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Oil, gas industries pondering safety of transport options

With surges in the production of oil and natural gas in the U.S., energy company executives in Houston and elsewhere are having to grapple with logistical difficulties in safely transporting an abundance of product.

Much of the oil being produced in the new boom is moving by rail, with oil and gas producers looking now at the costs and benefits of increasing the pipeline system known for its reliable delivery but also for its devastating accidents.

Of course, the rail industry also has a record marred by tragic accidents, a recent article on energy transport noted. In fact, that railroad safety record has some politicians pushing back against the idea of rail expansion to meet the growing needs of oil and gas producers and distributors.

The Association of American Railroads (ARA) says the railroad accident rate (measured by accidents per million miles) fell dramatically during the past twenty-plus years. From 1980 to 2012, accidents were down 80 percent, the ARA says. The drop just since the year 2000 has been 44 percent.

Of course, those numbers will not wipe out the memories of the train crash earlier this year in Quebec, Canada, when an unattended freight loaded with crude destroyed part of a town, killing 47 people.

That accident, as well as a pair of fatal accidents last year in Illinois and Maryland, has people in major population centers concerned about the increasing number of oil-hauling trains passing through.

Just five years ago, a mere 9,500 carloads of crude oil were hauled around the U.S. Last year, the number had jumped to nearly 234,000, and indications are that the surge is going to continue.

Meanwhile, energy companies are looking at their pipeline infrastructure, weighing the pros and cons of expansion so that they would be less dependent on rail.

Of course, pipelines come with their unique set of problems, as we have seen across the nation. One example reported earlier this year was a flash fire at a West Virginia gas compressor station that severely burned a trio of workers, two of whom later died.

Those who work in the pipeline industry know their jobs are dangerous, and understand that their employers are tasked with meeting regulations and making the jobs as safe as possible. Anyone injured in a pipeline accident should contact an attorney experienced in helping workers get the medical attention and compensation they need.

Source: Oil & Gas Journal, "Oil and rail safety," Dec. 15, 2013

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