Improve safety of local crude oil shipments

Democrat & Chronicle | April 2, 2014 | Op-ed

(Photo: MAX SCHULTE staff photographer )

The nation’s booming oil production — particularly in North Dakota and Montana — has meant new life for New York’s aging railroad system. With oil output having outgrown pipeline capacity, freight trains have been pressed into service, transporting more than a million gallons of crude a day to the nation’s 115 refineries.

But recent rail accidents have highlighted potential safety concerns, especially in areas like Rochester, where crude-laden cars roll through heavily populated areas on a regular basis. As state and federal regulators take a closer look, stricter handling guidelines, modernized rail cars, enhanced safety measures and state-of-the-art emergency response plans must all be on the table.

One need look no further than the disaster last July in Lac Megantic, Quebec, where dozens of tanker cars filled with extra-volatile crude oil from the Bakken Formation oil field — the same oil that passes through Rochester regularly — broke free, screamed into the city and triggered multiple explosions and fires. Nearly 50 people were killed.

A train crash outside Casselton, N.D., in December caused a tremendous explosion and fire, spilled some 400,000 gallons of crude oil and required the evacuation of 1,400.

Could such an accident happen in Rochester? It already has. In 2001, a brake failure led several cars near the former Kodak Park to race unimpeded downhill to Charlotte, where they derailed and caused a massive fire. And the past decade has seen derailments of CSX trains in East Rochester and Palmyra. Should such a mishap involve the 50- or 100-car freighters that carry Bakken crude through the region several times a week, the results could indeed be “devastating,” as former Mayor Tom Richards said last summer in the wake of the Lac Megantic tragedy.

Domestic oil shipments by rail have quadrupled in the past decade. Two-thirds of North Dakota’s crude oil is shipped by train — much of it through the Rochester region to Albany en route to East Coast refineries. Better safety measures cannot come quickly enough.

New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing for federal measures that would require replacing substandard tanker cars now in use and lowering speed limits. They are among many proposals that deserve the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board when it meets later this month for a two-day forum to examine rail safety.

Federal regulators must defuse the ticking time bomb that now rolls through Rochester and its suburbs almost every day.

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/opinion/editorials/2014/04/02/improve-safety-local-crude-oil-shipments/7172705/

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PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE works to promote safe, sustainable energy and environmental justice.  We aim to engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry's assault on the people of Albany and our environment.