An Oil Train Exploded in West Virginia in a Tremendous Fireball – Could There be Others?

It’s easier to go to the gas station these days because price per barrel of oil is so low (coincidentally this could be causing more car accidents). The reason that gas prices are wallet-friendly is because oil production around the American-Canada border is increasing. The oil isn't processed there. It must be transported to a refinery. One of the side effects of the long overland trip to the refinery are accidents like the one that occurred Monday in Fayette County, West Virginia. 

Current experts in transport safety and oil manufacture posit three reasons for this particular train accident:

  1. New oil is likelier to explode: Oil harvested from the earth is chemically unstable and must be transported with particular care. Operator error: In addition to some critical piloting failure, train conductors are pushed as hard as other types of freight drivers (like truck drivers). Undoubtedly the operator was under pressure from his employers and could have been speeding.
  2. The oil was being transported in old equipment: The train in the explosion was old. It dated from the 1970s and was assembled using outmoded material science techniques (vehicle manufacturing owes a lot to Japanese automakers who streamlined the process during much of their competition with Detroit).
  3. New oil is likelier to explode: Oil that is relatively “fresh” is chemically unstable and must be transported with particular care. This doesn’t surprise any agent involved with moving oil from one place to another, but if the “boom” is a reliable source for the next few years the refining process might need to move closer to the oil.

But this train wreck isn’t an outlier. During the first six months of 2014 damage from oil production tripled from the number during the entirety of 2013. This article from politico points out:

“[a]lmost every region of the U.S. has been touched by an oil-train incident. These episodes are spreading as more refineries take crude from production hot spots like North Dakota’s Bakken region and western Canada, while companies from California and Washington state to Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida build or expand terminals for moving oil from trains to barges, trucks, or pipelines.”

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