On Thursday, the Democratic chairmen of the Senate Transportation and Energy committees, Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pushed the Obama administration to take “prompt and decisive” action addressing the problem of oil train derailments. The senators wrote to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that the recent increase in train oil shipments and the fiery crashes in Alabama last month and in Canada last year “demand increased vigilance.”
North Dakota’s congressional delegation met on Thursday with Foxx and Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The Canadian crash killed 47 people in July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
The Alabama derailment didn’t kill anyone but released 749,000 gallons of oil from 26 tanker cars. Another derailment in Casselton, N.D., caused hundreds of residents to flee.
The railroad industry in November agreed that older train cars should be retrofitted. Holly Arthur, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, said on Thursday that the cars should be implemented “as swiftly and aggressively as possible.”
Opposition to blithely updating the trains comes in part from its $1 billion cost. Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group, said “The ethanol industry takes safety very seriously, but we don’t re-engineer vehicles already on the road with new, expensive suspension systems to combat any potential damage from hitting a pothole on the interstate. No, we fix the pothole. The same should be true with rail transportation.” The American Petroleum Institute said the retrofits would be costly, take years to implement, and add weight to trains. The Institute said regulators should carefully study the costs and benefits before they made wholesale changes.
The whole argument for retrofitting trains and maintaining the status quo of transporting oil by train instead of building pipelines, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, is endangering populations near the train lines but enriching people like Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway company’s profit rose 7.8% because of profits its Burlington Northern railroad subsidiary made. As stated here, “Every day, an average of ten trains with up to 100 tank-cars leaves North Dakota carrying 3.35 million gallons of raw crude oil to journey over a thousand miles to refineries in Nova Scotia and Texas. Railroads carry 75% of North Dakota oil and are the prime reason oil hauled by tank cars in the U.S. rose over the last three years by 2,000% to a total of 6.5 billion gallons.”