Does It Matter If West Virginia Train Was Carrying North Dakota Oil?


Yet another train has derailed and exploded, this time in West Virginia. A CSX train pulling over 100 cars saw 7 cars derail and catch fire. The mushroom cloud from the resulting explosion has been plastered all over cable television.

From the moment the train’s derailment made news there was a rush to confirm that it was a) carrying oil and b) carrying oil from North Dakota.

To the delight of anti-oil reporters and activists, it turns out the train was carrying North Dakota oil:

But why does this matter?

I ask that question because just over a week before the West Virginia derailment there was another explosive derailment near Dubuque, Iowa. That train was carrying ethanol, yet the derailment wasn’t followed by a mad-dash by reporters and activists to tie that ethanol to any particular part of the country.

There weren’t any solemn posts on Twitter or blaring headlines in newspapers declaring that it was, say South Dakota ethanol that had exploded.

I don’t know where the ethanol was from. And you know what? It doesn’t really matter. Because the issue isn’t the ethanol. The issue is that trains carrying volatile loads – be they ethanol or oil or some other substance – are derailing and exploding.

We need to figure out why that’s happening.

It seems the West Virginia derailment involved newer-model tankers which were supposed to prevent this sort of thing. That’s troubling, and more evidence that the rail industry needs to improve their safety measures (Reuters analyst John Kemp has a good column about that today).

Because whether it’s oil or ethanol or some other substance, the fact is that trains keep derailing and tankers keep leaking and these explosions keep happening.

UPDATE: Speaking of anti-oil activists:

The Dakota Resource Council is blaming leaders in North Dakota for yesterday’s oil train explosion in West Virginia. The train was carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale plain. The council blames the accident on what they say is North Dakota’s “inept” handling of extraction and regulation of oil in the state. …

“Responsibility for this explosion is squarely at the feet of North Dakota officials from Gov. Dalrymple on down for their inept handling of regulating oil extraction in North Dakota. They could make sure oil is safe before it’s put on trains, but they’ve refused to do that. They have put protecting oil companies as their highest priority. They do not care about the consequences. We really must expect more from North Dakota officials.

It is irresponsible to keep approving permits to drill wells if there isn’t a safe way to get the oil to market. North Dakota’s current officials should slow down giving drilling permits. Governor Dalrymple’s Administration is putting people’s lives and property at risk here and across the continent.”

In other words, let’s stop drilling for oil because trains derail.