A telling sentence in the Star Tribune article Cold, stranded and fuming: Passengers on Amtrak, Northstar line see major delays produced much social media mirth last week:
Crude oil rail shipments have exploded in recent years thanks to the North Dakota oil fields. Rail cars began moving oil from North Dakota in 2008, and now account for 71 percent of the crude transported from the Williston Oil Basin. Rail capacity this year is projected to hit 1.2 million barrels of oil a day — 38 times the volume handled six years ago.
We include the entire paragraph. Unfortunately, some of the dark humor arises from the fact that crude oil rail shipment have indeed exploded.
Hydrocarbon Processing, a most objective and so non-industry driven publication, warned that US shale boom threatened as rail explosions spark tighter oil shipping rules:
US regulators issued a safety alert after a train carrying oil crashed and caught fire earlier this week in North Dakota, where surging production has helped lead a renaissance in domestic energy and driven the state’s unemployment rate to the nation’s lowest.The type of oil pumped from the shale formations of North Dakota may be more flammable and therefore more dangerous to ship by rail than crude from other areas, the Transportation Department said in the alert. Regulators are considering imposing tougher rules on railcar construction, among other things, potentially raising the costs of moving the crude to market.Pipelines could be affected as well.“Regulators have to take heed that anything they do is going to go beyond the rail industry, beyond the tank car industry,” Jason Seidl, a rail analyst at Cowen & Co. based in New York, said in an interview.This week’s incident, near the town of Casselton, is the fourth major derailment in six months by trains transporting crude. An explosion of a runaway train carrying North Dakota oil in July killed 47 in Quebec. Restrictions on railcars could worsen a shortage of capacity for moving oil to refineries.
Yes, indeedie. Regulations, not exploding trains that kill people, are so going to "threaten" the boom.
In Minnesota, United Transportation Union members picketed Canadian Pacific's US headquarters in downtown Minneapolis last week, calling for better rail safety rules. Meanwhile, the Winona Daily News reported that Canadian Pacific to clean up some oil spilled near Winona. The rail line, still controlled by Wall Street hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, will monitor the situation.
Even with these dire Onionesque warnings from the hydrocarbon industry and Daily Currant-like promises from the tycoon-controlled railways, the United States House of Representative Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials is going to oppress the oil shale industry by holding a hearing.
Congressman Tim Walz, who sits on the committee, and others had called for hearings in January, following the Casselton explosion. Walz was first elected in 2006 in part because of concern for rail safety raised by the proposed expansion of the DM & E Railroad (now part of the CP) through Rochester, Minnesota.
Walz's congressional office sent out the following statement:
Today, Representative Tim Walz, a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, applauded the announcement that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing later this month to review rail safety standards. Following a meeting with concerned citizens in southern Minnesota, Walz joined several of his colleagues in sending a letter to Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA) to request the Subcommittee hold such a hearing in order to evaluate safety standards, particularly for the transport of hazardous materials. To view that letter, please click here.
“We must do everything we can to protect the communities that these hazardous materials are shipped through,” Representative Walz said. “I’m pleased Representative Denham agreed that a hearing was necessary to examine ways to increase safety for passengers, shippers, and our local communities.”
The hearing, “Oversight of Passenger and Freight Rail Safety,” will be held by the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on February 26 at 2:00 p.m. ET.
The Star Tribune has more in Congress to probe rail safety in wake of Casselton explosion. Already, the first commenter has proposed that more pipelines be built because trains always have accidents. Never mind pipeline explosions or spills. It's all good in a shale boom.
Images: Casselton oil train explosion (above); Seattle Times/McClatchy infographic.
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