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As Pipelines Fill Up, More Oil Travels – And Spills – By Rail


The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the country is producing more crude oil than its pipelines can transport.

As a result of the oil booms in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and in Texas, more and more crude oil is traveling to refineries by rail, and experiencing more accidents on railroad cars.

The Association of American Railroads reports a 48 percent increase in crude oil and petroleum products traveling by rail from 2012 to 2013.

Meanwhile, the number of spills and other accidents on railroad cars carrying crude oil has shot up from a couple a year in the early 2000s to 88 last year, as EnergyWire reports:

“Only four of those were classified as serious by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and none involved injuries. So they didn’t even approach the human tragedy caused by a runaway oil train in Quebec earlier this month.

But the jump highlights a side effect of crude oil production growing faster than pipeline capacity: more rail accidents. Much of the increase involves crude shipments from North Dakota, where booming Bakken Shale oil drilling is producing more oil than its limited pipelines can transport.”

The Association of American Railroads says that railroad crude oil spills over the past decade are less than one percent of pipeline spills over the same period.

And apparently pipelines don’t have to report spills that are less than 5 gallons, but railroads do. Of the 88 rail spills reported  last year, only 23 were 5 gallons or more, according to EnergyWire.

In light of the oil train accident in Quebec, the Port of Vancouver in Washington may delay its approval of a lease for the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal proposal. It would receive up to 320,000 barrels of oil per day by rail and transfer it to ships headed to refineries in Washington, California and Alaska.

As EarthFix reported last week, that could mean up to 72 trains of oil traveling along the Columbia Gorge every week.

The oil is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota -– the same source of oil that was in the train that exploded in Quebec.

The Port of Vancouver Commission is holding a workshop on the lease Monday evening, prior to a scheduled vote on the lease for the project Tuesday morning.

Oil trains

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