Petro Peril

PETRO PERIL: The changing landscape of oil by rail

5 crude oil derailments in 2013.
10 derailments in 2014.
4 derailments within one month in 2015.

At this rate, the U.S. is on track to have its worst year for oil-carrying train derailments.

By Ezra Kaplan

Over 40 crude oil-filled trains, each a mile long, roll through Chicago every week, according to documents obtained from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. That’s about 17 million gallons—or 400,000 barrels of what is known as “Bakken crude”—flowing through Chicagoland each day.

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PETRO PERIL: The cross-country odyssey of Bakken crude

By Bryce Gray

From its Late Devonian and Early Mississippian resting place of some 300 million years, the light, sweet crude of “Bakken gold” is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling techniques. As soon as the oil bubbles to the wellhead at the surface, the process of converting it into a market-ready commodity begins in earnest.

At the wellhead, the crude is stored in stock tanks, and eventually undergoes preliminary heating to remove water.

Natural gas also exits the wells through the drilling process. Satellite imagery shows widespread flaring that sets the region aglow at night, as approximately 30 percent of the area’s natural gas is burned off. When possible, the gas is captured and stored separately from tanks of crude, to be processed into fuels such as propane or butane.
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PETRO PERIL: Three months after train derailment in Galena, volatile crude still fuels concerns

By Taylor Hall

GALENA, Ill.– It was a slow day at the Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort when bartender Hannah Davidson glanced out the dining room’s wraparound window and watched the afternoon sky turn completely black.

“We actually saw the explosion,” Davidson said. “We’re at a 475-foot vertical here, and we could see the flames above the trees. The smoke was coming up, and it reached all the way to Rockford. The sky was completely black. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. And it didn’t look like fire smoke, the kind that dissipates. I just remember seeing crazy flames.”

At about 1:50 p.m. on March 5, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe, or BNSF, freight train derailed 3.5 miles south of Galena, Illinois, a charming, historic tourist town of just more than 3,000 residents located 170 miles northwest of Chicago. The train was carrying approximately 3 million gallons of crude oil in 103 enhanced CPC-1232 tanker cars at about 23 mph when 21 of its tank cars derailed, rupturing seven and setting fire to five.
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PETRO PERIL VIDEO: Concerns over safety of fuel-carrying trains in wake of Galena

By Andrew Fowler

On March 5, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed just south of Galena, Illinois adding it to a growing list of towns where similar accidents have happened. Twenty-one tank cars of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailed and five caught on fire, which set a blaze that burned for a several days.

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