If a crude oil train in Pennsylvania were to derail, catch fire or both, about 1.5 million people are potentially in danger, reported a PublicSource analysis.
To break it down, this is equal to one in every nine Pennsylvanians, or 11.5 percent of the state’s population. Out of the entire state, 327 K-12 schools, 37 hospitals and 61 nursing homes could be affected by a crude oil train derailment or fire. To some these numbers may seem absurd, but the truth is that they are realistic. According to a report released by the Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an estimated 15 crude oil train derailments will take place this year in the U.S.
The recent CSX train derailment that was carrying North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil has given many people a reason to not only be worried about their health and safety, but also train safety. The train derailed and burst into flames that burnt for several days, which caused hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. The derailment also caused water contamination, leaving people with their water shut off. The entire incident left people in Pennsylvania questioning when it would happen in their state.
Officials across the state of Pennsylvania say they are concerned about the potential for a train derailment. Pottstown Fire Chief Richard Lengel expressed is worry to PublicSource’s partner, the Pottstown Mercury:
If something catastrophic happens, there’s no municipality along the railroad that can handle it; the volume is too great … We just have to hope that nothing happens, honestly.
Lengel’s statement is exactly what happened during the CSX train derailment in West Virginia. Firefighters were forced to let tank cars burn for several days before extinguishing them because they were not equipped for such an incident.
In May 2014, federal regulators ordered railroads carrying Bakken crude that were traveling through Pennsylvania to give the routes of the trains to Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency officials. However, there is no law requiring that citizens be informed about oil trains traveling through the state. According to PublicSource, those who are within a half-mile radius on each side of the rail lines, in a state where trains are hauling more than one million gallons of crude oil at a time, are at risk. The “half-mile” is the recommended federal evacuation zone when a tank car of crude oil catches fire.
On average, about 60 to 70 trains transporting Bakken crude oil travel through Pennsylvania on their way to Philadelphia and cities along the East Coast with refineries. Since January 2014, there have been at least four train derailments crude oil that have occurred in Pennsylvania. Due to sky-high oil production over the last few years and an uncertain end to the boom, it is unlikely that pipelines will be built that would replace the rail traffic.
To determine stats for their analysis, PublicSource used only railroads that have reported transporting more than one million gallons of Bakken crude oil at a time. The railroads that were transporting less than one million gallons did not have to report to the state. Fractracker, a group that analyzes data about fracking, and PennEnvironment, an environmental advocacy group, conducted a similar analysis but used crude oil trains and population. Therefore, their data may vary when compared to the analysis done by PublicSource.
To read the full analysis created by PublicSource, click here.