On July 6, 2013, a train hauling two million gallons of crude oil exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. It took two days to put out the fire and devastated the small community.
That catastrophe was in part an American story. For five years, a boom in oil production has been taking place in the Bakkan Shale region of North Dakota. Oil from the Bakkan is transported across the U.S. and Canada by rail to refineries on the coasts – it was one of these trains that derailed in Lac-Megantic. The sharp increase in domestic oil production has created jobs, decreased economic vulnerability to turmoil in the Middle East, and lowered prices of gasoline and home heating oil.
But there’s another side to this story. In “Boom,” a joint investigation by The Weather Channel and InsideClimate News, we explore how the boom in oil has resulted in highly volatile crude oil being sent over aging, often defective rails in weak, outdated railcars.
Rail accidents involving oil trains have been on the rise. But industry and regulators have been slow react. Pipelines are not a realistic solution to the new oil economy because in the time it would take to construct a pipeline, the oil from shale oil plays such as the Bakkan will have disappeared. Thus oil by rail is going to be with us for a long time as new shale oil booms appear and disappear throughout the country.
Will it take another Lac-Megantic to make America’s towns and cities safer?