Water & Oil Don’t Mix: Crude Oil Trains in Philadelphia

Julie Slavet
Feb 14, 2015

By TTF Intern, Emilie Wetzel

In early February, TTF hosted Clean Water Action‘s Oil Train Listening Tour, a community meeting and presentation discussing the risks posed by trains carrying crude oil through our neighborhoods. George Spencer of NBC10 came by and interviewed Clean Water Action’s Mike Roles. See that story here.  6ABC Action News joined us as well.oiltrain

This meeting was truly eye opening. Mike Roles, Program Organizer with Clean Water Action of Philadelphia, begin by providing background on these crude oil trains. Mike discussed how advances in hydraulic fracturing (i.e. fracking) within the North Dakota Bakken shale deposit have caused a huge boom in crude oil production, which has overwhelmed the available transportation infrastructure and outpaced safeguards.

As a result, much of this crude oil is transported in old DOT-111 railroad tank cars. These cars are substandard and highly susceptible to breach in the event of an accident or derailing. Their thin shells, leaky valves, and shoddy hinges are such a cause for concern that the National Transportation Safety Board declared them a public risk in 2014.

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NBC10’s George Spencer interviews Mike Roles of Clean Water Action

To make matters worse, crude oil contains high levels of unstable and combustible gases; it is also frequently misclassified as a lower hazard level, downplaying its dangers in the event of an accident. However, Mike noted that even if the crude oil is properly labeled, most of the emergency responders in Philadelphia are not sufficiently trained to respond to these hazardous material catastrophes because the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management has not hosted enough emergency response workshops. For most fire departments, even a fire involving one tank car of crude oil would be too much to handle.

Why Should We Care?

The oil business is booming in Philadelphia, due to Philadelphia Energy Solutions newly retrofitted refineries and new rail uploading facility in South Philadelphia. In fact, Philadelphia is the largest destination in the nation for North Dakota’s oil reserves.

Unfortunately, the dangers associated with crude oil transportation will only increase: Philadelphia Energy Solutions is currently working to increase their capacity for refining oil. This is a cause for concern: thousands of Philadelphians live within a mile of a railroad that transports crude oil. Additionally, many of the railroads frequented by crude oil trains travel along or pass over our waterways, which increases the chance of water contamination in the event of a derailment.

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January 2014 derailment in Philadelphia

This wouldn’t be such bad news if there weren’t a history of train derailments in Philadelphia. However, there have been a number of train derailments, just in the past year.

In one instance, a train carrying crude oil derailed over the Schuylkill River on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge.This river is a source of drinking water for much of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million residents. Additionally, just this past month, there was a partial derailment in the CSX Rail Yard in South Philadelphia, just 100 feet from I-95 —  where thousands of vehicles travel every day. These types of accidents are likely to become more and more commonplace as the crude oil business expands.

Voice Your Concern

Clean Water Action is asking all Philadelphia residents to tell their council-members, elected officials, and congress representatives to ban the dangerous DOT-111 railroad tank cars. Additionally, Clean Water Action urges you to coordinate with the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to schedule emergency response workshops within your own communities.

Keep an eye out for other Clean Water Action community meetings: visit their website for information. Contact Mike Roles of Clean Water Action of Philadelphia at 215-545-0250 or mroles@cleanwater.org.

Other Resources

Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM) or 215-683-3261

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