In recent years, western states have seen huge booms in oil production, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenues. One of the primary factors contributing to the boom is oil extraction from the Bakken formation, a 200-square mile rock formation in North Dakota, which was made possible by the discovery of a massive shale gas reserve under the earth’s surface. Using a technique called induced hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, companies use water pressure to crack rock so that oil and natural gas can be released and collected.
The influx of such high volumes of oil initially created a minor crisis in the energy industry due to a lack of infrastructure to transport the oil from extraction sites to various facilities in the production process. While oil is traditionally transported via a vast network of petroleum ducts that traverse the continent, pipelines do not exist in many of the new locations in which oil is being extracted. To solve this problem, many oil companies are turning to railroads to transport their product.
According to the American Association of Railroads (AAR), railroads are transporting more crude oil than ever. Despite the heightened volumes and added stress on tanker cars, railroads still boast a solid safety record, with 99.9977 percent of all hazardous material railway payloads reaching their destination without an accident-induced release. AAR statistics indicate that railroads actually spill less hazardous liquids than do trucks and pipelines. As such, the oil boom in states such as North Dakota has translated into a major resurgence in rail traffic and huge growth in the railroad industry. Indeed, this year 380,000 railway cars of crude oil are expected to be transported, representing a 400 percent increase since 2008.
While the statistics demonstrate the advantages of oil transport via rail, high profile disasters such as the recent deadly Quebec derailment and the Parkers Prairie railway oil spill demonstrate that injuries, death and environmental damage still present serious risks. These dangers are raising serious concerns for industry experts such as energy analyst Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group based in Washington, who cautions that the “safety problems [of railway oil transport] can’t be ignored.”
When serious injuries occur as a result of railroad negligence speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer with specific knowledge of the industry.