U.S. transportation officials have confirmed plans to press companies to come up with safer ways to transport oil by rail following a series of explosive accidents. Following a series of fiery accidents of the past year in North Dakota, Quebec, Alabama and New Brunswick pressure was mounting on the government to act. And with the transport of crude oil by rail growing across North America, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx held a closed door-meeting with oil and railroad executives yesterday resulting in the industry agreeing to make voluntary changes to improve safety within the next 30 days. Measures developed could be altering some routes to avoid highly-populated areas and slowing down trains in high risk areas.
Oil shipments via rail is nothing new with the practice dating back to the earliest days of the oil industry but the rapid expansion of crude-by-rail has been fuelled by booming U.S. production of shale oil, and federal estimates point towards up to 3 million gallons of crude being shifted around the US per year. In a recent Reuters article U.S. Senator. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y stated that in the US 1,400 trains carry crude each day, up from 31 in 2009.
Last year, after a runaway train hauling crude from North Dakota derailed and exploded in the town of Lac-Megantic, Canada killing 47 people, the rail industry adopted voluntary speed restrictions for trains hauling hazardous liquids.
Following the meeting in Washington yesterday, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard made the following statement: “Rail safety is vitally important. As Secretary Foxx said today, prevention must be part of our focus by keeping trains on the tracks and preventing rail accidents in the first place. Strong rail cars are an important part of the equation, but the first step is to address the root causes of rail accidents.
“API has led the way in improving the safety of rail tank cars by building since 2011 next generation tank cars that exceed federal standards. These new cars already make up nearly 25 percent of the crude oil tank car fleet and will be 60 percent by 2015. The oil and natural gas industry will continue to work with regulators and the rail industry to make shipment by rail even safer.
Pipelines remain the preferred option for moving high volumes of oil safely over long distances and is usually the preferred method. But a shift in the geographical location of the sources matched by the surge in demand for crude oil in the most notably from the Bakken oil shale field in North Dakota, the industry will continue to have to develop ways to move it around the country in a timely and safely manner. Further details on the precise changes that will be made to the transportation system of crude oil by rail will be announced shortly.