Where Are the Oil-by-Rail Protests?

I did a very quick Google search and I found stuff like "43 residents of Seattle occupied the BNSF office in SoDo Seattle to speak out against the company’s continued involvement in fossil fuel extraction and transport." from 2015 and this from 2016. Why?

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How did they get to the BNSF office? did they get there on magic flying carpets?

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Oil-by-rail [or: "OBR"] is a perfectly logical way to ship oil, notwithstanding the ingrained resistance found on Oilprice and in society, which either prefers pipelines or leaving oil in the ground (depends on whose ox is being gored).  And the reason is that when there is a "spill," the amount of oil that can be spilled has a theoretical maximum - the amount being shipped on that train.  If the train derails, OK, you lose some oil.  But because it is finite, you can contain it and possibly even remove it from the environment.  With a pipeline, typically the pipe is good for some years, but eventually everything fails, and when pipe fails, the amount of the spill can be quite substantial. 

The other advantage of OBR is that when the oilfield is dry, you can either pick up the rails and re-lay them somewhere else, or you can use the trackage for moving non-oil products.  Nothing need be scrapped or abandoned. 

the argument is also offered that pipe is inherently cheaper as you don't need to pay for locomotives and railcars. Yet the capital cost of digging pipe trenches is higher than the acquisition cost of some railcars, and the operational costs flow mostly from antiquated and dysfunctional operational and labor practices common enough among railroad companies. Ultimately, running rail unit trains is less energy consumptive than attempting to pump crude through a pipe (especially if the oil have to be heated to flow). 

Rail runs into resistance from communities that are near or on the rail lines.  This is a legitimate concern, after what happened with the wreck at Lac Megantic, which resulted in 47 dead and the burning of half the town (and pollution of the ground of the entire town).  Yet, the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic  ["MM&A"] rail line was chronically under-capitalized, had very poor equipment, and a dispirited workforce; the engineer of that rain simply left it sitting on the line on a hill above the town, and took off (presumably to find a willing woman for his Friday night).  The abandoned train lost brake air pressure, rolled downhill picking up quite a bit of speed (calculated to be up to 60 mph, although I personally think the speed was lower), the cars went off the rails at the yard switch at the start of the town, and obliteration ensued. 

The MM&A went bankrupt, my friend Ed Burkhardt lost his entire investment, a major backer the pension fund of the Province of Quebec government workers lost their entire investment, and the Boston hedge fund Fortress Investments bought both pieces (there being two bankruptcies, one in Canada and one in the USA) for about $23 million, money that was used to compensate the families of the victims (in part.  Other funds came from lawsuits against various other parties, including the oil loaders, the shippers, the railcar owners, the Canadian Pacific RR that handed off the unit train in Montreal to the MM&A, and lots of other players.)  Today the same RR is re-born as the Central Maine and Quebec, and the Province is building a very expensive bypass track around Lac Megantic.  Oil now flows to the Irving Oil Co. refinery in St. John, New Brunswick via Buffalo, the CSX RR to Albany, a transload into 60,000 ton tankers there, and by sea to the Port. 

But remember that this huge mess occurred because of the irresponsible behavior of one man, that train engineer, who abandoned his train.  He is now in jail for multiple manslaughter convictions, so you won't be seeing him on the rails any time soon, but he had done a lot of damage in thinking about women, volunteer or paid,  instead of his responsibilities. 

Is Lac Megantic an outlier case?  Yes, of course.  But once again, that is a function of very poor employee workmanship, akin to the blowout that BP had in the Gulf of Mexico, again the result of the decisions of one man.  Proper planning at Lac Megantic, and the expenditure of $50,000, would have prevented that wreck. I was asked to give a seminar on that incident, and determined that there was a siding on the top of that hill outside town, used for rail  boxcar storage.  If that siding had been used for the stop point, and a switch and stub built at the down end, and the operating practice modified so that the locomotive would roll across the switch and up against the bumper at the end, then even if the air pressure was lost, the train would go nowhere - it would be up against the bumper on the stub.  Putting in that switch and stub would have cost only $50,000.  A small cost for operational security. (You would have forced the train to go into the siding and stub by installing spring switches, easy enough to do from the fixed throw switches now it place there.) 

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