Protecting your home and community

Report: More Oil Was Spilled from Trains in 2013 Total Amount Since 1975

A photo of the explosion at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, CA

Lac-Megantic, Quebec Blaze. Photo Credit: Risque Majeurs et Environment

In an analysis of federal data, the McClatchly news service reports that more oil was spilled from trains in 2013 than the total amount spilled since records started being kept.


Using data reported by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the report notes that 1.15 million gallons were spilled in 2013, versus 800,000 from the period covering 1975 through 2012. This does not include the more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, nor does it include the Dec. 30 derailment near Casselton, N.D.


The July 2013 deadly spill in Lac-Megantic, killed 47 people. The shipment contained petroleum products from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation, which the Canadian safety board said had a flash point–the temperature at which a fire can ignite– “similar to that of unleaded gasoline.” The Wall Street Journal had previously reported that Bakken crude has an unusually high amount of volatile compounds in it.


On February 28, 2014, thirteen-cars from a 110 car train carrying Bakken crude derailed eight miles outside of Albany, NY. Fortunately, it didn’t ignite, but officials all over the country are rethinking the transportation of crude by train.


A photo of a CPC 1232 rail car

The new standard? Photo Credit: Railway Age

The safety of DOT-111 rail tank cars, which are commonly used to carry crude oil and other hazardous liquids, has been questioned following the derailments. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is working on revising rules that would address tank car design standards for DOT-111 rail tank cars, and the Oil and Gas Journal reports that  Tesoro Corp. will begin to replace older cars in its crude oil rail car fleet with post-October 2011 design, CPC 1232-compliant rail cars, after evaluating rail car safety features.


Congress is investigating safety issues in the transportation of petroleum products, but it’s necessary for communities to examine their risks and prepare their citizens for mitigating a possible spill of oil and other volatile and harmful chemicals. Preparedness programs can include public education and reverse-911 systems. For example, Delaware County, Ohio, which has such a system, could have used it after a 36-car derailment spilled a train’s contents. In the end, the residents of the county were lucky to discover that, rather than Bakken crude or other chemicals, the dumped shipment contained only kernels of corn.

Update: Oregon Green Energy Guide published a comprehensive report on the risks of shipping petroleum products by rail.

Subscribe to Public Health Preparedness

Your email address