By now you’ve probably read about the latest railway disaster involving crude oil transported out of the Bakken. A train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed during a snowstorm in southern West Virginia on Monday, sending at least one tanker into the Kanawha River, igniting at least 14 tankers in all and sparking a house fire.
A local resident described the explosion as being “like an atomic bomb went off.” Explosions sent a fireball at least 300 feet into the air.
It’s yet another in a series of spectacular railway disasters involving the transport of Bakken oil: the explosion of train in Lynchburg, Virginia last April that spilled flaming oil into the James River; a spectacular explosion of a train in Casselton, North Dakota in December, 2013 that spilled 400,000 gallons of oil; a massive explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Ontario in July, 2013 that killed 47 people and wiped out much of the town.
These disasters have led to calls for increased train safety. Last March the US Department of Transportation Safety and the Association of American Railroads announced plans to phase out older, unsafe rail cars and reduce speeds through populated areas.
And Bakken oil, because it is “lighter”, turns out to be be much more volatile than oil from other regions, and more dangerous to transport.
Last night Rachel Maddow did a particularly good job of describing how North Dakota, while it has taken steps to make oil safer to transport, still does not meet standards for removing volatile compounds from oil before shipping that have been adopted in other states, notably Texas.
The segment is lengthy, about 20 minutes, but worth a watch. She reports in detail about the history of these disasters, about how slow North Dakota has been to put safeguards in place — new standards don’t even go into effect until next April — and how the standards are not enough to protect us from these disasters.
If you click on the graphic below, which shows the exponential increase in rail shipments of oil over the last seven years, you’ll be taken to the MSNBC page that contains the segment:
Related: Other posts on this site related to railway safety.