Archive for July, 2014

DOT Wants To Keep Oil Trains On the Rails

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

There’s a lot of oil coming up out of the ground in the U.S. right now. Especially in North Dakota and Montana where there is a good old fashioned oil boom underway. We’ve noted before that increasingly that oil is making its way to market by rail. Given the unprecedented ramp up in production, it was inevitable that pipelines wouldn’t be able to handle all that extra goo. But shipping all that oil by rail is causing some problems. For one thing, the massive increase in the number of oil cars rolling across the land is tying up other rail traffic. Wheat farmers, for instance, are having trouble getting their crops to export terminals on the Pacific coast, and face skyrocketing freight charges. The tracks they need to move their grain are too crammed with oil trains.

Also, those oil trains have a tendency to go off the rails. Not only that, the oil from those north plains oil fields, known as Bakken crude, tends to be more flammable than your garden variety oil.  The combination of flying rail cars and volatile fuel has had some very unpleasant consequences. The issue just got close to home here at Knowledge Mosaic. Last week a Burlington Northern train carrying Brakken crude derailed underneath the heavily-traveled Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. Fortunately, the tanker cars didn’t explode and nobody was injured. But having those tanks flip over a mere mile and a half from our offices was a disturbing reminder just how vulnerable densely packed urban areas are to these rolling bombs. The first thought that popped into my mind was the thundering disaster in Quebec when an oil train derailed, killing nearly 50 people.

The dangers oil trains pose has drawn the attention of the Department of Transportation which has released details of proposed rules intended to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable liquids. The Department proposes a wide ranging number of changes, from phasing out older tank cars, requiring upgraded braking systems, requiring more comprehensive flammability testing of oil prior to shipping, requiring future cars to have thicker hulls and rollover protection, and imposing reduced speed limits for oil shipments, especially in urban areas where any explosions would be the most destructive.

There will be a sixty day comment period in which the energy sector is sure to argue strenuously against the proposals. The railroad companies themselves are none too comfortable with the risks these shipments pose and are likely to support the regulations. As are the citizens of the countless cities and towns through which the trains run. Including all those people who drive over the Magnolia Bridge every day.

These Stories Are Not Related

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

Remember when Freedom Industries shut down Charleston, West Virginia by spilling thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical into the Kanawha River? Perhaps you were wondering what consequences might befall the company for poisoning the water supply for 300,000 residents of the state capital. Wonder no longer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Freedom Industries eleven thousand dollars – that’s $11,000 – for an incident OSHA itself described as one that could likely result in death or serious physical harm.

That draconian penalty is sure to impress the importance of environmental safety on the rest of the extraction industry.

Meanwhile, over in another coal-dependent state, state legislators worked themselves into a lather about new EPA carbon emission regulations. One Kentucky state senator illuminated the debate by informing us that “the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here,” and pointing out that there are no factories or coal mines on Mars, so what’s the big deal, anyway? Not content with astronomical ignorance, another senator argued that just because the dinosaurs went extinct, we humans had no need to worry. “The dinosaurs died, and we don’t know why, but the world adjusted. And to say that this is what’s going to cause detriment to people, I just don’t think it’s out there.”  Well, okay then. If we humans die out, the world will adjust. Problem solved.

Come Christmas, some people might find a lump of coal in their stocking.

 

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