Pipeline Building Boom Raises Safety Concerns

On the morning of April 29, a natural gas transmission line exploded in a field in Salem Township in western Pennsylvania. The blast was so powerful it ripped a 12-foot crater into the landscape, burned a section of the field with a quarter-mile radius and threw a 25-foot section of the 30-inch steel pipeline 100 feet away. At the time of the explosion, a 26-year-old man was in his house, a few hundred feet away. He was badly burned, and his home destroyed. When local fire chief Bob Rosatti arrived at the scene, the flames were so hot, he had to stay in his truck. “They were massive—I would say 300 feet at the least,” Rosatti says. “That was the biggest fireball I’d ever seen in my life.

Data-Dive: Crude-By-Rail’s Safety Record Depends On How You Count

As more and more crude oil travels by rail, the number of railroad accidents involving oil are on the rise, Politico reports. But whether crude-by-rail’s safety record is actually getting worse remains an open question: Are crude-by-rail accidents growing faster than shipments, or are they simply keeping pace? There are a few ways to measure the severity of an accident:

fatalities and injuries
monetary damages
gallons of oil spilled. Politico published the number of crude-by-rail incidents, by year, from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) database and the monetary damages (in dollars) of those incidents. So for now, we’ll focus our analysis on those metrics.