USA Today: Rail deliveries of U.S. oil continue to surge

Repost from USA Today
[Editor: Nothing new here, but good that mainstream publications are taking notice.  – RS]

Rail deliveries of U.S. oil continue to surge

Wendy Koch, August 28, 2014
oil trains
(Photo: Connor Lake AP)

Amid a boom in U.S. oil production, the amount of crude oil and refined petroleum products moved by rail continues to climb.

There were 459,550 carloads of oil and petroleum products transported during the first seven months of this year, up 9% from the same period in 2013, according to the Association of American Railroads.

More than half of these carloads carried oil, moving 759,000 barrels of crude per day and accounting for 8% of U.S. oil production.

The surge in oil trains began in mid-2011. At that time, weekly carloads of oil and petroleum products averaged about 7,000. In July, they reached nearly 16,000, according to the AAR.

“The increase in oil volumes transported by rail reflects rising U.S. crude oil production, which reached an estimated 8.5 million barrels per day in June for the first time since July 1986,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Thursday.

The use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking has made it possible to extract huge amounts of oil from underground shale deposits. The Bakken Shale, mostly in North Dakota, accounts for much of the growth in U.S. oil production. One of every eight U.S.-produced barrels comes from North Dakota, now the second-largest oil producing state.

Between 60% and 70% of the state’s oil was moved by rail to refineries during the first half of 2014, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Spurred by this surge in oil-carrying trains and several recent tragic accidents, the Obama administration proposed stricter rules last month for tank cars that transport flammable fuels.

The Department of Transportation proposal will require the phaseout, within two years, of tens of thousands of tank cars unless they are retrofitted to meet new safety standards. It will also require speed limits, better braking and testing of volatile liquids, including oil. It will require that cars constructed after October 2015 have thicker steel.

The DOT proposed rule, which will take months to finalize after a 60-day comment period, applies to shipments with at least 20 rail cars carrying flammable fuels, including ethanol.

In May, an oil-carrying freight train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., spilling 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River. Last year in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, an oil train exploded and killed 47 people.