Shipping crude oil by rail is perfectly safe and necessary (Your letters)

Syracuse Post-Standard | July 18, 2014 | Op-ed by Charles Drevna

New York state just announced it will disclose the routes and schedules of trains carrying Bakken crude as they travel through the state headed for East Coast refineries. Such announcements and their resulting commentary are a distraction from the reality that shipping crude by rail is a necessary -- and safe -- method for bringing domestically produced energy to consumers in New York and all over the country.

A railroad oil tanker car is parked along Interstate 787 in downtown Albany on Friday, Feb. 7. The Port of Albany has become a hub for the U.S. oil business, taking shipments from North Dakota's Bakken Shale daily by mile-long trains and shipping it in tankers down the Hudson River to refineries. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

As domestic production has expanded -- benefiting our economy and our national security -- so too has the use of our nation's railroad system to move fuels. A lack of pipeline infrastructure domestically, as well as between Canada and the United States, has resulted in oil and biofuels companies increasingly relying on rail to bring fuel to consumers.

Domestic crude now makes up about 40 percent of the intake at East Coast refineries, which serve New York's energy needs. And most of this crude is transported by rail.

Even though the transport of crude by rail is not a new concept -- rail has been used for this purpose since the mid-1800s -- many are beginning to look at it as a growing trend. Recent news reports with alarmist headlines question its safe transport without looking at the facts.

While the use of rail to transport hazardous materials like oil and biofuels no doubt has grown in recent years due to increased production and demand from refineries to replace foreign supplies, its transport remains very safe.

In fact, 99.99 percent of all hazardous materials are shipped safely by rail without incident. Regardless of this record, everyone from oil producers to the railroads to government agrees that additional safety precautions can and should be taken.

The refining industry is committed to a culture of continuous safety improvements and a zero incident rate is our goal. We are dedicated to working with the Department of Transportation to upgrade rail car standards.

By 2015, the industry will have voluntarily invested $4.6 billion into enhanced rail cars, known as 1232 "petition" cars -- improved cars that the rail industry petitioned for and the refining industry agreed to in 2011 -- but three years later DOT has yet to approve. The industry is eager to upgrade additional cars, but we need the department to move ahead and approve this car and provide regulatory certainty before billions more are spent on the enhanced cars.

But, realistically, reinforced cars are just a small part of the solution. Ultimately, the trains need to stay on the tracks. According to Federal Railroad Administration data, human factors and track conditions are the two leading causes of all main rail accidents.

In addition to more robust rail car standards, enhanced rail inspections, as well as infrastructure investments and regular track maintenance are critical. Our rail system is as much of a national asset as our highway system and should be treated as such.

Another myth that deserves sunlight is that Bakken crude is more volatile than other types of crude. In the wake of several train accidents with rail cars carrying Bakken crude, my association, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents 98 percent of U.S. refining capacity, quickly responded to a DOT request and commissioned a third-party audit of 1,400 samples of Bakken crude to test for safety. The study demonstrated that Bakken doesn't differ in any significant way from other light crudes and is just as safe to transport.

It's also worth noting that the uptick in domestic energy production, which has spurred the increased rail transport of fuel, has been a real bright spot for our economy. Increased production in areas like North Dakota's Bakken region means less reliance on foreign oil, which enhances our national security. This domestic energy renaissance also has led to job growth in the sector that has far surpassed overall job growth. Between 2003 and 2012, the number of new jobs in the oil and gas industry expanded by approximately 270,000, or 92 percent versus 3 percent overall.

And Americans from New York to North Dakota, and everywhere else in our 50 states, can appreciate the increase in North American energy production every time we pull into a gas station.

Charlie Drevna is president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the association that represents 98 percent of U.S. refining capacity.

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commented 2014-07-18 17:00:48 -0400 · Flag
A few small changes to Mr. Drevna’s opening statement: Such announcements and their resulting commentary are a distraction from the reality that shipping crude by rail is NOT a necessary — and WILL NEVER BE a safe method for bringing domestically produced energy to consumers. Renewables are technically and economically feasible. The extreme energy extraction of fracking plus shipping by rail or pipeline reflects a 20th century mode of thinking in the 21st century of alternative energy.
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.