Oil Spills by Rail Taking Increased Toll on Residents

Oil Spills from Rail Shipping Increasing Dramatically, and the Key to Limitng Them is Eliminating Human Error and Track Defects

After the derailment of crude oil shipments through the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon caused the displacement of 1100 residents, the U.S. Department of Transportation increased its focus on regulating locomotive manufacturers to produce stronger railcars. Though this has been the standard response to increase railroad shipping safety, the Columbus Dispatch published its own analysis of train derailment incidents and the likely causes behind them. In its report, the Dispatch indicates that while tougher railcars may help keep their potentially volatile contents from leaking or igniting, the majority of railway accidents are actually caused by either human error or failure of the train tracks themselves.

The Dispatch also notes several alarming trends regarding crude oil rail shipments in particular. The spill that evicted the 1100 residents of Mount Carbon was of a type known as Bakken crude, which is mostly produced in North Dakota and Montana. Bakken crude is an extremely volatile type of crude oil, and according to research conducted by the Dispatch, is transported on the scale of 45 million-137 million barrels a day in the United States and Canada.

What is most alarming is the rate at which the Columbus Dispatch has shown that rail incidents are increasing. The Dispatch has gathered data on 27 rail accidents involving crude oil from 1995-2010 with an average cleanup cost of $46,000. In the period of 2011-July 2015, however, the Dispatch gathered data on 423 oil spills. The average cost of a clean up was $109,000. These spills  contaminated water supplies, caused immense property damage, and evicted homeowners. One of these incidents killed 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, which is located in Quebec.

For even more details on the report, be sure to read the article in the Columbus Dispatch.

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