(by Edward McAllister and Jarrett Renshaw, Reuters) – Hundreds of communities across the United States have become accustomed to the sight of mile-long oil trains rumbling by in recent years. Pembroke, Virginia, was not one of them, until now.
CSX Transportation Corp is temporarily rerouting up to five oil trains through this small riverside town to bypass the site of an explosive oil train derailment that occurred 90 miles north in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, on Monday, Feb. 16. The trains will likely travel instead on a track that hugs the New River and at one point sweeps into the Pembroke town limits.
In line with a federal protocol established last year following a string of fiery derailments across North America, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Tuesday (Feb. 17) informed 16 counties and cities that oil trains could be coming through their towns, local officials and fire departments said, one day after the Mount Carbon derailment. Those counties passed the information on to local emergency responders.
“They sent us information and gave us an emergency response guide sheet,” said Chris Neice, Pembroke’s fire chief.
CSX has notified the state that as many as five trains, each carrying between about 24,000 and 70,000 barrels of oil, will be rerouted, according to Jeff Stern, state coordinator at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The trains will run along a Norfolk Southern line that normally transports coal and freight, not oil, until the main route is restored.
That this is happening with little fanfare in Pembroke and potentially hundreds of other cities and towns along this track stretching as far as Ohio, highlights how ubiquitous oil trains have become in the United States, where crude-by-rail is an essential, yet sometimes explosive, fix for an overwhelmed pipeline network.
Apart from emergency services, which include a 35-person volunteer fire department, barely anyone in Pembroke is aware, according to interviews with officials and store owners in the town. None of the people in the town of 1,128 said they had seen such a train yet. CSX acknowledged the rerouting, but did not say how long it would last.
Last Monday’s West Virginia incident involved a 109-car oil train that came off the rails, exploded, burned down a building and caused the evacuation of two nearby towns. No one was seriously injured.
The accident was the latest in a string of explosive oil train derailments, including one into the James River in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, in April last year. The incidents have prompted calls for stricter transport standards and raised concern for residents near train lines across the country.
The worst accident yet, in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, killed 47 people.
…[In Pembrike], local fire departments, many of them volunteer outfits, were provided with documents including details on the chemical make-up of crude oil and a government order explaining Virginia’s oil train safety procedures, according to emails seen by Reuters.
Little other information was provided, but Chris Armstrong, a lieutenant of the fire department in Richmond, Virginia – the state’s second-largest city, population 214,000 – was also informed this week that oil trains could run through Richmond. He said his department had already received training to deal with chlorine and ethanol spills, which would help it react to oil accidents.
Marci Stone, emergency management coordinator for the City of Roanoke, said its fire department had also received training to deal with hazardous materials.
Meanwhile, the residents of Pembroke – who like others contacted for this story were unaware of the new potential change in cargo until informed of the notice by Reuters – met the news with everything from concern to apathy.
Neice, Pembroke’s fire chief, was not worried. “As long as the trains stay upright, we will be fine.”
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Thomson Reuters. Visit the website at Reuters .com.
1. Why is CSX Transportation Corp. rerouting oil trains through Virginia?
2. Why did Virginia’s Department of Emergency Management inform 16 counties and cities in Virginia of CSX’s plan?
3. How long will the trains run along the Norfolk Southern line that normally transports coal and freight, not oil?
4. List the oil train accidents described in the article.
5. The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2014:
Approximately 939,000 barrels of oil a day are transported by train to refineries on the coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico, about 11% of the total pumped in the U.S.”
Pipelines still carry most of the 8.5 million barrels of oil pumped every day in the U.S. And safety experts say pipelines have the best record of transporting crude without accident, despite a few big leaks like the one that left Mayflower, Ark., awash in heavy crude last year.
Activists opposed to the use of fossil fuels have focused on blocking pipelines in hopes of keeping oil in the ground (not extracting it all; not using oil for any reason)
a) What do you think: should the Obama administration and various state governments allow oil pipelines to be constructed to transport oil, or is it better to ship it by rail despite some accidents?
b) If you lived in one of the towns through which the crude oil trains will now travel, would you be concerned about possible accidents? Explain your answer.
c) Ask a parent the same questions.
CHALLENGE Read the entire Wall Street Journal article “Railways Reshape the Crude Oil Market” at:and answer the following:
a) Why are oil companies shipping their crude on trains instead of through pipelines if it is a little more expensive to transport this way?
b) Which two industries benefit from shipping crude oil by rail?
c) Which groups of people are not happy that crude oil has begun to be transported by rail, and the amount of it grows each year?
d) How is the government addressing the danger associated with shipping crude oil by rail?
e) If pipelines are much safer, why did oil companies start transporting crude by rail?
f) How did the idea for transporting crude by rail come about in 2006?
Delay/denial of approval for the Keystone XL Pipleine by President Obama has meant more hauling business for the Big Rails, especially Burlington Northern, now owned by liberal Democrat Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. Liberal billionaire George Soros is supposedly involved, too, somehow, as reported by Time, January 2012.
Railways Reshape the Crude Oil Market:
Today, about 939,000 barrels of oil a day are riding the rails, about 11% of the total pumped in the U.S., according data from the federal Surface Transportation Board, chugging across plains and over bridges, rumbling through cities and towns on their way to refineries on the coasts and along the Gulf of Mexico. …
Initially conceived of as a stopgap measure until pipelines could be constructed, and plagued by high-profile safety problems, crude by rail has nevertheless become a permanent part of the nation’s energy infrastructure, experts say. Even pipeline companies have jumped into the rail business, building terminals to load and unload crude.
Behind the new industry are powerful economics. While it costs a bit more to ship petroleum on trains than through pipelines, railroads have the flexibility to deliver it to wherever it will fetch the highest prices. And capital expenses are far lower. Major railroads’ revenue for hauling crude has jumped from $25.8 million in 2008 to $2.15 billion in 2013, according to federal data.
The oil and rail industries have developed “a mutual dependence likely to continue for a long time,” said Ed Morse, global head of commodities research for Citigroup…
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