Train derailments aren't an argument for pipelines.
Early on Friday morning, November 8, 2013, a 90-car train carrying crude oil derailed in Pickens County, Alabama. Investigators have not determined a cause for the accident, but initial reports differentiate it from the Lac-Megantic accident in at least one regard: the tank cars were T108s rather than DOT-111s. In both cases, however, the tank cars were carrying crude originating from North Dakota. The fires subsided on Sunday allowing investigators access to the scene.
For those of you that don’t know, the July 6 accident at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, was the worst dangerous goods by rail accident in forty years. Friday’s accident didn’t crack the headlines, as no one was hurt (thank goodness) and nothing was poisoned but Alabama swamp (still a problem). But in Quebec, the problem and solution were obvious: don’t leave rail cars unattended without the brakes on. Here? A symptom of the U.S.’ ever-more dilapidated rail infrastructure.
This is going to be used in pro-pipeline rhetoric and when it does, it will demonstrate a misunderstanding of the real problem. Pipelines are a really bad thing because even if their total incidence failure rate is lesser than rail’s, that doesn’t take into account the damage caused by incidents, both in release of product and ecological harm. 30 tank cars of crude oil burning in a marsh is pretty bad, but nothing compared to a pipeline spewing thick toxic explosive unchecked.
The product is dangerous, yes, but that danger is invoked by the act of transporting it. Unfortunately my solution of “stop the crude oil boom” would be poorly reviewed by government auditors as bad for industry, so if we won’t stop exploiting nonrenewable resources we could at least try to do it safely and cleanly.
Rail is not perfect, but the industry regulation is responsive and creaky wooden trestles can be maintained even in the most backwoods of the American Southern short lines. Not a pleasant job, but we need them - and better to scrape mud and mosquitoes from your face than a Packing Group III hazardous material.
Of course, then there’s the matter of how much fuel those trains are burning and how big THAT carbon footprint is, but since I haven’t seen any numbers on that I’ll just dream of electric trains.