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Record Crude Rail Shipping Highlights Need for Preparedness Planning

Posted on Mon, Mar 18, 2013

In recent months, near record U.S. crude oil production has made railcar transportation a viable and cost-effective alternative to pipelines for market distribution. According to the Oil and Gas Financial Journal, total petroleum-based shipments increased 46% from 2011 to 2012. Railroads are stepping in to haul petroleum-based products from locations that lack ample pipelines, such as North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields.  Shale field regions have seen enormous rail loading terminal development in recent months to keep up with output. Much of the railcar growth and resurgence in Texas is related to the Eagle Ford shale production and activity in the Permian Basin.

The benefits of the digital railroad to the future of the U.S. transportation infrastructure will rival the benefits of railroads in the 1800s to the western United States. It will be a true renaissance. -  John M. Samuel, The Freight Railroad Renaissance.

U.S. oil production is expected to increase 24% by 2014. However, crude has little value unless it can be transported to refineries. It is unlikely that new refining capacity closer to production locations will fill the gap soon due to the long, rigorous process required for permitting construction of such a facility. With the delays in the Keystone pipeline approvals, railcars are increasingly being used to import necessary operational equipment to production sites and transport extracted crude to other areas.

In a February 21, 2013 press release, the Association of American Railroads reported that U.S. Class I railroads carried a record 233,811 carloads of crude oil in 2012, which is an increase of 256% from 65,749 carloads in 2011. With pipeline capacity still severely limited in key geographic locations, oil stakeholders are moving more crude oil by rail.

RailCar Crude - TRP Corp

Railcars offer stakeholder flexibility and can be scaled to meet customer’s needs by adding or removing cars, as needed. Railroads see the boom on the horizon and are investing heavily in new locomotives, rail cars, railroad ties and infrastructure. BNSF Railway announced that it would boost oil rail shipments by 40% this year. In far north Fort Worth, General Electric has hired 300 new employees at a new locomotive plant, with the first engine expected to roll out the door soon.

But with railcar growth, stakeholders need to emphasize effective preparedness and response in order to protect life, property, and the environment. Railway segments, whether new or existing, can share common acreage with waterways, residential neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and municipalities. Railcars carrying crude or other hazardous material are a distinct type of risk since they do not utilize secondary containment. If a spill were to occur, the impact could be devastating on multiple fronts.

By creating tactical response plans, stakeholders can identify and plan for key geographical challenges that may delay responding to and managing oil spills.

The primary objectives of tactical response plans are to:

  • Allow response personnel to prepare for and safely respond to spill incidents
  • Pre-identify effective response locations downstream of potential spill sources
  • Identify potential equipment, manpower, and other resources necessary to implement a spill response
  • Outline response procedures and techniques for specific locations
  • Improve regulatory compliance efforts
  • Minimize impact

Tactical spill plans should include, but are not limited to:

  • Photographs of each site (including ground and aerial views, if possible)
  • Maps
  • Latitude and Longitude
  • Land/property owner information
  • Driving directions to the site from main roads
  • Description of potential staging area(s)
  • Specific response tactics for the site location
  • Description of site and applicable waterways
  • Site access specifications
  • Security requirements
  • Waterway flow rates and composition
  • Any critical response information that may be informative to responders
  • Recommended equipment and personnel to implement response strategy
  • Other site specific pertinent issues that may hinder a response

For an understanding of the necessary elements in creating an effective fire pre plan, download our Fire Pre Planning Guide.

TRP Fire Pre Plan Image

Tags: DOT, Emergency Management, Emergency Preparedness, Oil Spill, Supply Chain