Amid the continuing public discussion over improving the safety of crude oil delivered by rail, it’s important that everyone – the energy industry, railroads, regulators, policymakers – stay focused on the facts and the science. This is key to making meaningful improvements to freight rail transportation – which already delivers 99.998 percent of materials like crude oil without incident. We say meaningful improvements because, as with everything we do, the oil and natural gas industry’s safety goal is zero incidents.
First, the science. A new Energy Department report found no data showing correlation between crude oil properties and the likelihood or severity of a fire caused by a train derailment. Also from the report:
No single parameter defines the degree of flammability of a fuel; rather, multiple parameters are relevant. While a fuel with a lower flashpoint, wider range of flammability limits, lower auto-ignition temperature, lower minimum ignition energy, and higher maximum burning velocity is generally considered more flammable, the energy generated from an accident has the potential to greatly exceed the flammability impact of these and any other crude oil property based criteria.
That last point highlights the importance of preventing derailments in the first place because, according to the department’s report, the kinetic energy created by a derailment can play a bigger role in the size of a fire than the commodity the train is hauling.