Tag Archives: Canadian National Energy Board

U.S. EIA now reporting monthly crude-by-oil movement

Repost from The DOT-111 Reader
[Editor:  DOT-111 Reader presents a good overview and early analysis.  For original reports and charts, see The U.S. Energy Information Administration.  – RS]

U.S. Movements of Crude Oil by Rail Now Online!

March 31, 2015


For the first time, EIA [The U.S. Energy Information Administration] is providing monthly data on rail movements of crude oil, which have significantly increased over the past five years. The new data on crude-by-rail (CBR) movements are integrated with EIA’s existing monthly petroleum supply statistics, which already include movements by pipeline, tanker, and barge. The new monthly time series of crude oil rail movements includes shipments to and from Canada and dramatically reduces the absolute level of unaccounted for volumes in EIA’s monthly balances for each region.

EIA is initiating the new series with monthly data from January 2010 through the current reporting month, January 2015. CBR activity is tracked between pairs of Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) regions (inter-PADD), within each region (intra-PADD), and across the U.S.-Canada border. EIA developed the new series using information provided by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) along with data from Canada’s National Energy Board, and EIA survey data.

Total CBR movements in the United States and between the United States and Canada were more than 1 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2014, up from 55,000 bbl/d in 2010. The regional distribution of these movements has also changed over this period.

[Click here for the EIA crude oil movements by rail, including a series of annual maps that provide general flows of CBR movements annually from 2010 through 2014.]


Before digging into the data, a short explanation is required to understand PADDs (Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts). PADDs are geographical regions: PADD 1 is the East Coast, PADD 2 the Midwest, PADD 3 Gulf Coast, PADD 4 Rocky Mountain, PADD 5 West Coast, AK and HI.


From this knowledge, we can now look at each region for the number of barrels shipped and received. For example, let’s look at trends in crude oil shipments by rail for the entire U.S. by using this data table [found here.]


By putting a check box for the row labeled “Total”, we can now view this chart showing oil shipments by rail in the U.S. since 2010.


Besides many excellent charts, we can also look at recent data. This chart [found here] shows the thousands of barrels/day for the month of January 2015:


As you can see, the majority of the oil shipped from the Bakken fields (PADD 2) is shipped east to (PADD 1). 437,000 bbl/day. This is close to what we have calculated is heading through the La Crosse, WI area from both the CP and BNSF rail lines. Although it would be preferred to have data at a more refined level (by rail carrier, through cities, by day & month) at least we are able to now see trends on a regional level. Lot’s of digging to do!

Crude oil trains are unsafe, period. Stopping them will protect our communities and climate

Repost from Oil Change International
[Editor:  An important article by Lorne Stockman, Research Director
at Oil Change International in Washington, D.C.  Quote: “For the sake of a mere 4% of total petroleum passing through the United States, we say stop the trains now, protect North America’s communities and build an energy system that protects the climate and our citizens from a reckless oil industry.”  – RS]

Crude oil trains are unsafe, period. Stopping them will protect our communities and climate

By Lorne Stockman, March 26, 2015

rail-blog-featured v1The five major oil train derailments and explosions that occurred less than a month apart in the U.S. and Canada recently has refocused attention on the reckless practice of moving millions of gallons of crude oil at a time on a train through the continent’s communities.

The only sensible and safe position on crude-by-rail is clear. We need an immediate moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments in North America. This needs to stop now.

Based on the recent developments and disasters, we now know that nothing short of a moratorium on moving crude by rail in North America is required, until the safety of our communities and climate can be fully guaranteed.

The evidence that the practice is unsafe is undeniable. It’s hard to imagine a more terrifying proposition than one of these trains derailing and exploding in your community.  It is not a disaster waiting to happen, it has already happened over and over again.  That the regulator has still not acted is inexcusable.

Before we go into the details of what it would take to make it safe and why that will not happen without essentially banning the practice, let’s quickly examine what is at stake in terms of U.S. crude oil supply. This is important because it seems that the main reason the Obama Administration has failed to act is because it somehow considers the supply of crude oil enabled by crude-by-rail to be too important to effectively regulate.

This is unacceptable in and of itself, but when you see what’s really at stake regarding our community safety and climate crisis, the assumption appears to be beyond comprehension.

According to our estimates based on Association of American Railroads (AAR) data, about 850,000 barrels per day (bpd) of U.S. crude oil was loaded onto trains in the last quarter of 2014.  In addition, the Canadian National Energy Board reported that around 175,000 bpd of Canadian crude oil was exported by rail to the U.S. in the same period. For simplicity’s sake let’s call it one million bpd.

Meanwhile, the petroleum products consumed in the U.S. in the last quarter of 2014 averaged just less than 19.5 million bpd.  But 24 million bpd passed through the system as the U.S. exported an average of around 4.5 million bpd, including both crude oil and refined products.

In fact, while some pretty wild claims have been made about the current oil boom leading to “energy independence”, the U.S. still imported over 9 million bpd of crude oil and products in the same period.

So given the enormous amount of total petroleum passing through the U.S. system, what would be the impact of banning crude-by-rail immediately until we can work out whether it’s worth risking another disaster? The answer is not very much.

Crude-by-rail accounts for 4.1% of the total petroleum moving through the system (consumption plus exports) or 5.1% of total U.S. petroleum consumption.

What about U.S. oil production? That stood at 9.1 million bpd in Q4-14. The 850,000 bpd that went by rail is just 9.3% of that.

So over 90% of U.S. production traveled by means other than rail and there is in fact spare pipeline capacity in North Dakota and elsewhere. (See here for North Dakota government list of pipelines, refineries and rail facilities)

Source: Oil Change International, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Association of American Railroads, Canada National Energy Board. … NOTE: Difference between Production plus Imports vs. Consumption is Refinery Gains and Natural Gas Liquids entering the refinery system.

Any way you cut it, crude-by-rail carries a very small percentage of the oil in our country, yet continues to pose an outsized risk to communities around the country. The build out of terminal capacity suggests that the practice could grow especially if the U.S. crude oil export ban is lifted. This would trigger a rush to move crude to the east and west coasts for export, threatening the communities along the way with much more frequent crude train traffic.


Are we really unable to ensure public safety because we’re worried that we may impact the transportation of 9% of U.S. oil production or 5% of our oil consumption?  Is government’s role really to weigh the probability of a major death toll against a fraction of energy supply or is it to protect the public? Aren’t our communities and our climate worth more than 1/20th of U.S. oil consumption?

Without crude-by-rail, the industry will have to produce only slightly less than it currently does, which is much more than it produced only a few years ago.  Is that really worth bomb trains endangering 25 million American every year?

The current effort to make crude-by-rail safer through increased regulations is in fact sadly misguided and inadequate. That crude-by-rail is inherently unsafe is painfully obvious.

That it cannot be addressed through looking at any single variable, such as tank car standards or the volatility of a particular crude oil grade, was made clear by a Department of Energy report released earlier this week.

That report aimed to look at whether Bakken crude oil is more volatile than other crude oil. It concluded that there was insufficient information about the crude oil in the Bakken to assess that at this stage. But in the press release the DOE made an important statement regarding the focus on any one particular cause of the terrifying crude-by-rail explosions that have so far occurred.

“The report confirms that while crude composition matters, no single chemical or physical variable — be it flash point, boiling point, ignition temperature, vapor pressure or the circumstances of an accident — has been proven to act as the sole variable to define the probability or severity of a combustion event. All variables matter.”

This goes to the heart of why crude-by-rail cannot be made safe.

It’s not Bakken crude, it’s all crude oil. It’s not the vapor pressure or boiling point of the crude; it’s the incredible weight of a 120-car train carrying 3.5 million gallons of crude oil and the pressure that exerts on rails making derailments more likely. It is the enormous kinetic energy that such a train exerts on tank cars during a derailment. It is the speed the trains travel and the inability of any tank car, including the more robust designs proposed in the draft rulemaking, to withstand the impact of a unit train full of oil derailing at anything near the slowest speeds that would maintain a viable rail freight system. (The tank car design proposed in the draft PHMSA rule has been shown to puncture at speeds of between 12 and 18 mph, while speed limits for crude oil trains are currently set at 40 mph. See pages 119-120 here.)

So there is a combination of things that could be done to prevent derailments and/or the occurrence of explosions and fire in a derailment; e.g. stronger tank cars, shorter trains, slower speeds, less gaseous crude among other things. But the rail and oil industries are fighting the tightest standards for any of these variables and so far it seems the Administration has not shown itself capable of fighting back.

Nearly two years has passed since 47 people were killed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec by a crude oil train carrying Bakken oil. Since then at least ten fiery derailments have occurred among countless other less dramatic spills and incidents. The regulator has so far failed to propose an adequate suite of measures that would fully protect the public.

That the rail and oil industries are fighting any requirements that will increase their costs is standard practice; it will cost them money and the sociopathic nature of corporate behavior puts profits before the interests of society. But while the oil industry opposes stabilizing gassy crude oil, stronger tank cars and fast phase-outs for the existing stock of dangerous cars, the rail industry opposes better braking systems and stricter speed limits.

Together they make a strong team of opposition to the range of safety measures that might be effective. A safety regulator under fire from the combined power of two of the most notorious and well-resourced lobby machines in the history of the United States is unlikely to come up with a solution that prioritizes the public’s interest.

Beyond the urgent issue of the safety of hundreds of North American communities that live within a mile of the train tracks, some 25 million people in the U.S. alone, we urgently need to transition to a clean energy economy as fast as possible. The All of the Above energy policy that has brought us reckless crude-by-rail has been focused on pulling oil out of the ground as quickly as possible no matter the consequences, rather than transitioning us away from oil. That needs to change beginning with ending this dangerous practice.

For the sake of a mere 4% of total petroleum passing through the United States, we say stop the trains now, protect North America’s communities and build an energy system that protects the climate and our citizens from a reckless oil industry.

Go here for more on crude-by-rail


Rail industry: Recent train derailments are not a sign of deteriorating safety record

Repost from The Financial Post
[Editor:  Read this if you want to hear rail and transportation managers squirm.  Best quote: “If you ship 10 times as much crude oil, you’ll get 10 times more derailments.”   To which one might answer, “Yep.”  – RS]

Recent train derailments are not a sign of deteriorating safety record, say analysts

By Kristine Owram, Mar 12 5:42 PM ET
Four separate oil trains — two in Ontario and two in the United States — have derailed and caught fire in the past month and in each case the tank cars met what are supposed to be tougher, safer standards.
Four separate oil trains — two in Ontario and two in the United States — have derailed and caught fire in the past month and in each case the tank cars met what are supposed to be tougher, safer standards. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO – Glenn Thibeault

A recent spate of train derailments is not a sign that the industry’s safety record is deteriorating, but is rather “the bad luck of the stats,” analysts say.

A Canadian National Railway Co. train derailed near Brandon, Man., on Wednesday night, joining two other high-profile incidents involving CN trains in less than a month.

CN spokesman Brent Kossey said the cars were carrying refinery cracking stock, a non-regulated commodity that’s used in the petroleum refining process. One of the 13 cars that derailed sprung a leak, but there was no fire.

This is in contrast to two CN derailments near the community of Gogama, Ont., in the past month, both of which were carrying crude oil and caught fire. There have also been two fiery oil-train derailments in the U.S. since mid-February — one a BNSF Railway Co. train in northern Illinois and the other a CSX Corp. train in West Virginia.

It sounds like an alarming trend but analysts say it’s simply the inevitable result of the growing volumes of crude transported by rail, as well as increased scrutiny of the industry following the Lac-Mégantic, Que., disaster in 2013.

“Last year was the safest year on record,” Tony Hatch, principal at railway consulting firm ABH Consulting, said in an interview. “I think what you’re seeing is intense scrutiny and the bad luck of the stats.”

According to the National Energy Board, the volume of Canadian crude-by-rail exports has increased by 1,000% in less than three years, from 1.45 million barrels in the first quarter of 2012 to 15.95 million in the fourth quarter of 2014.

“If you ship 10 times as much crude oil, you’ll get 10 times more derailments,” Allan Zarembski, director of the railroad engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware, said in an interview.

He added that an oil-train is no more likely to derail than any other type of train.

“The oil trains aren’t heavier than a coal train or an iron-ore train or even a grain train,” he said.

“They’re all loaded to the same range, they don’t travel any faster — in fact, they travel somewhat slower than the heavy intermodal trains. There’s no particular reason why you should have more derailments associated with an oil train.”

The industry’s safety record has been steadily improving over the last several years thanks to new technology, said Russell Quimby, a former rail safety engineer with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and president of Quimby Consulting.

“In the last 20 years, the amount of detection and inspection technology introduced and implemented is tremendous,” Mr. Quimby said. “The accident statistics reflect that.”

According to the Transportation Safety Board, a total of 83 main-track derailments were reported in 2013, down 6% from the five-year average.

Transport Canada is also working to reduce the risk of fires and spills. The agency proposed Wednesday a new standard for the tank cars used to ship crude that will include thicker steel, insulation to protect the contents from fire and a shield to guard against punctures, among other things. If the measures are approved, older tank cars will be phased out by 2025.

“While we have already banned the least crash-resistant tank cars from the system and came out last year with tougher new regulations, we will continue to do more,” Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement. The minister has also called on CN to testify before the Transport Committee about the recent derailments.

But as long as crude is being shipped by rail, there will always be a risk of fiery derailments, Mr. Quimby said.

“You want to have zero accidents,” Mr. Quimby said. “It’s like flying. Statistically, flying is safer than driving but it’s not safer if you happen to be in the airplane that goes down.”