NEW YORK —
Refineries in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Delaware, California and Oregon have projects completed or underway that allow them to accept rail shipments of crude, too. That means the oil, mostly from North Dakota, is crossing all of the states in between. (The train that derailed in Lac-Megantic was North Dakota oil destined for an Irving Oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick.)
A Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash., 80 miles north of Seattle, relies heavily on rail to get crude and a Shell refinery there is getting ready to do the same. Mayor Dean Maxwell said the city's fire department will study the Lac-Megantic accident in an effort to be more prepared. But he considers rail safe and efficient and says the increased train traffic hasn't impacted his community. He's far more worried about other things, like hazardous material traveling on highways.
"We have two refineries within six miles of our downtown," he says. "They're not making ice cream."
While crude transport by rail has grown quickly, it is still a relatively small part of train traffic and the crude trade.
Just 1.4 percent of U.S. rail traffic in the first half of this year was crude oil, according to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group. Pipelines and tankers remain by far the most important way to move crude. Railroads and trucks together supplied just 3 percent of the crude oil that arrived at refineries last year, according to the Energy Department.
And of all the hazardous material trains carry, crude isn't the most volatile or hazardous. Trains transport materials such as chlorine, phosphoric acid and propane — even rocket fuel for the Space Shuttle was moved by train. Railroads also move three quarters of the nation's ethanol — which is quicker to explode than crude — from Midwest farms to fuel terminals around the country for blending into gasoline.