Monday, July 7, 2014

More Oil Being Shipped by Rail = More Risks

As resistance to pipelines builds, trains have become the preferred mode of transportation for oil producers in North America. With the increased levels of shipping by rail comes increased incidence of accidents.

In 2013 alone there were 88 rail accidents involving oil and at least 8 explosions of trains bearing crude. Seven of the 10 worst US oil spills in the last decade happened in the last three years. More crude oil has spilled from train accidents in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined. Between 1975 to 2012, US rail spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. This pales in comparison to the 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled in 2013.

Oil is involved in more rail and road accidents than any other dangerous goods. Between January 1, 2006 and June 30, 2013, almost one third of all accidents involving the transportation of dangerous goods by rail or road involved crude oil.

Their has been a massive increase in oil shipped by rail in North America. In Canada nearly 375,000 metric tonnes of oil were shipped by rail in 2011. In 2012, that number skyrocketed to 4.3 million metric tonnes. CN Rail says it moved 30,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, and 60,000 in 2013. In 2014 and 2015 CN plans to increase that amount to 120,000 carloads of crude. The Railway Association of Canada says a total of 160,000 carloads of Canadian crude was shipped across North America on railcars last year.

Prior to 2009, only 8,000 metric tonnes of oil was transported by rail. In 2013 alone the US shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil, or over 11.5 billion gallons. In October last year trains transported nearly 700,000 barrels a day of North Dakota oil alone. This represents a 67-per-cent jump from a year earlier.

Bakken crude is more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. The more of it we ship, the more we are likely to see devastating explosions like the one that occurred in Lac Megantic one year ago.

Although the average spills from trains tend to be larger than the average spills from pipelines, they are less frequent than those from trucks or pipelines. However, the biggest pipeline accidents dwarf the biggest train accidents. An Alberta spill in 1980 saw 6.5 million litres of crude spilled, The largest spill of crude oil from a train (between January 1, 2006 and June 30, 2013) was 90,000 litres on May 21, 2013.

Moving fossil fuels is unsafe no matter how it is transported. The debate over whether we should build more pipelines, or ship more oil by rail or by road is like choosing between death by hanging, guillotine or firing squad.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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