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A Crude Solution
Feds: Oil-by-rail an "Imminent Hazard" to America

Crude is traveling by rail—and derailing, and spilling, and exploding—in record quantities, and the Federal government is stepping in. Earlier this week, the Department of Transportation issued a suite of emergency rules that will require firms to test and classify the oil they’re loading on to the country’s railways. The WSJ reports:

The order will require companies to test each batch of crude for an array of characteristics, from the temperature at which it boils to the percentage of flammable gases trapped in the oil and the vapor pressure, which is created when crude emits gases that can build up inside railcars. Previously, federal rules didn’t require that crude be tested as extensively; indeed it only required that crude be properly classified and didn’t spell out in any detail how often to test the crude. […]

Proper testing and classification is essential in ensuring that first responders are able to react safely after an accident, spokeswoman Holly Arthur said in a statement. “The safe movement of crude oil by rail is shared responsibility among all stakeholders in the energy supply chain,” she said.

This comes after the Association of American Railroads announced it would undertake a raft of voluntary measures last week to curb the recent rise in crude-related accidents, including safer routes for crude-laden trains, lower speed limits in urban areas, and additional track inspections.

These are welcome measures. The tragedy in Lac Megantic showed the dangers associated with transporting America’s sudden glut of oil by rail. Thanks to fracking and hydraulic well drilling, U.S. oil producers have had to rely on trains and trucks to bring their crude to market; our pipeline infrastructure is the world’s most extensive, but the rapid growth in production in North Dakota has outpaced our ability to connect its fields to the network.

Rail may be taking steps towards becoming safe, but ultimately, pipelines are the safer way to go. We need to continue to build out our pipeline network if we want to safely and efficiently keep the shale boom booming.

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  • Pacific Slope

    Oil trains will not be going away, or replaced by pipelines. Read Fred Frailey’s article in the March 2014 Trains magazine – best outline of the market forces at work.

    • Bruce

      In addition, when you have crony capitalists that own railroads, like Warren Buffett, they can prevent the pipelines from being built because they are competition for the trains. A few public statements on behalf of the party in power, some campaign contributions, and lo and behold, no Keystone pipeline. Choo choo.

  • free_agent

    The big difference seems to be that new pipelines require regulatory approval, but more trains over existing track doesn’t. So the oil goes by train…

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