USDOT Says Bakken Oil Shipments Are An "Imminent Threat," But Not Ethanol?


Yesterday I wrote a post about oil derailments and ethanol derailments, noting that fiery and explosive ethanol derailments in the past haven’t received the same sort of political attention that oil derailments. I also noted that neither commodity should be blamed for train derailments, or the faulty tanks that rupture and explode upon derailment.

The DOT-111 tanker car, which makes up about 69 percent of all tanker cars in the United States, has been criticized for its safety shortcomings for decades. Why are we blaming oil and not the tanker cars and/or rail safety for this issue?

That’s a question that needs asking as the US Department of Transportation announces that Bakken crude shipments are an “imminent threat.” But not, you know, ethanol shipments which until just recently far outnumbered oil shipments on the nation’s rails.

WASHINGTON – Railroads that move Bakken crude will be required to inform states how much oil moves through their borders under an emergency order published Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Citing the “pattern of releases and fires involving petroleum crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken” in the past year, Secretary Anthony Foxx announced railroads will need to provide county-by-county estimates on the number of trains hauling at least 1 million gallons of North Dakota crude each week.

Bakken crude was on board in a string of explosive accidents in the past year – most recently a May 1 derailment in Lynchburg, Va. – prompting concerns about rail safety, tank car standards and the volatility of the light, sweet oil.

With those accidents in mind, Foxx said shipments of Bakken crude by rail “constitute an imminent hazard.”

It’s worth remembering that in 2013 there were 325,000 shipments of ethanol on US rails, and 434,032 shipments of oil  (not all of it, obviously, Bakken crude). Given that we know ethanol burns and explodes when it derails as well, you have to wonder why Secretary Foxx is saying Bakken oil is a threat but not ethanol.

Now, I’m not picking on ethanol, but if the issue here is safety shouldn’t the federal government be regulating with an even hand here?

Or is there an element of politics in this?

Either way, Secretary Foxx paid a visit to North Dakota recently where he was glad-handed by our Congressional delegation and state leaders. Clearly, he didn’t take much away from that meeting given this announcement.