The Problem with Oil and Trains (part 2)

Welcome back for part 2. In part 1, I discussed the growing number of oil train derailments, as well as the causes, but no possible solutions. Actually, with the Keystone XL Pipeline being delayed, there is likely not a solution in sight.

This problem stretches across the country, originating in the Baaken and extending East to Pennsylvania and South to Alabama.

The oil trains also run through Montana – Glacier National Park to be more specific. Reporter Elizabeth Royte writes (for OnEarth) that due to the “wicked winds” in Glacier NP (upwards of 100 mph in some areas), the likelihood of a train blowing off the tracks is fairly high. Pair that with the fact that “at least one train, on average, slips off the tracks in this country every single day” and this outcome doesn’t look so good.

Oil trains moving through areas near Glacier National Park

Residents of Whitefish (near Glacier NP) have noticed more and more BNSF oil trains chugging through town. According to the Flathead Beacon, BNSF (the railroad company) is “preparing a detailed hazardous materials response plan if an oil train were to derail near Glacier National Park.” The plan will reportedly be “available to first responders in the next week” in case of an explosion, derailment or fire.

In my last post, I mentioned that an emergency order was passed requiring more stringent testing on oil being shipped by train. This is an attempt to limit the amount of oil being shipped because increasingly, Baaken oil is becoming more and more like gas, and therefore more likely to explode. This is happening because as the oil is being fracked, gas comes up with it from the deep shale formation.

A reader of my blog shared with me a video of an oil train derailment and explosion Cassleton, North Dakota from Dec. 30, 2013. Please watch to get a sense of the explosions:

Jeff Mow, Glacier National Park superintendent is no stranger to these issues, as he was “park ranger and later superintendent at Kenai Fjords National Park”, less than 100 miles from where the Exxon-Valdez oil spill occurred in 1989. As a refresher, that wreck “spilled 257,000 barrels of oil, the equivalent of 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and killed thousands of animals, including 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and 22 killer whales. Mow helped investigate the spill for the Park Service and Department of Justice” (Flathead Beacon).

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (AK), 1989

Mow’s background makes him proactive with these issues, as he has been on the front-lines for them before. He was also “Department of the Interior incident commander when the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling well sank in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.”

Mow is clearly very equipped to deal with these situations, as he has helped with a few already. Hopefully, with Mow on its side, Glacier National Park will flourish under his management and benefit from the preventative measures he is enacting.

It is also interesting to note that the BNSF is planning on spending more money on development in 2014. Perhaps these improvements will help with the amount of dated equipment/trains that these rail lines are using (in order to attempt to prevent equipment malfunction):

BNSF recently announced that the railroad would spend $5 billion on improvements in 2014, including $900 million to expand track capacity in the Northern Plains where crude oil shipments are surging. The spending plan is roughly $1 billion higher than 2013.

As with most environmental issues I blog about, there is a petition calling for the protection of national parks from oil train explosions, as you can see the effects they may have on the National Parks in the future, as well as for communities around the country.

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