Will the latest oil-train fire make people rethink anything?

Photo taken August 20, 2013 shows a freight train pulling out of the Hess Gas Plant in Tioga, N.D.

A train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in North Dakota on Monday.

“This is just one in a string of legitimate concerns about the movement of crude oil by rail,” says Sandy Fielden, an energy analyst at RBN Energy.

In July, a train carrying oil exploded in Canada, killing 47 people. Last month, in Alabama, an oil-carrying train caught fire when it derailed.

Depending on the investigation, says Fielden, there may be pressure to make some regulatory changes. But don’t expect anything too dramatic: North Dakota is the second largest oil producing state. By some estimates, trains will move 90 percent of North Dakota’s crude next year.

“There’s no question, this oil is going to get to the market,” says Robert Bryce from the conservative Manhattan Institute. He supports the Keystone Pipeline project — as an alternative to moving oil by train. But, he says, it’s going to get to market one way or another.

It’s too early to know exactly what happened in North Dakota. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. There are questions about the tracks, the trains, the tankers that were moving the oil. 

Holly Arthur, with the Association of American Railroads, says rail is safe. Rail has been used to move crude oil since the early days of the industry. Business has picked up dramatically since 2009 and the rise of fracking.

“Today 99.997 percent of all hazmat moved by rail reaches its destination without a release caused by an accident,” says Arthur.

99.997 percent is a reassuring number. But people who live along these lines know there are also more trains hauling oil.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...