No Public Accountability When Crude Oil is Shipped by Rail
While the rail industry and some in the energy sector are considering increasing the shipping of crude oil by rail as an alternative to pipelines (e.g., Edmonton Journal ), safety experts and the general public are becoming increasingly concerned about the lax regulation of the railway industry and the rail industry’s poor accident record. At the same time, a recent study by the Manhattan Institute indicates there are far greater fatality, injury and environmental risks when transporting crude oil by rail than by pipeline.
In Canada and the U.S.A., federal laws that govern the railway industry, including safety and environmental matters, are very weak and are poorly enforced. For example, in the United States, “Federal law requires railroads to select hazardous-material routes after analyzing the potential for accidents in heavily populated areas and environmentally sensitive spots. Those analyses are confidential for security reasons.” (USA Today) Sheldon Lustig, a rail accident and hazardous materials expert, said, “the railroads have considerable sway over the process. Under federal guidelines, the railroad makes the analysis, the railroad decides what they want to do, and the railroad does it. There is no public accountability.”
Based on Railroaded’s research over the past 2.5 years, federal railway safety and environmental legislation and enforcement in Canada are even weaker than in the United States. On the other hand, although there certainly is room for improvement, the pipeline industry is regulated more strictly in Canada and the U.S., both from safety and environmental perspectives.
USA Today wrote, “… emergency officials are increasingly wary of major accidents involving oil trains, which carry far more cargo than some other hazardous-material trains. While oil is not as volatile as some other products, a rupture of just one car can spill 20,000 to 30,000 gallons,” said Lustig.
The same article continued, “Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, described rail as ‘the greater of two evils’ because trains pass through cities, over waterways and through wetlands that pipelines can be built to avoid. ‘It’s an accident waiting to happen. It’s going to be a mess and we don’t know where that mess is going to be,’ Schafer said.”
Alberta-based Pembina Institute spokesman Simon Dyer said, “Transporting dangerous goods by rail has a higher frequency of incidents than pipelines …” (Edmonton Journal), as he recalled the derailment of a CN train in 2005 at Wabamun Lake near Edmonton that spilled 1.3 million litres of heavy fuel oil and 700,000 litres of pole treating oil into the lake which still has not fully recovered from the disaster.
For many more examples of CN derailments, spills and other accidents in Canada and the United States, see this link; and for additional information on the risks of transporting crude oil or any other hazardous materials by rail, see this link.