Feb. 16, 2015: Nineteen rail cars carrying Bakken crude oil derailed 30 miles from Charleston, W. Va.
The oil ignited and sent a fireball hundreds of feet into the air. Hundreds were evacuated, and several homes damaged or destroyed. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries or deaths.
The derailment comes as regulatory agencies and watchdog groups are questioning both the safety of oil and gas transport in this country and the emergency preparedness for accidents like this one. The issue demands intense local scrutiny, where rail lines carry crude oil above ground and pipelines carry natural gas underground toward processing plants in Philadelphia and Delaware County.
Bakken crude oil that ships on many of these trains is more volatile than most other types of crude oil, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the volume of production has skyrocketed, a more than 4,000 percent increase from 2008 to 2013, Anthony Fox, DOT secretary, said in a 2014 press conference.
The increasing volumes of crude now moving by rail means that oil-hauling trains are passing through major population centers on their way to refineries. Under guidance of federal and state agencies, local and county emergency officials are conducting tabletop drills, seminars and inspections. But it would be impossible for local authorities to contain an accident of the magnitude of 3 million gallons of crude.
We just have to hope that nothing happens, he said. In 2008, a 99.99 percent safety record would leave less than one rail car a year, on average, subject to release from accident. Now, with the 4,000 percent spike in transport, it projects to a potential 41.5 cars a year.Read more