POLITICS

Hell On Wheels: Exploding Oil-Carrying Trains Endanger Unsuspecting Citizens

07/30/2014 10:23 am 10:23:37 | Updated Jul 30, 2014

"Crude oil wasn't supposed to explode, until it started exploding," says Oregonian reporter Rob Davis in a new investigative report from Vice News. Producer Spencer Chumbley's video looks into the startling factors that have contributed to the growing number of oil train crashes in the United States and Canada.

Derailments of crude oil shipments from the Bakken formation in North Dakota have caused explosions in three American states and three Canadian provinces. In one of the most disastrous events, a train carrying oil through Lac-Megantic, Quebec exploded and killed 47 people in the small town.

Without enough pipelines built along the transport routes, train cars carry an estimated 9 million barrels of oil across the continent at any one time. In February, the National Transportation Safety Board, said that the "inadequate design" of the DOT-111s -- the cars common to almost all of these explosions -- were a factor contributing to these catastrophes. The already inadequate DOT-111 cars are designed to carry typical crude, but since Bakken oil is more flammable than conventional crude oil, the cars are even more at risk of danger while transporting their sensitive loads.

Efforts by the Department of Transportation to improve the safety standards of Bakken oil delivery have been met with opposition by the railroad and oil industries. A proposed rule seeks to increase the strength of tanker cars and have railroads communicate to local emergency systems that dangerous materials are being transported through their cities and towns. Without the new rule, the DOT predicts there will be 15 catastrophic train derailments next year.

While the rules await approval, more than 50,000 tank cars the DOT calls unsafe will continue to ship Bakken oil across the country.

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