One Day Soon, Dallas May Be Less Likely to Blow Up in a Fiery Oil Train Crash

Categories: Environment

oilspillmap4.jpg
Screengrab/Forest Ethics
The yellow zone is within 1 mile of a "Potential Impact Zone in Case of Oil Train Fire." We don't even want to tell you what the red zone is.
Freight trains that everyone says are way too old to still be working keep carrying more and more gallons of volatile crude oil through busy cities. What could possibly go wrong? Explosions. And do Unfair Park readers live in the path of these potential explosion sites? Probably.

Dallas, like most major cities, is served by a national network of freight railroads lines. (Hey! We should build a logistics center!) That's a good thing, except that as the domestic oil industry depends heavily on rail to transport oil, dangerous accidents are happening more frequently.

The crude oil coming from North Dakota's Bakken region is driving much of the boom and is concerning regulators the most. It's making stops all over the country, including here, and the crude is more explosive than regular oil. It was a just over year ago when a train full of Bakken formation crude oil fell off the tracks in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic, causing what witnesses described as a "hell on wheels" that killed 47 people and decimated the city center.

The accidents since have been less deadly but still destructive. Rail cars in the United States spilled a total of 1.15 million gallons of crude in 2013 -- an amount higher than the previous four decades combined, according to a newspaper analysis published earlier this year.

Railway industry groups have been shifting all blame to the tank cars, which are owned by the oil industry. They say the equipment is too old. The Department of Transportation agrees, though it's now suggesting that the rail companies make some fixes of their own to improve oil-by-rail safety.

But despite the federal government's recent interest in explosive trains, environmental groups say regulators aren't acting fast enough. Using data from train routes, oil terminals and a railway trade publication, an environmental advocacy group called Forest Ethics has created a handy map showing every train route in the United States that hosts freight trains carrying crude oil.

oilmap2.jpg
Screengrab/Forest Ethics
The yellow lines are within one mile of a US DOT "Potential Impact Zone" in the event of an oil train fire. Zooming in shows that routes running through Fort Worth and Dallas put the city centers within half a mile of a US DOT "Evacuation Zone" if an oil train were to derail.

map3.jpg
Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced in a press conference in late July that he wanted to make massive changes to the oil and train industries to keep American cities safer. "We need a new world order on how this stuff moves," he announced. But his "new world order" turned out to actually be fairly conservative, just a proposed set of new rules that companies would have a few years to get the hang of. He said trains would need to improve their braking systems and go slower, while oil companies would phase out their old rail cars and replace them with new, safer, sturdier ones. But under the DOT's proposed timeline, companies would have two to five years to make that replacement.

Environmental groups would like to see the tank cars upgraded a little sooner than two years -- like, tomorrow.

"The Department of Transportation projections show extreme, unacceptable risk posed by an outdated and accident-prone type of rail car," an attorney for Earthjustice, another environmental group, said in a statement. Earthjustice, Forest Ethics and Sierra club filed a petition together a few weeks ago calling for an emergency ban on what they describe as "dangerous and outdated rail cars."

The oil industry has previously resisted demands to upgrade its cars but hasn't had much to say about the DOT's latest proposal. "The government can and should take steps to ensure greater safety without stalling the energy renaissance," the American Petroleum Institute's chief exec told the Wall Street Journal.


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31 comments
pak152
pak152

gee how about building the Keystone XL pipeline?


now once again the DO writers leave out critical information 

How many trains carrying oil are coming through the DFW area? or is the intent of the article to scare folks?

mcdallas
mcdallas

I suggest a system of aqueducts to move oil around the country.  We can use cheap labor to dig them.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

During World War II when U-boats were sinking oil tankers within sight of our coasts, American railroads shipped millions of gallons of oil through major cities in tank cars that would make the oldest of today's look like miracles of technology.

Newer, safer tank cars should be pressed into service as soon as possible. (As Amy correctly points out, the cars are owned by the industry, not the railroads, which simply provide haulage.) Freight train speeds when there are hazardous materials in the consist can be reduced in urban areas. Beyond that, want to eliminate spills and explosions? Stop using petroleum products. 

dingo
dingo

The Lac-Mégantic explosion involved a runaway train heading down a descending elevation. The initial impact was at 64 mph.


http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/07/04/facts_and_numbers_on_the_lacmgantic_rail_disaster.html


For all I know, the DOT proposals might be reasonable. 


A Lac-Mégantic scenario in downtown Dallas, however, seems like some bizarre Hollywood disaster script, which is appropriate given current discussions regarding the undue influence bizarre Hollywood types have had on the EPA:

http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060003372

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I would be more worried about the gasoline tankers that are negotiating the city roadways while delivering gasoline to the service stations.


All these people did was just publish a map of the major railroad lines in the US.


Besides how dare those railroads build their tracks through downtown areas.

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel better yet two major pipelines were constructed that ran from Texas up to the East Coast. These pipelines carried far more than the railcars. Construction on the Big Inch started in August 1942 and was completed in August 1943.
" In early 1941, 70,000 barrels of oil were moved on the railroads each day, but these were expensive, and the bulk of the oil was moved using barges, some with a capacity of up to 15,000 barrels, operating up and down the rivers and the Atlantic Coast.[6]"
"The Big Inch carried up to 334,456 barrels of crude oil a day, the Little Big Inch 239,844 barrels of gasoline;"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Inch

http://aoghs.org/petroleum-in-war/oil-pipelines/
http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dob08

http://historicmonroe.org/labor/pix/inchlines.pdf

Pipelines are still the most efficient and safest way of shipping oil

a oil tank car holds 34.500 gallons or approximately 821 barrels of oil (1 barrel = 42 gallons). to transport 334,456 barrels of oil via train would require over 400 tank cars


mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@dingo 

we should not ignore the danger that Bakken crude produces when it is transported by rail, which at this time is the way it is sent across the country to refineries. 2x as conbustible as West Texas crude.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304834704579401353579548592

Speed is not the only contributor to train derailments. Derailments are a real world occurance, as is the death and destruction they can produce.  Derailments are not a conjure of "Hollywood types".

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki I'd much prefer a railroad running past my front door than a pipeline.Both are subject to accidents, but trains do not run 24/7.

pak152
pak152

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul but that would be honest reporting. this is a harum-scarum story to get the public riled up against evil oil.
Besides what other potentially harmful items are being shipped via rail?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel I just hate having to explain these things, pak152. I guess I'm going to have to start sticking those little winking emoticons on my comments for those determined to read everything literally.

So, to explain: Obviously we're stuck with petroleum products for the foreseeable future. We're also stuck with spills and explosions, no matter how safe we make tank cars and pipelines. That's just the nature of the real world.

So you can relax and return to lobbying for the petroleum industry, pak. Your job or hobby or whatever it is is safe for years, probably decades.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel For a guy who claims not to be attached to the petroleum industry, pak, you sure know a lot about this stuff.

dingo
dingo

@mavdog @dingo 

'Derailments are a real world occurance, as is the death and destruction they can produce.'

The Lac-Mégantic derailment was an outlier in terms of death and destruction as far as train accidents go. The extraordinary destruction was caused primarily by a runaway train traveling at an excessive speed.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@mavdog @dingo 

Here is the list of Hazardous Class 3 materials.  These are shipped by both road and rail.

http://environmentalchemistry.com/yogi/hazmat/placards/class3-chemicals.html


And then this stuff is also shipped by road and rail


http://environmentalchemistry.com/yogi/hazmat/placards/class6-chemicals.html



And something like this will put a damper on your day:


http://www.chron.com/news/gallery/1976-ammonia-truck-disaster-16982.php


http://blog.chron.com/bayoucityhistory/2011/05/35-years-later-houstons-deadly-ammonia-truck-disaster/

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@bmarvel

Pipelines run 24/7, but at zero mph. The crashes tend to be less scary.

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel 'I just hate having to explain these things, pak152. I guess I'm going to have to start sticking those little winking emoticons on my comments for those determined to read everything literally."

as retired journalist bill you need to step up your game and learn how to use the emoticons especially since you don't have an editor or a copy editor checking what you write. here is a link to some that will get you started
http://bravesandstuff.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/blogicons2.jpg


as for lobbying for the oil and gas industry well I was wish I were getting a check from them so you can relax.

:-)

 

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel lets just say I need to correct the inaccuracies that you and other occasionally post here. 

I hope you've learned something from the links I provided. :-D

hope you have a good weekend

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel lets just say I need to correct the inaccuracies that you and other occasionally post here. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

from what I recall the rail tanks are almost all less than 42k gallons, which keep them below the capacity where the stricter rules for Class 3 liquid transport apply....

those truck tanks are highly regulated in design and where they go.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@TheRuddSki Pipelines do NOT run at zero mph. And they do not run at zero pressure. That's why they blow out.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel I eschew emoticons because I've always assumed most on this blog can read. Apparently I'm being too optimistic. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel Beg your pardon, pak, but it is hardly innaccurate to point out that if we stopped using petroleum we'd no longer have petroleum spills and explosions.

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel @pak152 oh i can read and understand quite well bm but considering your stance with regards to evil petroleum one must take you literally. :p


pak152
pak152

@bmarvel mea culpa you're correct in a hairspliting way. as for inaccuracy I was referring to your comment about tank cars. not about spills and explosions. don't take me so literally ;-) you're correct  if we totally stopped using petroleum we wouldn't have any spills or explosions, but then where would we be? what would we use to create the products in this list

http://www.ranken-energy.com/Products%20from%20Petroleum.htm

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel Evil petroleum, yes. But for the foreseeable future a necessary evil. We can agree on that, yes?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152 @bmarvel What, exactly, was inaccurate in my comment about WWII oil trains? That they moved millions of gallons of oil? That the cars were primitive by today's standards? That it is possible to improve the safety of oil transport by rail?Beyond that I made no other claims.

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