Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wisconsin Should Move To Ensure Oil Shipping Safety

A series of recent fiery train derailments has revealed how volatile is Bakken Shale oil, some of which moves from the upper Great Plains into Wisconsin by train, and also by pipeline to Superior.

Here are details of a pipeline expansion into our state as the Bakken Shale oil fracking boom expands (with help from Wisconsin sand exports that are creating their own set of land use and water table problems, by the way).

How confident are state and local public safety officials that Wisconsin communities will not be torched in oil train derailments or contaminated by pipeline spills?

Lamentably, the point person in Wisconsin on rail safety is not a safety expert. 

He is former Milwaukee-area State Sen. Jeff Plale, who, after a primary defeat, was rewarded by Gov. Scott Walker for opposing climate change legislation and public employee contracts with a gubernatorial appointment as Wisconsin Railroad Commissioner.

His take on shipping Bakken crude through Wisconsin:

 ...Plale says it's no fiction that oil train traffic from the Dakotas, to and through Wisconsin, has increased by quite a bit. “The Canadian Pacific refers to that as their rolling pipeline – also, Burlington Northern through the western part of the state,” says Plale. “And it’s going through refineries down south and out east.” 
Plale says he’s been talking with the train companies about safety, especially in light of an uptick in freight rail incidents in Wisconsin last year and other oil train accidents in the United States and Canada. He urges Wisconsin citizens to contact him about any poor track conditions.
Here's a suggestion: Instead of a pothole hotline approach, and given the recent oil train derailments, and the awareness that Bakken Shale crude is easily explosive, let's have Plale, other officials and actual experts bring the public into a transparent, take-charge process that writes and implements an updated, more assertive oil shipping safety plan for Wisconsin.


Anonymous said...

I've been reading that these incidents are not derailments which led to explosions, but rather explosions that led to derailments. James, do you have any more information on this?

enoughalready said...

Yes, these incidents should fuel a debate about safety.

The overwhelming majority of oil trains arrive at their destination safely, industry groups and officials say, but the recent string of events have prompted calls for more regulation. Sen. John Hoeven (R) of North Dakota is slated to meet with Department of Transportation officials Thursday to press for updated standards on oil train cars. In Canada, the federal government has required rail companies to notify municipalities when transporting dangerous goods through their communities.

In 2012, US trains transported 234,000 carloads of crude oil, up from 9,500 carloads in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR). That increased to around 400,000 carloads in 2013.

(David J. Unger, The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 8, 2014.)

Gareth said...

Is Plale actually suggesting that it's the responsibility of citizens to inspect the rail lines for safety problems? This may be the most stupid and delusional comment yet from a Walker appointee. This is what happens when cronies rather than people with expertise are appointed to these positions.

James Rowen said...

To Anon: I have no other information right now.

To enoughalready: Right. a pothole hotline approach won't cut it.

Big Al said...

Thanks commissioner, I'll study up on railroad track inspection and then make sure to walk along the railroad tracks near my house periodically (which the RR companies would call trespassing) to look for poor track conditions to report.

Does WisDOT even have track inspection responsibilities? I thought the Federal Railroad Administration does this: Based on the WisDOT website, I can't see Plale doing much of anything...

Anonymous said...

Let's hold Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway responsible since he made a rather large investment in the rail transportation industry in 2009.

"Over the past few years the United States has been undergoing an energy boom. North Dakota has been producing oil that needs to be transported around United States. Once again, Mr. Buffett became a major investor in the railroad stocks. In 2009, Warren Buffett bought Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp for $34 billion. The purchase would be the biggest acquisition ever for Berkshire Hathaway Inc. which is the investment firm that Warren Buffett owns."'s-buffett-been-up-to-197881

Heather Andersen said...

I'm here to tell ya that there have been four incidents of derailments in the county of Chippewa and Barron in the past few months. The results of the last incident which happened just before Thanksgiving (2013) can STILL be seen with three cars sand overturned on the tracks just north of Bloomer. The exact date of this incident can't be determined because the local officials (police and sheriffs dept) were not involved in the reporting. They learned that the RR officials were in charge. They left it to the RR who should be in charge. I have contacted the Fed RR Commission and at that time they did not have this on their website which details all RR accidents. They are about a month behind on putting info on the site. This track is being updated but not quickly enough. When does this problem of old rail; old RR cars; not enough RR personal on the trains themselves bring deaths? The RR is owned by Progressive Rail out of Woodbury MN which has had spills there into wetlands. This is outrageous and it appears that, we citizens, have no recourse except to call attention to this. I think that nothing is done as it appears that the cars are only carrying 'sand' which of course in non lethal according to the EPA; WI DNR and local government officials.
Heather Andersen/Town of Auburn/Chippewa County