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Exploding Oil Tank Cars: Why Trains Go Boom

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the because-they-faw-down? dept.

Transportation 144

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones report on Bloomberg that as federal regulators continue investigating why tank cars on three trains carrying North Dakota crude oil have exploded in the past eight months, energy experts say part of the problem might be that some producers are deliberately leaving too much propane in their product, making the oil riskier to transport by rail. Sweet light crude from the Bakken Shale formation has long been known to be especially rich in volatile natural gas liquids like propane and while there's no way to completely eliminate natural gas liquids from crude, well operators are supposed to use separators at the wellhead to strip out gases before shipping the oil. The worry is that some producers are adjusting the pressure settings to leave in substantial amounts of natural gas liquids and purposefully selling their crude "fluffed up" with propane to maximize their profits." (Read more, below.)"'There is a strong suspicion that a number of producers are cheating. They generally want to simply fill up the barrel and sell it—and there are some who are not overly worried about quality,' says Alan J. Troner. 'I suspect that some are cheating and this is a suspicion that at least some refiners share.' As an oil train shakes, rattles and rolls toward the refinery, the propane begins to separate from the liquid and turning into gas. If one of those cars ruptures, the propane gas inside will likely make contact with outside air. If the gas is ignited—perhaps by a spark thrown off when the car rips open or maybe a spark thrown up from steel wheels scraping over steel tracks—the car can explode. Then the burning car can act like a blowtorch on the tanker next to it and at that point, railcars can explode in domino fashion. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) recently issued a safety alert that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. 'It's typical of this type of oil. So it's not surprising. There's no mystery to it especially if it were in a tanker not meant to carry that type of fluid,' says Ramanan Krishnamoorti referring to the much-criticized DOT-111, a black, torpedo-shaped railcar designed in the 1960s that has become the workhorse of the crude-rail industry. Washington doesn't appear to be in a rush to address the problem. On January 23, investigators at the US National Transportation Safety Board made broad recommendations that would have big consequences: They said crude oil should meet the same restrictions as toxic chemicals, which must be routed on tracks away from population centers. 'The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn't exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up,' says NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. 'While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.'"

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why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (2)

raymorris (2726007) | about 8 months ago | (#46439241)

Why should crude oil be carried to the refineries on closed tank cars on trains anyway? That seems dangerous. Don't we have pipelines going to the refineries for that purpose?

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439257)

They've been trying to build one for years (Keystone XL) but have been stonewalled at every turn by Obama.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (5, Insightful)

Phydeaux314 (866996) | about 8 months ago | (#46439279)

Pipelines have their own share of problems: Leaks, maintenance access, property arguments, security difficulties, animal migrations, the list goes on. They're definitely *a* solution, but not necessarily *the* solution.

If the suspicions of the folks in the article are correct, then it's simply a case of the manufacturers trying to take advantage of the fact that contents are sold by volume, not by weight... with the minor caveat that the extra volume has a tendency to explode. The real solution, then, would be to smack the greedy bastards pulling the stunt and ensure the oil is separated enough to safely transport.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (4, Informative)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 8 months ago | (#46439351)

If the suspicions of the folks in the article are correct, then it's simply a case of the manufacturers trying to take advantage of the fact that contents are sold by volume, not by weight...

Sure it's about wringing more profits out of each tanker load.

FTA: The liquified gas is worth more repurposed as crude than it can be sold for as methane or propane.

But it also lowers the API gravity measurement (think light versus heavy crude), possibly improving the value of the entire shipment.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439525)

Oh so this is a golden calf worshipers in action again but why is this news?

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0, Offtopic)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 8 months ago | (#46439635)

Oh so this is a golden calf worshipers in action again but why is this news?

Because it's time to move on.

The gossip regarding your sister's reputation has reached virtually ubiquitous saturation.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439681)

That little kid you've been stalking is GP's little BROTHER, not his sister. And, you better stop hanging around the bus stop trying to entice the boy into your van. That pedobear costume is a dead giveaway.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#46441379)

I'm not sure how things happen in North America, but there would be no profit motive in the rest of the world. We buy crude based on a marker price + premium. If your crude is like WTI then its priced like WTI. If your crude is like WTI but with more worthless gas then it's priced like WTI - a certain fixed penalty.

More importantly if your crude is sold and then doesn't meet the specs (it is analysed on the way into refineries) then most sane contracts are written to punish the seller.

I don't understand why there's a profit motive here unless the suppliers already have a monopoly and can write contracts that are strangely one sided.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (2)

jythie (914043) | about 8 months ago | (#46440049)

Yeah, but you forget how "personal responsibility" works in the US. You would think that the owners and operators of these plants should take personal responsibility for their actions and the damage done by them skirting the rules, but that is not the American ethos. Personal responsibility is your ability to drive your own fate, not how you impact others. Therefor the blame here lies on the people who were too poor to live further away from the tracks. The owners acted ethically since they managed to not be hurt by those pesky laws and still earned a bunch of money.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 8 months ago | (#46440181)

Explosive greed might be the term that fits. Another example of big business being more than willing to kill people to make another penny or two.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440795)

Yeah, just another example of Free Market Capitalism (tm) at work once again, enhancing the quality of life for millions--except of course for the ones it kills, poisons, or causes to live under dictatorships friendly to US business interests. I guess we could put in place regulations about this sort of thing, but then we'd be "killing jobs" or "punishing the job creators" or some other claptrap like that.

Oh, and that pipeline--you know, the environmental disaster that's also an assault on the property rights of thousands (thus being an offense to liberals and libertarians alike, strangely). Well, see, its route and in particular endpoint are placed to allow oil to be exported tax free OUT OF the United States. So we get the expense, the risk, and the inevitable environmental cleanups when it comes to pass that shortcuts were taken and (gasp!) the owners didn't know about it, and we don't even get the benefit of the oil. Unless, of course, we're willing to bid against foreign sources for oil that's sitting right here and which otherwise might have been too expensive to ship to them. Yet another massive corporate fraud of privatizing profits and socializing losses and risks supported by the ignorant who believe the propaganda they're fed and can't be bothered to go look into things.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441487)

Please document how leaks, maintenance access, property rights, security and animals (blah, blah, blah) end up causing hundreds of people to be killed and entire city blocks to be vaporized. ....I'm waiting.

Oh you can't you say but if we will just let EPA clowns inspect every tanker and steal millions of dollars in a sanctioned act of left-wing bureaucratic extortion, we will all at least feel better about it.

I get it. Crony capitalism that at least pays off the rank and file lefties instead of just Tesla.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (5, Insightful)

rossdee (243626) | about 8 months ago | (#46439293)

Obama can only stop the pipeline crossing the border from Canada. If they want to build it from ND to the Gulf refineries he couldn't do anything about it.

But they should be building refineries in North Dakota, thats where the oil is, (and they could be fueled by natural gas which is also in abundance.
Why send the oil all the way to the gulf, when the refineries there might have to shut down at times due to hurricanes (more likely due to global warming these days) and then ship it back north as refined product. Refine it in ND and then the Midwest can have sheaper gas.

We don't need no stinking CA tar sand oil.

Anyway the oil train that blew up was hit by another freight train that derailed due to the extreme cold.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 8 months ago | (#46439431)

they should be building refineries in North Dakota

Refineries cost about $10B each, take years to build, and a very long time to amortize the costs. Also, is it any safer to transport volatile products like gasoline? (serious question - I don't know).

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (5, Informative)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 8 months ago | (#46439697)

" is it any safer to transport volatile products like gasoline?"

Both yes and no. The vehicles designed to transport gasoline are engineered to somewhat higher standards, and they are inspected more frequently. Vehicles used for shipment of bulk crude aren't considered to be as dangerous, the standards were lower when they were built, they are aging, and they aren't inspected nearly as often. So, "no" gasoline is no safer to transport, the risks are higher. But, "yes" gasoline is safer to transport because the risks are managed better.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (2, Informative)

russotto (537200) | about 8 months ago | (#46439439)

Obama can only stop the pipeline crossing the border from Canada. If they want to build it from ND to the Gulf refineries he couldn't do anything about it.

Of course he could. It's interstate, so it wouldn't even be at all difficult.

But they should be building refineries in North Dakota,

Ha ha, build a refinery? In the US? With the EPA and every environmental group in the world standing in the way?

Anyway, you build a refinery and now you have to move the refined product, which means instead of moving one product, you have to move several. Could make a lot more sense to ship one product to where the shipping is easier.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (4, Interesting)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about 8 months ago | (#46439633)

But they should be building refineries in North Dakota,

Ha ha, build a refinery? In the US? With the EPA and every environmental group in the world standing in the way?

One is being built in North Dakota right now [breakingenergy.com] . It should be in operation by the end of the year.

In other news, you and the person you responded to should take ten seconds to do a Google search before making fools of yourselves in public.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 8 months ago | (#46439721)

They're a couple of refineries each handling about 20,000 bbl/day, but the Bakken fields produce about 1,000,000 bbl/day. The refineries are mostly to produce diesel, for which there has been a big surge in demand in the Bakken fields due to all the work being done there. If the pipeline does get built, they'll also be useful for dilutants.

This is not to refute your point that you can build new refineries. However it does not refute my point that construction of new large "general purpose" refineries may not make economic sense. It wouldn't solve the shipping problem, because instead of shipping crude you'd just have to ship a nearly equal quantity of refined products.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 8 months ago | (#46440141)

Also, given the expected life cycle of the Baaken fields (30 years or so), their isolation compared to the rest of the country along with the costs of a 'general purpose' refinery, putting those large plants there makes little sense. Of course the industry has looked at this carefully.

The mini refineries are getting to the point where they can be trucked in, bolted together and disassembled later. But they can't make the variety of products that a 'real' refinery can and cannot be easily modified for different grades of crude.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 8 months ago | (#46440215)

Of course the industry has looked at this carefully.

No? I thought they threw darts at a map while blindfolded. As, apparently, does rossdee (243626).

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

jythie (914043) | about 8 months ago | (#46440063)

The EPA actually stopping something? You are kidding, right? They are little more then a rubber stamping boogie man that exists as a political punching bag. For actually protecting the environment from anyone with enough cash they are useless.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 8 months ago | (#46440943)

The reason more refineries haven't been built in the USA is because we already have enough. The ones that exist have had no problem keeping up with demand. It wouldn't surprise me if some existing refineries have been upgraded to higher capacity though.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (-1, Flamebait)

slackware 3.6 (2524328) | about 8 months ago | (#46439661)

Any citation that Global warming has caused an increase in hurricanes? Canada should refine their own oil instead of selling oil for half price to you dickheads in the States then we pay way more than the States for our fuel. Buy your oil from Venezuela and Nigeria both those oils have a higher CO2 emissions than Canadian oil and cost twice the price. But you don't care about the environment or CO2 emissions or you would choose the oil that has the least cost to the environment and your pocketbook. Your more concerned with bashing Canadian oil because it's the cool thing to do if you hang out in loony left circles than anything having to do with pollution or CO2 emissions.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

dk20 (914954) | about 8 months ago | (#46440193)

We don't need no stinking CA tar sand oil.
You sure about that? Take a look at how much oil the US imports from canada.
http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pe... [eia.gov]

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 8 months ago | (#46440717)

Why send the oil all the way to the gulf, when the refineries there might have to shut down at times due to hurricanes (more likely due to global warming these days) and then ship it back north as refined product.

What makes you think they want to ship it back north as a refined product?
The point of getting oil to the gulf is that the refined byproducts can easily be put on a boat to China.

Gas & Oil in the midwest is already cheaper than the national average, because they don't have any pipelines to move it somewhere with a higher profit margin.

We don't need no stinking CA tar sand oil.

Not only do the Chinese want it, they'll pay more for it than we will.
This isn't about the domestic priorities of the USA, it's about multinational oil companies trying to figure out where their next few decades of profits will come from.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (2)

drewsup (990717) | about 8 months ago | (#46440809)

i think Warren Buffet may argue against you, seeing how he owns most of the train oil cars, and is known to have Obama's ear.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (5, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | about 8 months ago | (#46439315)

They've been trying to build one for years (Keystone XL) but have been stonewalled at every turn by Obama.

Not just Obama, but the by anti-oil people. They think by blocking the pipeline, they will be reducing CO2 in our atmosphere. The sad part is, they are actually INCREASING the amount of CO2 and other pollutants.

Rather than move the oil from Canada to Texas via an electric powered pipeline, they are forcing the oil to be loaded onto trains, where they are transported to a port where they are loaded onto an oil tanker where they will be transported to China. All of these modes of transportation are diesel powered. Once in China, they will be refined by Chinese workers under Chinese environmental regulations into various petroleum products. Then they are loaded back onto tankers and shipped around the world, with all profits going to the Chinese government.

Or, we could transport the oil to Texas refineries, where we have control over the emissions the refineries emit, by a pipeline using electrical pumps.

Tell me which option makes more environmental sense (not to mention the economic sense!)

Incomplete calculation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439499)

You're providing incomplete, one-sided calculations. So this is propaganda.

Re:Incomplete calculation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439739)

The original summary was incomplete, one-sided propaganda.

Re:Incomplete calculation (3, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | about 8 months ago | (#46440009)

You're providing incomplete, one-sided calculations. So this is propaganda.

Speaking of incomplete, I notice your post has no calculations whatsoever. Don't just sit there and say, "You're wrong!" Tell me why I'm wrong and provide whatever it is you think I'm missing.

Re:Incomplete calculation (0)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 8 months ago | (#46440187)

You're providing incomplete, one-sided calculations. So this is propaganda.

You mean the truth side? To add to that, all of these transfers from one mode of transportation to another will increase the likelihood of accidental spills. Plus a pipeline would be somewhat less prone to accidents.

Here's some balance, just for you:

The pipeline will kill all of the remaining pink unicorns left in the United States. Cause the sun to go supernova. Destabilize the Chinese economy to the point that thet will be forced to randomly nuke countries all over the world. And worst of all, be the sole catalyst for triggering the heat death of the universe.

Happy now?

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439519)

In all fairness, I haven't heard anything good coming from a pipeline. All the news about them have to do with spills and cover-ups. I'd be happy with a small headline announcing 5 years on a pipeline without a spill. Then we can talk about adding more pipelines. Until then, I'd rather the spills / fires be contained to the limited size of a shipping container.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (3, Insightful)

ArcherB (796902) | about 8 months ago | (#46439923)

In all fairness, I haven't heard anything good coming from a pipeline. All the news about them have to do with spills and cover-ups. I'd be happy with a small headline announcing 5 years on a pipeline without a spill. Then we can talk about adding more pipelines. Until then, I'd rather the spills / fires be contained to the limited size of a shipping container.

There is about 100,000 miles of oil carrying pipeline in the US. If they ran a story every time one went 5 years without incident, there would no time to write about anything else.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 8 months ago | (#46440551)

Things working normally would never be 'news'.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 8 months ago | (#46439847)

Crude oil is not as safe as solar energy or wind energy. The oil industry should pay the full cost of making it as safe as the renewables, not just in transportation. But also in extraction, in waste by products, pollution in extraction, pollution by use, pollution in transportation, in every aspect, the oil industry should pay the full true cost of being as safe as solar. That is the true free market of level playing ground.

It is true pipelines would transport oil using less carbon emissions compared to rail transport. But they also reduce transportation costs, thus allow more oil to be used and allow oil to undercut renewable sources of energy. So it makes sense to oppose the pipelines. Any single rail accident would spill far less oil than a spill or break in the oil pipeline. And these accidents would create enough pressure to make the rail transport of oil safer.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 8 months ago | (#46439925)

sorry for a couple of typos. as easily as china in one case. prey not pray in another case.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

ArcherB (796902) | about 8 months ago | (#46439995)

_It is true pipelines would transport oil using less carbon emissions compared to rail transport. But they also reduce transportation costs, thus allow more oil to be used and allow oil to undercut renewable sources of energy. So it makes sense to oppose the pipelines._

No. No it doesn't. You are intentionally trying to make oil more painful so people won't use it. This only makes sense when there are viable alternatives. Sorry, but wind and solar won't get the oranges from the groves in Florida to markets in Maine. All you are doing is making everything more expensive needlessly, benefiting the Chinese worker, punishing the American worker, and again, you are increasing the amount of CO2 that gets put into the atmosphere.

Somehow, this doesn't seem very smart.

_ Any single rail accident would spill far less oil than a spill or break in the oil pipeline._
Are you sure about that? Remember, that we are not just talking about rail, but also tankers that will take the oil across the ocean to China. Then, of course, the Chinese will refine it, using God knows what kind of environmental safeguards. Once it is refined, it will be loaded back into a tanker or pumped through Chinese pipelines. Still think this is a better idea than a single pipeline to US regulated refineries?

_And these accidents would create enough pressure to make the rail transport of oil safer._
But pipeline accidents won't create pressure to make pipelines safer?

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 8 months ago | (#46441433)

Sorry, but wind and solar won't get the oranges from the groves in Florida to markets in Maine.

A solar-powered zeppelin might. Automate it, and it might even be economical; let drones hitch rides for a small fee, attaching and detaching (and charging) en-route, and it might be profitable enough to launch a new industry. And didn't Amazon plan to start delivering books by drones?

The whole reason America (and the rest of the world) relies so heavily on trucking is that airplanes use a lot of fuel, while railroads require a lot of maintenance. There's a clear business opportunity for a mode of transport that is fuel-efficient (=cheap), reasonable fast and doesn't depend on infrastructure or land between the endpoints.

And even if zeppelins don't work, the fact is that oil is getting more and more expensive, so if oranges depend on oil for transport, so will they. An economy that depends on an exhaustible resource for a vital function is doomed to collapse. A better power source must be found.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

jythie (914043) | about 8 months ago | (#46440087)

Yeah, but baring the costs of your actions is pretty out of fashion. Right now american ethos is built around the idea of protecting yourself from others and controlling your own fate. However how you impact others is considered their own fault for not stopping you, thus it is considered ethical for the oil industry to do whatever it likes as long as it is its own master and it is the fault of the people hurt by it because they are immorally poor and weak enough to not move.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440451)

So yeah, the Chinese aren't going to any of those things which means that you destroy the US economy and the Chinese burn the oil anyway in much dirtier and less efficient ways. Way to go. Score one more blow against common sense for the environmental green freaks.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (2)

rhodie (61831) | about 8 months ago | (#46439901)

Not just Obama, but the by anti-oil people.

Not just the anti-oil people, but the people who own those railroads you speak of... Oh, right, Warren Buffet...

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/... [bloomberg.com]

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (5, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 8 months ago | (#46439917)

Then they are loaded back onto tankers and shipped around the world, with all profits going to the Chinese government.

What makes you think we hate the Chinese government so much that we would let all those profits going to the oil companies? There are no "our" oil companies. The oil companies would betray American interests and work to the detriment of America as easily as the international oil companies. In fact these oil companies have more than a century of manipulating our governments, our industries,our societies, our media. They had formed secret cartels to destroy the public transportation infrastructure of America. They have insidiously worked to increase urban sprawl to enrich themselves. They have whipped up public opinion to get us into wars.

The oil industry saw how easily we beat Iraq in 1992 booting Saddam out of Kuwait. They salivated at the idea of throwing Saddam out, installing a puppet and get all the Iraqi oil at cheap rates for their cronies. We are still paying the price for that war in terms of money and in terms of hostility to America from the Middle East.

Between the multinational oil companies and China, I would say the oil companies are the bigger threat. China has to fight a nuclear war to beat us. Oil companies would corrode us from inside out feeding on us like a wasp nymph feeds on a live but sedated pray.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

dryeo (100693) | about 8 months ago | (#46441099)

What makes you think that China can't use the same means as the oil companies to manipulate the government and people. They aren't stupid and must know that both the government and media are for sale and they have lots of dollars.
All I can think of a defence is diversity and not depending on any powerful entity too much.

But wait, there's more! (Interest groups vs. KXL) (2)

dfenstrate (202098) | about 8 months ago | (#46440067)

They've been trying to build one for years (Keystone XL) but have been stonewalled at every turn by Obama.

Not just Obama, but the by anti-oil people. They think by blocking the pipeline, they will be reducing CO2 in our atmosphere.

There's more though. Arab oil-producing companies have been found backing environmental groups, to fight the introduction of new supply into their markets, which would depress prices. Then there's the owners of the railroads, who would lose out if the pipe network was expanded. If I remember correctly, BSNF railway ships much of the recent inland oil development, and it's owned by Warren Buffet, a notable supporter of Obama. Buffet (again IIRC) has come out in support of the Keystone XL pipeline, but who knows what deals are going on behind closed doors?.

But wait, there's more! (Interest groups vs KXL) (2)

dfenstrate (202098) | about 8 months ago | (#46440101)

They've been trying to build one for years (Keystone XL) but have been stonewalled at every turn by Obama.

Not just Obama, but the by anti-oil people. They think by blocking the pipeline, they will be reducing CO2 in our atmosphere. The sad part is, they are actually INCREASING the amount of CO2 and other pollutants.

Don't forget that OPEC countries have been found financing anti-Keystone XL 'environmental' groups as a means to keep competition out of their oil markets and keep prices up. Then there's the railway owners, who would lose out if a pipeline was built. Much of the inland oil development is shipped by BSNF, a Berkshire-Hathaway company. Buffet is an Obama supporter who has publicly supported Keystone XL, but who knows what deals are going on behind closed doors? (my apologies if this is a repeat post, the last one didn't seem to take.)

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440163)

How is it going to get to China? British Columbia won't allow it through either last time I checked.

And China is coming around on pollution, and if the US stopped buying every little thing from China to save a few cents, maybe it wouldn't be as bad.

What we should do is to collect a tariff on imports into the US from China and India that we use to build renewable energy facilities in those countries.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (5, Interesting)

zentec (204030) | about 8 months ago | (#46440217)

My experience is that anyone in favor of processing this sludge into energy has never even seen photos of the area around the Detroit Marathon refinery or the waterfront along the Detroit river where the processing by-product of coke-tar is stored. Yeah, they store that crap right on the shores of the headwaters of Lakes Erie and Ontario; the water supply for millions of people in two countries.

It isn't about anti-oil, I don't disagree the world needs oil. I need oil. This is about a form of it that is just beyond nasty to obtain and process. No one wants the coke-tar, it is stored in huge uncovered piles around Detroit getting blown into neighborhoods on both sides of the river. The plan has been to sell that stuff to China, but so far no takers. Their "plan" to mitigate the dust is to spray with with water, and just where do you think the runoff flows? If they can't sell this waste in Detroit with quick convenient access to steel mills, cement and power plants, do you think Houston will have better luck?

It is all fine and well to sit from my position in rural Michigan and say "hell yeah, turn that spigot on and gimme my $2 a gallon gasoline". But I can't; I've seen it and it is an ugly view into the future where we just don't care about larger swaths of land and the people that live there. I'm just done with the mentality of energy at any cost. If the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't affect your opinion, take a stroll and smell the coke-tar. This is a greedy grab of the last scraps of energy and the environment and people's health be damned in the process.

Oil spills from pipeline problems happen, just ask the people in Grand Rapids Michigan who are still dealing with the cleanup in the Kalamazoo river from Enbridge Energy's pipeline break. This too is Canadian tar sand oil, making its safe transit through the United States for processing.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 8 months ago | (#46440985)

I would prefer the KXL pipeline doesn't get built but in the end I'm not sure it matters. This is a problem that needs to be tackled from the demand side. As long as there is strong enough demand the supply will be provided one way or another (until it runs out or gets to costly to use). If demand is reduced enough the KXL just becomes another albatross.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440209)

Pipelines are more dangerous than any oil-tanker rail car; here's the Science:
1. Rail cars are gravity bases, that is, the pressure of its cargo is 1 atmosphere. Leaks are bad, but they're not under pressure.
2. Rail cars have a very finite capacity - i gallon of material fits in a 1 gallon rail car; scale as appropriate.
3. Rail cars generally run on a protected and mostly isolated right-of-way.
4. Rail cars and their infrastructure are already paid for; are cheaper to maintain and operate.
So, match the above with a "pipeline":
1. Pipelines are NOT gravity based and operate under incredible pressure - 600-800 PSI! A leak is able to decimate quite a large area with its spray.
2. When a pipeline fails, quite a bit of material is loosed in the environment before it is discovered and corrected. This process can take days. A single pipeline failure can translate to the equivalent of hundreds of rail cars.
3. Pipelines are displacing people and wrecking environmental havoc due to their harsh installation practices. Their route is best for their infrastructure, not for the economy or private property.
4. Pipelines have an undisclosed staggering cost to the consumer, some estimates are 1 million dollars per mile.

So, yes, a much higher level of scrutiny is required in this process than is already being exercised. So stonewalling is good.

Pretty easy to decide when you have the facts.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

McGruber (1417641) | about 8 months ago | (#46440357)

The Wall Street Journal just ran an article about why shipping oil by rail is more profitable than shipping by pipeline:

In Dakota Oil Patch, Trains Trump Pipelines - Flexibility of Shifting Crude to Higher Priced Markets Strands Proposed Projects (March 3, 2014) [wsj.com]

Basically, shipping the oil by rail costs more, but using a train gives the oil producer the flexibility to ship to the refinery that will pay them them most for the oil. Shipping by pipeline only allows the producer to ship the oil to the refinery at the end of that pipeline.... and the oil producer has to commit to use the pipeline for a very long time.

Apparently, Warren Buffet figured this out years ago because he bought the BNSF Railway back in 2009. A BNSF train is shown in the picture attached to the Bloomberg article.

They've been trying to build one for years (Keystone XL) but have been stonewalled at every turn by Obama.

The WSJ points out that the proposed Keystone pipeline runs north-south, while the oil producers want to ship their oil east-west because the demand for oil is greater on the coasts than in Texas.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 8 months ago | (#46439337)

Another obvious answer, vent the tanker cars.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 8 months ago | (#46439413)

How safe is it to vent propane and other natural gases?

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 8 months ago | (#46439473)

I am only speculating here but in terms of short term consequences probably pretty safe. Automobile tanks used to simply be vented, until that was stopped for environmental and health reasons.

Most people are not sitting in traffic with a bunch of tanker cars though, so the health issues would probably be minor. Gasoline vapors are pretty volitle and I don't recall cars exploding left and right in the past, so I think it would help the fire risk issue on the whole, especially if the trains pneumatic system was used to actively drive the vapors out of the tanks, preventing them from reaching high concentrations. Propane and Natural gas *do* have strong green house effects so from a global warming stand point its probably harmful.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 8 months ago | (#46439789)

That is not a doable solution. You don't want the natural gas, propane, etc, but you DO want volatiles that are in the oil to use for fuel. Also, again they'd be lowering the calculated volume of the oil, and get less money for it.

Re: why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles (3, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | about 8 months ago | (#46439907)

Exactly. The right answer is to fill the tank with a pressurized inert gas like nitrogen so that there's no O2 left for combustion, similar to what they're doing to the fuel tanks in modern jets.

Beta (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439457)

It seems I now can't avoid the beta. Clicking on slashdot classic at the bottom brings me back to the home page.

Re:Beta (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440017)

Can't control your cookies? Turn in your nerd card on your way out.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (2, Interesting)

reboot246 (623534) | about 8 months ago | (#46439611)

There are already thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines in the country. The Keystone pipeline would be much newer and safer than the older lines. It would be built with today's steel technology, not steel from the 50s or 60s. The older oil pipelines are the ones to be concerned about - they are already seeping oil into the ground. Replacing the old pipelines would indeed be a "shovel-ready" job, but nobody is talking about that.

One of the main reasons oil from Canada is being transported by rail instead of pipelines is money. Warren Buffet is making money hand over fist transporting oil by rail, and he's one of Obama's biggest campaign contributors. THAT'S the sole reason for delaying the Keystone pipeline.

How many more trains are going to blow up and how many lives are going to be lost before we learn?

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439827)

"We" could also learn that tar sands really shouldn't be used to make oil from, as the whole project is stupid. Instead, just start driving energy efficient cars, as that'd easily make up the "loss" in oil production.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439965)

It would be built with today's steel technology, not steel from the 50s or 60s.

That would not necessarily be a good thing, if you consider how much of that infrastructure has been exported.

The older oil pipelines are the ones to be concerned about - they are already seeping oil into the ground. Replacing the old pipelines would indeed be a "shovel-ready" job, but nobody is talking about that.

Then we'd learn about all the billions spent on that, and the price of oil subsidies would be even more transparent, so we'd have to talk about that. And they wouldn't like it.

Not saying improvements aren't a good idea, it's just people don't want it known.

One of the main reasons oil from Canada is being transported by rail instead of pipelines is money. Warren Buffet is making money hand over fist transporting oil by rail, and he's one of Obama's biggest campaign contributors. THAT'S the sole reason for delaying the Keystone pipeline.

How many more trains are going to blow up and how many lives are going to be lost before we learn?

I dunno, how many more pipelines are going to leak, how many more refineries going to burn, how many more tankers crash, how many more wars in the Mid-East, how many more cancer victims, how many more coal-ash spills, how many more reactor meltdowns, how many more hurricane-induced floods, how many more airplane crashes, how many more drunk drivers, how many more burning rivers....

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (1)

pesho (843750) | about 8 months ago | (#46440213)

First, read the TFA. Building infrastructure (new plants and pipelines) does not make much economic sense for regions producing oil or gas from shale. The reason is that the production from shale wells tends to drop down sharply, so the infrastructure is likely to become underutilized before it has payed for itself. Second, explain how shipping through a pipeline addresses the problem with volatile gases being present at higher amounts than they should be in the crude oil? Wouldn't this make the pipeline more likely to blow too? Besides volatile gases separating from the liquid phase in a pipeline opens a whole new can of worms related to hydraulic shock.

Re:why carry crude to in tanks on moving vehicles? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441193)

"producers are deliberately leaving too much propane in their product, making the oil riskier to transport by rail."

They hope for an rail accident that will boost support for pipelines. It seem to be working in Canadia. [wikipedia.org] The Enbridge pipeline project is now going forward without much oversight.

Every Rail Car Explosion (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 8 months ago | (#46439251)

is an arrow in the quiver of the pipeline proponents.

Re:Every Rail Car Explosion (3, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#46439353)

is an arrow in the quiver of the pipeline proponents.

Only if you assume that the opponents are influenced by logic.

Re:Every Rail Car Explosion (0)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 8 months ago | (#46439467)

Correct. The light crude being shipped from the Bakken that is the subject of this story Isn't even the crux of the opposition against the pipeline.

It's the bitumen-rich Canadian oil sands product that is most often mentioned as objectionable. Apparently, there is a huge carbon sink associated with that deposit.

Re:Every Rail Car Explosion (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 8 months ago | (#46441065)

The EROEI is much lower for tar sands oil than other petroleum sources. It takes a lot of energy to liquify the tar sands and it has to be diluted or kept warm to pump via a pipeline.

Wouldn't it make more sense... (1)

amightywind (691887) | about 8 months ago | (#46439311)

Wouldn't it make more sense to build the Keystone XL pipeline? I have a 30 gallon gas tank on my pickup and I want cheap gas. Screw the environment!

Re: Wouldn't it make more sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439553)

The keystone xl won't lead to cheaper gas buddy. But good job on swallowing the oil industry spin

Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (2)

oscrivellodds (1124383) | about 8 months ago | (#46439341)

oil companies make by fluffing the oil with propane. The insurers will catch on, raise their rates, and the problem will correct itself. For once the insurance company interests and those of society at large are aligned.

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (-1)

stenvar (2789879) | about 8 months ago | (#46439479)

For once the insurance company interests and those of society at large are aligned.

"For once"? That's the way it usually works in a free market.

The times when their interests are not aligned is when insurers are heavily regulated. For example, "health insurance" isn't insurance anymore, it has become large scale redistribution of money, and something that insurers can legally suck a large amount of money out of. Car insurance has become so regulated that it also cannot account for many risks anymore. Flood insurance subsidizes people in flood prone areas. Etc.

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439575)

so tell us again what world are you coming from? In this one the insurance companies interests are aligned with those of their CEOs which, because there are only few of, does not qualify as a society. I think the times of Lloyds when ship owners insured each other are long over here.

BTW insurance is redistributing money by its design: insured people get some money from the insurance in case the insurance is triggered. But I see your point - you can further improve gains of insurance industry by making it legal not to pay for damages at all while making it illegal not to have insurance. I even think that is a good idea. It would make quite clear what this is all about instead of these little games in the dark. Well done!

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (4, Insightful)

oscrivellodds (1124383) | about 8 months ago | (#46439913)

" That's the way it usually works in a free market."

And then you use health insurance as an example of how insurance and society's goals are in alignment? You gotta be kidding! The free market brought us to the awful state we were in before Obamacare made a poor attempt to fix it. The insurers were denying coverage to people who were most in need. Theoretically they can't do that any more, but we'll see- they have an army of lawyers working out all the loop-holes they can find and things will probably degenerate to something as bad or worse than it was before.

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440249)

> The insurers were denying coverage to people who were most in need.

Technically, that is the intended free market result. There is no financial sense (even across the whole society possibly) to keep people alive when that would cost more than you can ever get back from them.
The critical difference is that we generally don't consider it morally acceptable to let people die because they are "not valuable enough" (and I think you can discuss whether that does in fact mean that society's goals and the insurer's are not aligned). However a oil company "dying" because nobody is willing to insure them is in contrast a perfectly acceptable, if not desirable, free-market outcome.

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (1)

oscrivellodds (1124383) | about 8 months ago | (#46440867)

How is not delivering care to people who need it the "intended" result, and whose intention are we talking about?
The whole purpose of health insurance is to deliver care where and when it is needed. If it weren't so there would be no purpose for health insurance at all.

"There is no financial sense (even across the whole society possibly) to keep people alive when that would cost more than you can ever get back from them."

And how would you or anyone else know what you're ever going to be able to "get back" from someone? You're saying that society is better off if we let all the sick and injured suffer and die. Unless of course they are rich enough to pay for their own care. So the rich, who can afford care, should get insurance because we know that some day they'll be able to 'pay back" the cost of their treatment, and the poor should have no care because we likewise know that they will never be able to pay back the cost of treating them. You've got a formula for a truly wonderful society there.

I hope that health insurance covers treatment for your sociopathy. We'd all benefit if you could be cured. Who knows, you might some day even contribute enough to society to repay the cost of all that treatment. I'd be willing to take a chance on you.

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 8 months ago | (#46440467)

The free market did no such thing. Government policies to limit total compensation created a perverse incentive for companies to start spending your salary for you, on things like health coverage. Which in turn created perverse incentives to minimize costs rather than offer an acuarily sound insurance product, turning what we call insurance into care management.

The free market was doing just fine until the government stepped in and removed the freedom

Re:Rail car explosions probably cost more than the (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#46441417)

I don't understand why the problem hasn't corrected itself already. Oil is sold based on it's properties and in relation to a market price on the world market. I.e. this product may be lighter than West Texas Intermediate and therefore be priced as WTI + $x. But when it hits the refineries and is found full of propane then the value drops considerably the original well is fined for the difference in quality and future trading prices drop. Oil is after all fungible.

There must be some very strange fixed contracts lacking any kind of penalties for this to even be a partially viable option.

Volume not weight? (1)

zerosomething (1353609) | about 8 months ago | (#46439355)

I have a hard time believing crude in tank cars is measured by volume and not weight. By the very nature of the components of crude, with things liken propane, hydrogen, kerosene, etc, weight would make much more sense.

Re:Volume not weight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439437)

I think you mean mass, not weight. Weight is a unit of force.

Re:Volume not weight? (1)

oscrivellodds (1124383) | about 8 months ago | (#46439957)

I think you mean weight, which is what scales register because here on Earth we have this unavoidable thing called gravity. You can easily convert the weight as measured by a scale, to mass if you really want to. I'll leave it as an exercise for you to do a web search to find the gravitational acceleration on Earth.

Re:Volume not weight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439485)

Sure, say they're measuring by weight. You're still replacing heavy oils with light ones that you'd otherwise be burning off.

Re:Volume not weight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439497)

yes, energy content is pretty much proportional to weight and it is trivial to measure weight when it is in cars

Re:Volume not weight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440283)

I'm not sure dissolved gasses change the density much, it might have nearly the same density but still less heavy oil.

Re:Volume not weight? (1)

matfud (464184) | about 8 months ago | (#46441441)

At atmospheric preasure they can increase the density by up to 0.1% (usually much less depending on the hydrocarbons in the mix) but they also have value to the refiners.

Another reason they leave volatiles in the product (1)

echucker (570962) | about 8 months ago | (#46439421)

Saw a story yesterday that said the gas product is being refined to the minimum possible level to allow it to be exported for foreign sale. New mini-refineries are being built on the Gulf Coast for just this purpose.

Re:Another reason they leave volatiles in the prod (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439763)

Another problem maybe simply be they don't want to burn off the propane at the well site since the Canadian government wants to reduce green house emissions.

Re:Another reason they leave volatiles in the prod (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 8 months ago | (#46441087)

I think the article is more about the oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota, USA than any Canadian production.

So, instead of protests *for* better regulation... (0)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 8 months ago | (#46439423)

So, instead of protests *for* better regulation and better technical equipment, all we'll see are protests *against* oil.

As usual, the power hungry activists will not attempt to solve the problem, but instead use the problem to gain more power for themselves. I have never seen any activist trying to solve the problem they are protesting. The protests are just their PR campaigns to get more political power. Saving people's lives? It's not about protesting against exploding tank cars, it's about protesting against oil.

Unfortunately, solving the exploding oil-car problem would legitimize the oil production, so as any self-righteous activist can easily see, you cannot allow companies to actually do something against that. Not only would the publicity and media spectacle of exploding oil tank cars go away, the company that would actually solve the problem would be ... like ... legitimate! So, screw the tanks. Let the explode! We must protest against oil!

Re:So, instead of protests *for* better regulation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439859)

fuck off. It's up to the government to proactively demand that companies don't ship oil in ways they themselves know to be hazardous. They should sue them for deliberate endangerment, and then demand they use proper equipment to transport the oil. Too bad if that means new cars will have to be designed (good for business), and if it costs money, and thus raises the cost of petrol. This cost externalization bullshit has got to stop, yet pro-corporate (R) and (D) governments will do fuck all to protect the public and the environment unless they're forced to.

Re:So, instead of protests *for* better regulation (1)

Carewolf (581105) | about 8 months ago | (#46439893)

So, instead of protests *for* better regulation and better technical equipment, all we'll see are protests *against* oil.

Try reading the comments before commenting on the comments. There is not such thing here. The only ones being irrational here are you preemptively defensive oil shills. Please wait with being defensive only someone attacks your position.

Re:So, instead of protests *for* better regulation (0)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 8 months ago | (#46440041)

First: If I was an "oil shill" I'd know about it. I'm not.

Second: If I said it *after* the protests start, then you'd say that what I said is worthless, because I said it after the fact.

I'm not being defensive. It's just activists using circular reasoning and self-defeating arguments all the time.

Re:So, instead of protests *for* better regulation (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 8 months ago | (#46440055)

Also, I guess I'd be the first "oil shill" arguing for more governmental regulation. Don't you think so?

Re:So, instead of protests *for* better regulation (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 8 months ago | (#46441135)

A newer, safer tank car has been designed and is available but the railroads don't have any mandate to use it and are only slowly replacing the thousands of older models as they age out of the fleet.

Transport Tycoon Delux (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439429)

Is that from Transport Tycoon Delux?

BUILD THE PIPELINE! (1)

p51d007 (656414) | about 8 months ago | (#46439529)

Simple! But the anti anything at any price crowd, and Obumma won't have it. Oh, send it by train & truck? Sure, not a problem since ole Warren Buffett owns most of the rail lines up there...kind of makes sense now.

Consider the source (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46439593)

Of this article. InsideClimateNews is known for covering one side of the story quite well, but only one side.

I don't care about trains... (3, Funny)

fostware (551290) | about 8 months ago | (#46439943)

Screw trains. Tell us why American cars' petrol tanks explode when all four tyres leave the ground...

Is it static, do you need one of those rubber strips hanging off every car? Should they be a requirement for police vehicles, especially?

It must be true, I see it on TV *ALL* the time!!!

Hate to disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440927)

Too little propane, it's in the flammable limits, if it explodes. They should dilute the airhead with nitrogen to lower the limits. But this is supposing there is something creating a spark on the interior of the tank. Which should be grounded. I would be looking for firecrackers on the tracks, rocks on the tracks and other spark producers, or "crackers" off the tracks with a grudge.

Shaken up like an aerosol can (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46440965)

Sure, you get the light sweet crude (sweet means it doesn't have sulphur or H2S --hydrogen sulphide gas-- in it). But the propane infused within the heavier oil shakes up like an aerosol can when its rumbling down the tracks. The old style tank cars were proven to be too thin on impact and would easily rupture. Derailment means spill. If you've ever seen a train derailment, you understand the phrase "Pretty as a Train Wreck", and it inevitably involved bent metal. Bent metal very often means spark. Spark will flash propane, and in a very short time, it means really really big barbecue. Several things can (and should) be done to prevent this: 1) Stronger rail cars that won't squash like a beer can at the first rollover 2) baffles that keeps the contents from becoming an aerosol 3) Proper separation of lighter and heavier hydrocarbons, so that ethane, methane, propane go in one car, butane, hexane, heptane goes in another, then octane, nonane, decane, and much heavier hydrocarbons in another car. I understand the well site isn't a fractional distillation tower, but keeping at least the gasses and liquids separated will add a lot to safety (and no, I don't consider "Liquified Petroleum Gas" or Propane under pressure to be a natural liquid, not at pressures where a tank would explode.

Thank Obama and Uncle Warren (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441285)

Uncle Warren Buffet started buying up railroad companies when Obama was elected. Then he convinced Obama to block legislation on permitting the Keystone XL pipeline (never mind there is one along the Canada-US west coast that does exactly the same thing). Obama went a step further by making blocking KXL a pillar of his "Presidency." "Thank You!" uncle Warren said. Now uncle's railroad stock is sky high and will go higher with every rail "boom" disaster.

When gasoline hits $6 a gallon, french kiss Obama ass and like it.

Ha ha

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