Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fires Rage
A CSX Corp train burns after derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia pictured across the Kanawha River in Boomer, West Virginia February 16th, 2015. Photograph: REUTERS/Marcus Constantino (click to enlarge; source)
by Gaius Publius
I made a comment recently, with respect to Obama's legacy "wants" coming into office, that one of them was:
and that the Keystone part of that was mooted "by the many mini-Keystones and by oil trains." (You'll notice, at least for a while, that this "want" has been achieved — that the U.S. has plenty of domestically produced carbon, ready to be turned into emissions. That won't last long.)
Here's more information about those oil trains. If you live near a town with train tracks (who doesn't), and especially if you live near the tracks themselves, you may want to check this out.
Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains
Todd Paglia at Huffington Post Green has an excellent explainer and "uptodate-er" about oil trains, including how often they explode, how safe the new "safer" cars are, and what it takes to put out the fires. He starts (my emphasis):
On Friday, March 6, while an oil train explosion in Illinois was still sending flames and black smoke into the air, railroad agents were in Washington, DC lobbying to weaken new train safety standards. Safer brakes are "extremely costly..." they told White House officials, and explained in great detail why speed limits are impractical. Like the auto industry resisting seatbelts, the rail industry is on the wrong track when it comes to safety.Some of those questions, with the writer's answers:
In the last month, there have been six derailments of crude oil trains in the U.S. and Canada -- three of them ignited, sending flames and mushroom clouds hundreds of feet into the air. Luckily, these were in relatively remote locations and no one was killed.
These disasters are not an aberration -- oil train traffic is skyrocketing, which means more derailments and more explosions. The oil and rail industries hope to increase further the amount of crude oil barreling down the tracks in the coming years. Before that happens, ForestEthics has some questions we'd like to see the Obama administration ask the army of lobbyists who are trying to push the bar on safety even lower than it already is[.]
When did trains start exploding?Other questions he answers are:
Rail transportation of crude oil is growing rapidly and dangerously -- from fewer than 10,000 carloads in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014 -- for two reasons: Bakken oil from North Dakota and Canadian tar sands. The North American boom means oil companies are trying to frack and mine more of this extreme oil, crude that is high in carbon, difficult and expensive to produce, and dangerous to transport.
Are cities and towns with rail lines safe?
With the exception of Capitol Hill (the rail industry seems to be sparing Washington, DC) most routing is done specifically throughout cities and towns. No, the oil and rail industries are probably not purposely targeting us, it's just that the rails in populated places tend to be better maintained and rated for heavier cargoes. The sane thing to do would be to stop hauling crude oil if it can't be transported safely. A far distant next best is to make these trains as safe as possible and require rerouting around cities and water supplies.
What is the government doing?
Not nearly enough. While 100-plus car trains full of an explosive crude roll through our towns, the U.S. government is barely moving, bogged down by nearly 100 of Washington's most expensive K-Street lobbyists. In fall 2014, ForestEthics, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club sued the Department of Transportation to speed up new safety standards on oil trains. We called the trains an imminent danger to public safety. The federal government responded by once again delaying their decision on new rules that have been in the works for years.
What is the slowest speed at which an oil explosion could happen?
An oil tank car can catch fire and explode in an accident at zero miles per hour. Assuming a slightly raised rail bed, an oil car that tips over while standing still (this can and has happened on poorly maintained rails) will strike the ground going approximately 16 miles per hour -- more than fast enough to breach the tank, spark, and ignite if it hits a rock, a curb, any hard protrusion.
- Do firefighters know when and where oil trains are moving?
- How do you extinguish oil train fire?
- The older oil cars are definitely unsafe, what about the newer ones?
- We know that Bakken crude explodes; does tar sands explode?
- Do I live in the Blast Zone?
- What's the solution?
Oil Trains, the Future of Carbon Transport, Are Everywhere
Oil trains are more and more prevalent. I recently traveled from Chicago to Detroit by rail to attend Netroots Nation. It seemed we were stopped every half hour so that an oil train could pass — we could see the long line of tanker cars as they moved next to us before going ahead. As bad as Keystone (and all the mini-Keystones) are, an expanding network of exploding oil trains is no safe alternative.
Obama's, Hillary Clinton's (yes), and the nation's determination to "drill ourselves to energy security" — a false security, by the way — guarantees more and more spills, explosions, fires and fracking-caused disasters. Maybe someday we should just ... stop.
After all, we have that technology too, don't we?