On the tracks barely 100 yards from my home a steady parade of 100+ car unit trains of crude oil from the Bakken pass by each day and night. Yup, over a hundred 25,000 gallon or so tank car loads, amounting to a "mere" couple million gallons of oil in each unit train. Everyone has seen at one time or another horrific pictures of what a spilled 6,000 gallon tanker truck can do in the way of pollution and hopefully not conflagration. What's passing barely a hundred yards from my house is 400 tankerloads in one train, and several of those trains a day.
Now the railroad, BNSF, does a damn good job of keepin' up the tracks- they are literally out there every day and sometimes into the night maintaining the rails and the signals and such. Same with the engineers and conductors and dispatchers- they're the best! They have to be- get caught speeding or running a red light on the railroad and it's a 30 day suspension, do it again and you're fired. And from what I've heard, the railroad would really rather not be hauling Hazmat, but as a common carrier they have to.
And despite all those precautions, derailments and other accidents still happen. Over the last couple days BNSF's main line across northern Montana was shut down by a derailment, and UP had a frac sand train derail east of St.Paul. Both accidents produced no injuries with few cars derailing and the tracks were quickly cleared and repaired. But sometimes whole trains derail and cars get split open. That's the worse case scenario with most of a couple million gallons of crude oil spilled along the tracks. Up here on the ridge the streams are small and steep and would quickly be flooded with oil. A couple million gallons of oil is more than our little volunteer fire departments can handle, and we're hours away from the big cleanup specialists that would have any hope of containing a couple million gallons of crude, never mind clean up said crude. If the spill went into our landlocked Twin Lakes they'd be destroyed, if the spill entered the Redwood or Rock Rivers they'd be running black and dead within hours for miles downriver. Couple days and the Minnesota or Missouri would be polluted for months.
That's if were lucky and all that crude oil don't catch fire. Fortunately oil doesn't get all gaseous and easily flamable like gasoline and other lighter oil refinery products, but it'll burn if it finds enough heat and flame. And while the fire wouldn't propagate at the speed a gas would, a couple million gallons will burn up a pretty good sized area and create an inhalation hazard over an even bigger area. Now the rail line I'm on doesn't pass through a whole lot of major metro areas, but it does pass through several medium sized cities of up to a hundred thousand or so population. Now imagine that derailment and couple million gallon spill and inferno happens in the middle of one of those bigger cities, at 3 in the morning?
That's why oil belongs in pipelines, which have the best safety record of any method of transporting flammable liquids. But the big city environmentalist groups want to shut down oil production, and the arrogant oil and pipeline companies think they can drill "everywhere now" with impunity. Thus needed pipelines aren't getting built and trainloads of flammable crude threaten our rural countryside. Meanwhile, we're paying a premium for diesel fuel out here and supply is tight during harvest season due to insufficient pipeline capacity.
What we need is environmental groups and oil companies that will climb down from their uncompromising positions and make reasonable compromises... Like allowing new common carrier pipelines while restricting greenhouse gas emissions to keep the dirtiest tar sands oil in the ground 'til we develop cleaner ways to extract them.