Record Railroad-Related Crude-Oil Spills in 2013

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by | Jan 23, 2014

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federal railroad association logoThirty percent more crude was spilled from US rail cars in 2013 than in the nearly four previous decades combined, according to US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data.

An analysis of the data by the Washington Post found railroads spilled 800,000 gallons of crude oil between 1975 and 2012. Last year, trains spilled more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil. The data does not include incidents in Canada, where authorities estimate than more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled July 6 in Quebec when a runaway train that originated in North Dakota derailed and exploded, killing 47 people.

Shipping crude via rail has become the preferred mode of transportation for oil producers amid an energy boom, raising safety and environmental concerns.

Rail incidents have become increasingly more common. For instance, a freight train carrying crude oil derailed Monday on a bridge in Philadelphia, reported the Morning Call. Nothing leaked in the derailment, according to the US Coast Guard.

The Federal Railroad Administration has known about problems with crude oil shipments, such as overloading, mislabeling of highly flammable material and sub-standard train cars, since as far back as autumn 2011, an NBC News investigation found.

The head of rail car maker The Greenbriar Companies estimates about 80,000 rail cars don’t meet safety standards and need to be updated or replaced. CEO William Furman says “modest but meaningful” fixes could immediately reduce the risk of a hazardous materials leak by up to 80 percent in derailments

Despite the frequency of rail-related spills and safety concerns, the US Department of Transportation said earlier this month that regulations forcing oil companies to use stronger rail cars for crude oil – a topic facing renewed interest after several recent derailments and fires – will not be proposed until November and will be subject to a public comment period until January 2015. This timeline could face delays.

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