The business of oil-by-rail, the transport of crude oil by rail, barge and ships from oil fields in North Dakota, to refineries on the east coast, is booming. Railroads carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oils last year, up from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railways. While proving lucrative for the oil and transport industries oil-by-rail in actuality poses a tremendous threat to our communities and our environment.
In 2013 more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the environment than in the past four decades. There have been seven major derailments in the US and Canada since the 2013 accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed 47 people. The more we can do to prevent future damage to people and their environment the better.
What is being shipped?
- Bakken Crude Oil: Due to a lack of degasification at its source, the Bakken crude oil being shipped is more vaporous and volatile than other crude oils.
- Canadian Tar Sands Oil: Compared to Bakken this is a less volatile form of crude oil. However, tar sands oil, also called bitumen, is very heavy which makes it a dangerous oil to transport near water sources because, in a spill or derailment, the bitumen would sink to lake or river beds where it is very difficult to remove.
Where is it coming from and going to?
- Bakken Crude Oil: Originates within the Bakken Formation, a large contiguous deposit of oil and natural gas located in northwestern North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan, Canada. The oil from this formation is being transported through cities like Plattsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany.
- Canadian Tar Sands Oil: Predominantly mined from the Canadian province of Alberta. Shipped by rail from Montreal to Albany, passing important water bodies such as Lake Champlain.
What is it being shipped in?
- DOT 111 Rail Cars: A type of unpressurized tank car frequently used in North America and Canada. Older models of this rail car lack the important safety features such as increased shell thickness, enhanced top fittings, exterior head shields and reclosing pressure relief devices. The terminal operated by Global Partners in the Port of Albany only accepts DOT 111’s that meet the CPC-1232 safety standard.
What can be done!?
- Mandate slower speeds to prevent derailments that will endanger our public waterways and communities.
- Ban the use of legacy DOT 111 tank cars currently carrying crude oil and replace them with stronger/safer tank cars.
- Issue an emergency order requiring immediate comprehensive oil spill response plans for high-hazard trains.
- Undertake a full environmental analysis of the Federal Rule for oil spill response plans for oil trains.