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Is there a safer way to ship petro products? - Part 1

Typically when the word "boom" is used in connection with the oil industry in Texas and Louisiana it is a positive thing. It means that business is good. Unfortunately, petrochemicals by their nature have way of going boom that may result in serious or deadly injury to industrial workers.

That working in the oil industry can be hazardous is not new. Methods for getting product from well to refinery have expanded a lot over the decades. But that doesn't mean the task has become any safer.

Indeed, data from the government indicate that workers in the oil and gas face higher risks overall than other industries. This has many experts saying that real and potential dangers have gotten worse. And it's got many of them wondering what to do?

It's generally agreed that all the different modes used now will continue and need to be made safer. But what does that mean in each case?

PIPELINES

Pros and cons: Pipelines are inexpensive and quick. One Canadian researcher says pipelines suffer fewer accidents than rail lines and cause less harm to humans and the environment when they break. The downside is that they can get old, corrode and fall apart. They may not spill as often as other means of transport, but they tend to spill more when they do break.

The safety challenge: Developing a comprehensive set of standards for safety and better coordinating government and the industry on modernizing lines, some of which are 70 years old.

TANKERS AND BARGES

Pros and cons: You can move a lot of oil in a tanker or a barge. Millions of gallons of oil can be shipped at a time, compared to trucks or even rail. Traffic and other logistics problems associated with ground transportation are reduced, too. But spills are more frequent and tend to hurt the environment more.

The safety challenge: Rules and regulations lag behind the boom. Change too often only follows a disaster.

Come back next week and we'll look at the rail and truck modes of transport to see what challenges they face.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "How to Transport Oil More Safely," Dan Molinksi, Sept. 13, 2015

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