Oil Trains Hide in Plain Sight


December 4, 2014 | Wall Street Journal | Russell Gold

Russell Gold of the Wall Street Journal has chimed in on the oil trains debate with a story that lays out the dangers and secrecy surrounding crude oil shipments by rail. His thesis: The enormous expansion of crude oil rail shipments — from 21,000 barrels a day in 2009 to 1.1 million barrels a day currently — has turned the railways into “virtual pipelines” which constitute a vital link in energy infrastructure. Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern railroad is quoted:  “We are the keystone, the bridge, between the source of where the energy is extracted and where it is refined.”

As we at Inside Energy have reported, these new pipelines pose a danger: Crude oil shipments from the Bakken contain volatile gases that have resulted in explosive accidents, including one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people. Yet many shipping routes are secret. Cities and their emergency responders sited along the routes often do not know when these potentially dangerous crude oil shipments are coming, or where they may be passing through.

The WSJ story provides an interactive map that shows the weekly average number of crude oil trains that travel through each American county.