ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Plugged In

Plugged In


More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives
Plugged In HomeAboutContact

Exploding oil train, Alabama edition


Email   PrintPrint



Credit: Clare Huddleston via Twitter

Well, this is becoming an unfortunate trend. Another train carrying oil has derailed and exploded, this time in Alabama. From the Reuters news report:

A 90-car train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in western Alabama in the early hours of Friday morning, spilling oil and leaving eleven cars burning in the rural area.

No injuries have been reported, but 20 of the train’s cars derailed and 11 were still on fire, the train owner, Genesee & Wyoming, said in a statement on Friday. Those cars, which threw flames 300 feet into the night sky, are being left to burn down, which could take up to 24 hours, the company said.

A local official said the crude oil had originated in North Dakota, home of the booming Bakken shale patch. If so, it may have been carrying the same type of light crude oil that was on a Canadian train that derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic this summer, killing 47 people.

I can’t think of a clearer manifestation of how stressed and ill-equipped the U.S. energy infrastructure is to handle the domestic oil boom than exploding trains. Pipeline capacity simply doesn’t exist to move oil from the central parts of the country to refineries and markets (especially on the East Coast). Trains are the quick and easy solution. As I mentioned the last time an oil train derailed (“Another oil derails in Canada”), putting oil on train cars is cheaper than building new pipelines and doesn’t require environmental review.

Clearly, oil-by-train standards will be tightened up. While that is long overdue, that doesn’t address the core issue, which is with having adequate petroleum infrastructure. To remedy this, the U.S. government could streamline permitting rules. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves interstate natural gas pipelines in a relatively speedy 18 months. Petroleum pipelines, on the other hand, are permitted at the state level, rather than the federal level, drawing out the permitting process and driving up costs. So instead of wading through state regulatory commissions and agencies, someone looking to move oil will simply hire a train, where there is little safety oversight.

Streamlined permitting benefits both petroleum producers by having an easier way to move their product (as the National Petroleum Council recommended – PDF), while environmentalists could chalk it up as a win by delivering a safer transportation network and avoiding the pollution and loss of life that comes with each derailment and explosion.

UPDATE – sharing some feedback from Twitter. @davidwogan if you’ve got something to say!

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Tags: , ,





Rights & Permissions

Add Comment

Comments are closed.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American MIND iPad

Give a Gift & Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now >>

X

Email this Article

X