Yesterday, February 16, 2015, a CSX oil tanker train derailed outside of the small towns of Mount Carbon and Boomer, West Virginia, some 33 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina.
As oil extraction booms in the United States, so does the need for transportation. Unfortunately, the booming oil transportation industry has resulted in even more oil spills.
Depending on who you ask, something makes the world go around. The 1961 musical “Carnival!” would have us believe that love makes the world go around and, if that were true, we could theoretically run our cars on good thoughts alone. Unfortunately, if the world’s history of war has anything to show on the subject, especially since World War I, then we have to agree that it’s oil that makes the world go around.
Of course, oil means extraction, transportation, refining, delivery, and consumption. These, in turn, can all be summed up by the word risk, as in, risk of oil spills, carbon dioxide and soot emissions, soil and water contamination, basically the destruction of everything we know and love, including ourselves. Still, let’s just call it risk, to keep things simple.
In oil transportation, there are a number of choices, pretty much all of them at risk of oil spills. Oil pipelines are affected by the weather and human error, and oil spills take days to identify and correct, during which time they can do a lot of damage. Oil tanker trucks and rail tankers can leak, but they typically receive close attention to prevent it. Still, collisions and derailments are all-too-common in land-based oil transportation.
Case in point: The 109-car oil train was making a delivery from a North Dakota depot to a Virginia depot, when it derailed. Nine or ten oil tankers erupted into flames, and at least one (reportedly, see update) rolled into the Kanawha River. Interestingly, every single one of the cars was of the new-specification CPC 1232 models, specifically designed to be more resistant to puncture and oil spills. Older models, such as the DOT-111, have been implicated in oil spills and explosions, including two derailments, killing over one hundred, in Canada.
Is there really any safe way to transport oil? Couldn’t we avoid a whole host of problems by just leaving the stuff in the ground?
UPDATE: MetroNews West Virginia tells us that, of the 26 oil tanker cars that derailed, 19 of them, each containing nearly 30,000 gallons of Bakken Ridge crude oil, were on fire at one point or another. The fire rages on, officials opting to “let it burn itself out.” Meanwhile, about 1,000 people have been evacuated from their homes and haven’t been allowed to return. Reports are conflicting as to whether one or more oil tankers made it into the Kanawha River, though water tests have reportedly come up negative at downstream water processing plants.