The train as an alternative to the pipelines of the oil companies?

(Washington) The controversy over cross-border pipelines has prompted more producers to use the train to transport oil and natural gas to the United States, but US railway safety experts fear their countries are not poorly equipped against potential accidents.


James McCarton
The Canadian Press

According to them, it will take a disaster of similar magnitude to the Lake-Megantic disaster in 2013 before Americans actually realize the risks associated with transporting petroleum products by rail.

En moyenne, plus d’un million de barils de pétrole brut traversent l’État de Washington chaque semaine, dont une petite partie, environ 13%, proviennent de l’Alberta et de la Saskatchewan, selon le ministère de l’Écologie de l ‘status.

The derailment of seven tank cars that later caught fire outside Bellingham, a town of 90,000 in Washington state, was a reminder of the dangers of rail transportation.

“There have to be many deaths before I get the attention of the regulatory authorities that the industry deserves,” says Eric De Bliss, an energy policy expert and director at the Site Line Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank, “It’s a tragedy hanging over our heads.”

In July 2013, a train loaded with oil derailed and exploded in the heart of Lake Megantic, killing 47 people and destroying half of the city center. It was the deadliest freight train accident in Canadian history.

The tragedy focused on oil transportation by rail in Canada, which led to a number of regulatory changes, including the phasing out of DOT-111 or TC-111 tank cars and the banning of a single person being used to operate a train.

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In the United States, the new rules that went into effect in 2016 do not explicitly prohibit the use of DOT-111 cars as flammable goods, says Fred Millar, an independent analyst at the railroad industry in Alexandria, Virginia.

A Transportation Office report filed to Congress in September found that DOT-111s stopped transporting crude oil in 2018, but these cars still carry flammable liquids like ethanol and won’t completely disappear until 2029.

In 2019, according to the report, 73% of the tank car fleet carrying crude oil in the United States included DOT-117, a heavier tank wagon with stronger valves and reinforced armor at each end.

“More than 99.99% of all hazardous materials transported by rail reach their destination without leaks from an accident,” says Jessica Kahanik of the American Railroad Association.

DOT-117s were put into service after the Lac-Mégantic accident, and are “marginally safer” than their predecessors, Mr. Millar asserts, adding that Congress has always refused to impose restrictions on height or length. Train speed, or require the transfer of dangerous goods from population centers.

“The problem with carriage safety is that there is a trade-off between the weight of the car and the amount of product that you can transport. He adds that there is a conflict between security and profit. If we put more steel to protect ourselves from holes, then that means we have to use less product.”

Canada’s exports of oil and natural gas are highly dependent on commodity prices. Crude oil shipments by rail fell last summer when oil prices slumped amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But those exports are slowly recovering: Canada exported more than 190,000 barrels per day in December 2020, double the volume recorded just four months ago, according to federal data.

Environmentalists have long opposed pipeline projects such as TC Energy’s Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 3, and Line 5 due to concerns over the increased exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands and increased dependence on North America for fossil fuels.

President Joe Biden revoked the extension of the Keystone XL on his first day in office. For her part, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wants to close Line 5, which connects Wisconsin and Sarnia, Ontario, across the Mackinac Strait between Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Seamus Origen pledged to defend Line 5, which he described as a vital source of energy and jobs in Michigan and Ohio, as well as in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.

Origen told the Special Committee on Economic Relations between Canada and the United States in the House of Commons that this resource would come to the market by any means available, including the least reliable.

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