Although the oil and gas boom in North Dakota has provided local economies with jobs and assisted the U.S. in becoming a net energy exporter for first time in generations, transporting Bakken Shale crude oil to the few refineries that can process it is putting towns and cities nationwide in danger, Isaiah Thompson writes for ProPublica.
Much of North Dakota's oil is transported by rail instead of through pipelines, which are safer. "Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimate that trains are three and a half times a likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses," Thompson writes.
Since massive movement of crude by rail began in 2012, eight major oil-train accidents have occurred in North America. The worst killed 47 people and burned down a quarter of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. In most cases, residents didn't know the trains moving through their towns carried dangerous cargo. Local officials, environmental groups and concerned citizens wanted to know where the trains were going and how the towns could be prepared if an accident happened.
Though the U.S. Deptartment of Transportation has ordered railroads to provide route information, they tried to keep the information private because of security concerns. The available disclosures often lack important details, "consisting of little more than a list of counties through which crude oil is passing, without further specifics," Thompson reports. "A ProPublica analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration adds new details by plotting out where trains carrying crude have experienced safety incidents, most of them minor. . . . We've used the data to create an interactive map showing where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey and where it was ultimately headed." To see the interactive map, click here; here's a screenshot: