Oil Train Safety Report

It is now being reported that a Department of Transportation report from last July predicted that 10 trains carrying fuel would derail each year over the next 20 years.

The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

The projection comes from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities. The study completed last July took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with crude derailed in West Virginia, sparked a spectacular fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families.

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A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads said the group was aware of the Department of Transportation analysis but had no comment on its derailment projections.

“Our focus is to continue looking at ways to enhance the safe movement of rail transportation,” AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

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Most of the proposed rules that regulators are expected to release this spring are designed to prevent a spill, rupture or other failure during a derailment. But they will not affect the likelihood of a crash, said Allan Zarembski, who leads the railroad engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware.

Derailments can happen in many ways. A rail can break underneath a train. An axle can fail. A vehicle can block a crossing. Having a better tank car will not change that, but it should reduce the odds of a tank car leaking or rupturing, he said.

This focus on safety is good for the short term, but the wrong solution for the future.  We must start to seriously end our dependence on oil, not only because of our disastrous wars in the Middle East, but because of the immediate danger that oil spills, whether shipped by train or ship or truck or pipeline cause in damage to people, property and the environment in the short term, polluting ground water used in farming and lakes and rivers that are water sources for communities, but long term global warming.

The news is troubling for 2 reasons. First is the immediate dangers these trains cause when they derail, explode and leak oil.  The second troubling thought is that we would still be relying on oil 20 years from now.  Remember that we need to get carbon emissions under control by 2030 to prevent the worst of global warming.

Global warming is not a problem for the future.  It is happening right now.  On Friday I heard about a town in Alaska that will disappear in 10 years underwater.

In 2008, the Inupiat village of Kivalina, Alaska sued 24 fossil fuel companies for the destruction of its homeland, a seven-mile barrier island on Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. The cause of the destruction, the village contended, was climate change. Without thick winter sea ice to buffer Kivalina from storms, surges have ripped through the island’s seawalls and taken out as much as 70 feet of coastline at a time. The village lost its federal court case in 2013, and this week announced it would not re-file in state court. Meanwhile, scientists estimate the island will be underwater by 2025.

Republican Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan asked Ashton Carter at his confirmation hearing about national security and oil, and I wrote about how our national security is actually being threatened now by global warming and increased oil exploration.

Last week there were 2 oil train derailments in 2 days, and the same day I found a report from the AP about how the oil boom in North Dakota is “transforming lives.” Notice the child with the cough–see health issues of oil drilling

Increasingly, landowners and residents of oil and gas field communities are reporting health impacts that they believe are linked to environmental toxics associated with the oil and gas development activities in their area. These reports include incidents of: asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, autoimmune diseases, liver failure, cancer and other ailments such as headaches, nausea, and sleeplessness.

The Center for Biological Diversity also released a report showing the safety risks posed by increased use of trains to carry fuel and the lagging safety standards

  • An estimated 25 million Americans live within the one-mile evacuation zone recommended by the U.S. Department of Transportation;
  • Oil trains routinely pass within a quarter-mile of 3,600 miles of streams and more than 73,000 square miles of lakes, wetlands and reservoirs, including the Hudson, Mississippi and Columbia rivers, the Puget Sound, Lake Champlain and Lake Michigan
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