) to 2012.

The rail industry likes to boast a 99.99 percent success rate in delivery shipments without incident, and that number remained consistent in 2013, with 1.15 million of the roughly 11.5 billion gallons shipped by rail being spilled. What did change was the volume of actual crude being shipped by rail.

As we’ve covered before, there is a massive boom in crude-by-rail throughout North America, with a nearly 2400-percent increase in crude railcar shipments in five short years from 2008-2012. As it turned out, 2013 was another record-setting year.

These charts from the Association of American Railroads and the U.S. Energy Information Association show the trend pretty clearly:

Bakken crude production has become so dependent on trains that an official at North Dakota’s Mineral Resources Department claimed last month that 90 percent of the state’s crude would move by rail in 2014.

The McClatchy piece features an interactive map that allows you to see the size and location of every spill, year-by-year. 

Several years show just a single spill. Most years, up until 2008, experienced fewer than a handful. There wasn't a single spill recorded in North Dakota until 2008, when the Bakken boom truly commenced and crude-by-rail took off in the region. 

Here's 1993: 

And here's 2013, where the predominant shipping routes from North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries is clear:

You can explore the data and play around with the map at the bottom of the original McClatchy piece

The McClatchy report doesn't factor any of the spills that have already occurred in 2014, nor derailments that occur north of the border in Canada, like the fatal Lac-Mégantic explosion in August. 

Within the past year—and indeed the past few weeks—North American tracks have experienced a number of very high profile—and, again, in some cases fatal—crude-by-rail derailments, explosions and spills. Here's recent DeSmog coverage of some of the worst and most recent: 

  • In August, a runaway oil train tragically exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, releasing an estimated 1.58 million gallons of oil and killing 47 people.
  • In March, a Canadian Pacific Railway train jumped the tracks and spilled roughly 30,000 gallons of tar sands crude in western Minnesota.
  • In October, a train carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas derailed west of Alberta, Canada, causing an explosion and fire.
  • In November, 20 cars of a 90-car train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in western Alabama
  • On Dec. 30, a 106-car oil train slammed into another derailed train in Casselton, ND, exploding and sending a massive mushroom cloud hundreds of feet into the sky, and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of local residents. 
  • Earlier this week, a train carring Bakken crude across a Philadelphia bridge derailed and dangled precariously over an expressway and the Schuylkill River. 

While derailments may still be statistically rare, the massive increase in overall shipments of Bakken crude on North American railways makes some incidents inevitable. Because of the chemical nature of Bakken shale oil, this presents a unique threat. On Jan. 2, the PHMSA announced that the crude oil being transported from the Bakken region "may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil."

According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, at a closed door meeting between federal regulators, railroad representatives and an official of the American Petroleum Institute earlier this month, the rail industry agreed to take voluntary steps to immediately make their crude-by-rail shipments safer. What exactly these voluntary measures would include is so far a mystery.  

Meanwhile, regulators at PHMSA are expanding the so-called "Bakken blitz" to investigate the chemical makeup of crude from the Bakken shale plays in order to determine whether more strict regulations of their transport are necessary.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.

 

This fall brings three new environmental movies. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet | Official Trailer

This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice walk out and rally at the company's headquarters to demand that leaders take action on climate change in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 20, 2019. JASON REDMOND / AFP via Getty Images

The world's largest online retailer is making it slightly easier for customer to make eco-conscious choices.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Moms Clean Air Force members attend a press conference hosted by Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announcing legislation to ban chlorpyrifos on July 25, 2017. Moms Clean Air Force

The Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a risk assessment for toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos Tuesday that downplayed its effects on children's brains and may be the first indication of how the administration's "secret science" policy could impact public health.

Read More Show Less
Evacuees wait to board a bus as they are evacuated by local and state government officials before the arrival of Hurricane Laura on August 26, 2020 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim

If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.

Read More Show Less
In 'My Octopus Teacher,' Craig Foster becomes fascinated with an octopus and visits her for hundreds of days in a row. Netflix

In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch