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Oil Train Derailments Raise Fears

Wednesday, February 19, 2014By Richard Alexander
CSX delivers 330,000 barrels of crude oil a day into the refineryAt this point trains seem like an ignored and almost antiquated form of travel, but due to a booming oil industry, they are an ever-growing danger.

According to findings by the Associated Press, since 2008, 10 train accidents have caused the spill of almost 3 million gallons of oil in North America, with the most recent On February 13th, where a train crashed in western Pennsylvania, causing the spill of up to 4,000 gallons of oil, the damage still immeasurable.

Experts say that the increasing volumes of crude oil now being moved by train, and the routes they are required to take, are creating dangers that cannot be ignored.

This is mostly because of the booming oil and natural gas industry in Montana and North Dakota. Since 2008, the number of train cargo cars has increased 40-fold with a subsequent rise in accidental oil releases.

And the source of problem can be traced particularly to oil derived from the Bakken Formation, a massive subsurface rock and oil unit that sits underneath parts of Montana, North Dakota and Canada, and provides a large source of American oil production.

Due to Bakken oil's high natural gas content and lower ignition point, it adds an extra volatility which evident in these recent train crashes. Since 2008, Of the six trains that have derailed and caused an explosion, four have been from Bakken.

What's more, oil trains require the vast network of railroads that cover the continent to transport their product. These rails also run through every major American city and heavily populated areas, leaving untold numbers of people at risk.

Due to logistics in the railroad industry (better tracks, more monitoring) many cities have no choice but to let heavily explosive trains run through them.

And these fears are not unfounded. Just last year, a train carrying Bakken oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, destroying roughly half of the downtown area and killing at least 40 people.

The problem shows a larger systemic support for the oil industry, regardless of the dangers. After 9/11, rules were rewritten to move trains away from population centers, and restrict explosive and poisonous cargo. But when California regulators pushed to include oil, the Transportation Department was “not persuaded”.

It is only now, after countless damage and hundreds of lives lost from these accidents, that the U.S. Transportation secretary has pushed for tighter regulations.

But still at heart it is an economic issue, and due to the overwhelming demand, the oil trade shows no sign of slowing. Experts predict in the next decade, an increase from 1 to 4.5 millions barrels shipped a day, with more trains filled with oil moving through cities, putting millions at risk.

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