Monday, December 15, 2014

this is a job for Bill Keezer

The Weather Channel is currently hosting an article titled "BOOM" that is, I think, right up my friend Bill Keezer's alley. The article is about the aging state of American railroads and how the dangers of this failing infrastructure relate to the current shale-oil boom: trains carrying millions of gallons of oil are occasionally exploding (thus "boom" takes on two meanings).

I believe the state of our rail system is indeed a legitimate concern, but the problem of infrastructure and explosions isn't insoluble. My impression is that the article was written with an anti-shale-oil agenda in mind, but I think it can be interpreted more positively as a wake-up call for us to shore up our rail system in order to prevent disasters, like the one that occurred in Canada and killed 47 people, from occurring on US soil.

The article begins this way:

Regulators in the United States knew they had to act fast. A train hauling 2 million gallons of crude oil from North Dakota had exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. Now they had to assure Americans a similar disaster wouldn’t happen south of the border, where the U.S. oil boom is sending highly volatile crude oil every day over aging, often defective rails in vulnerable railcars.

On the surface, the response from Washington following the July, 6, 2013 explosion seemed promising. Over the next several months, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued two emergency orders, two safety alerts and a safety advisory. It began drafting sweeping new oil train regulations to safeguard the sudden surge of oil being shipped on U.S. rails. The railroad industry heeded the call, too, agreeing to slow down trains, increase safety inspections and reroute oil trains away from populous areas.

But almost a year and a half later—and after three railcar explosions in the United States—those headline-grabbing measures have turned out to be less than they appeared. Idling oil trains are still left unattended in highly populated areas. The effort to draft new safety regulations has been bogged down in disputes between the railroads and the oil industry over who will bear the brunt of the costs. The oil industry is balking at some of the tanker upgrades, and the railroads are lobbying against further speed restrictions.

And rerouting trains away from big cities and small towns? That, too, has been of limited value, because refineries, ports and other offloading facilities tend to be in big cities.

A fascinating read, especially for the train-savvy. Bill, if you're interested, I'd love to hear your insights as to where we should go from here, and how this situation can best be handled. I'm all for the shale-oil boom; my brother tells me that gas prices are, in fact, coming down these days, and that $1.99/gallon gas is just around the corner in northern Virginia. So I think it's in our best interest to make sure the oil gets where it needs to go with zero mishaps.



John said...

If only someone could devise a way to transport oil through underground tubes or something, I don't know, they maybe could call it a pipeline. It's not as crazy as it sounds, we just need to develop the technology. Or the will to deploy it.

The Maximum Leader said...

Gas prices in Fredericksburg are $2.20/gal.

John from Daejeon said...

At least in my neck of the woods in Texas, the local sections of train tracks have been getting quite the upgrades while pissing off the local populace in the meantime as they wait hours at a time for the crossings to be cleared since Union Pacific never provides a daily work timetable of when the crossings will be blocked off.

But at least gas is already down to $1.95/gal. in parts of Houston. Now, if only we could cross the railroad tracks to get there.