Crude by Rail in the Bay Area

Crude by Rail thumbnailCrude-by-rail is a shipping trend that has grown rapidly across the country as more oil becomes available from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields and Canada’s tar sands.

The California Energy Commission has predicted that in 2016 the state could be receiving more than 156 million barrels of crude oil by rail, representing 25 percent of all crude oil imports.  In 2012, a mere one million barrels arrived via rail.

Worries over potential spills or fires from accidents have heightened with the prospect of such large volumes of crude traveling so close to local communities. While railroads point out that accident rates involving oil trains have been quite low, U.S. Department of Transportation figures show they are increasing as crude-by-rail grows.

Leslie Stewart spoke on this issue at the January 12, 2015 Environmental Concerns meeting. The crude from the Bakken is a “light” crude (low density) and can be explosive, while crude from tar sands is “heavy” and, if spilled, will sink in water, making it hard to clean up.  The economics and alternatives of crude by rail were reviewed by Ms. Stewart.  Her slides can be seen here.

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