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Ear to the Ground

Oil on the Tracks

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Posted on Jan 23, 2014

Shht! (CC BY 2.0)

More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined, a data analysis shows.

OilPrice.com reports:

The data suggests that in 2013 more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars. This includes the major derailment in Aliceville, Alabama on the 8th of November when 748,800 gallons spilt as the train derailed in a swampy area and burst into flames, but not yet the derailment in Casselton, North Dakota 30th of December, for which the PHMSA have yet to receive data, although it is estimated to be in the region of 400,000 gallons. Nor does this figure include spills that occurred in Canada, where the 6th of July derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec spilled an estimated 1.5 million plus gallons of crude oil.

In contrast to 2013, the total crude oil spilled from 1975, when federal records began, to 2012 was 800,000 gallons. In fact in eight of those years not one drop of crude oil was spilt, and in five only one gallon or less was spilt.

The increase noted last year is due to the fact delivering oil by rail has become a much more popular choice of transport as pipeline capacity has been unable to keep pace with the increases in oil production during the North American shale boom. The Association of American Railroads has estimated that 400,000 carloads of crude oil were shipped last year, and with each car holding 28,800 gallons that totals more than 11.5 billion gallons.

Out of a total 11.5 billion gallons transported by rail, to only spill 1.15 million gallons equals a 99.99 percent success rate, but 1.15 million is still a large amount.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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