Train engines pulling 100 oil tank cars that derail causing fires and explosions, trucks and 50-year-old pipelines that leak and explode into fireballs releasing toxic methane into the air, contributing to leaks in the protective ozone layer, are just three problems related to fracking, according to an expert on fracking.
“You can live 100 miles away from the nearest gas or oil pump and you will be affected,” says Dr. Walter Brasch, author of Fracking America: Sacrificing Health and the Environment for Short-Term Economic Benefit. “Toxic fumes don’t stop at the nearest county but travel with the winds,” says Brasch.
Almost three-fourths of the oil produced in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota is transported by trains through middle America to Gulf Coast and mid-Atlantic refineries, mostly for export to the Middle East and southeast Asia; the remainder, also for export, is transported to terminals in the Pacific Northwest and southern California. By January 2015, railroads were transporting about one million barrels per day, up from about 55,000 barrels per day in 2014. Canada’s railroads carried only about 500 carloads of crude oil in 2009. Four years later, Canada’s railroads carried almost 140,000 carloads, says Brasch. Most of that train traffic enters the U.S. American railroads in 2014 carried more than 415,000 tanker cars of crude oil, more than 40 times what was hauled in 2008, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Train derailments accounted for more than one million gallons of spilled crude oil last year, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, says Brasch. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) had issued a safety alert in January 2014, pointing out that “crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than the traditional heavy crude oil.”
About 92,000 of the 106,000 tanker cars currently in service were built before 2011 when stricter regulations mandated new design. The older cars (DOT-111), which have a 30,000 gallon capacity of crude oil, have an “inadequate design” and are susceptible to leaks and explosions in derailments, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
It isn’t always tanker cars that derail, explode, and send toxic fumes into the air. Several derailments involved hopper cars carrying silica sand, a necessary part of fracking. The hopper cars have a capacity of 130 tons of silica sand. Hopper car derailments often lead to airborne pollution and subsequent health issues, says Brasch.
The U.S. Department of Transportation predicts an average of 10 derailments a year in a two decade period beginning 2015, with estimated damage of about $4.5 billion. About 25 million Americans live within one mile of an Impact Zone in case of an oil train explosion or fire.
About 40 percent of the nation’s freight is shipped by truck on the nation’s four million miles of roads and interstates. Each day, says Brasch, trucks transport about five million gallons of hazardous materials. Damage on state-maintained roads for each unconventional well in Pennsylvania is between $13,000–$23,000 per road, according to the Rand Corp. However, says Brasch, the greater problem “is that trucks carrying radioactive waste from fracking pits often leak, contaminating roads, and both agriculture and animal grazing fields.
About half of the nation’s 2.6 million miles of pipelines are at least 50 years old; during the past two decades there were more than 10,800 major incidents of spills, contamination, injuries, and deaths, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. There is at least one major natural gas explosion, fire, or leak every week, according to documentation compiled by Natural Gas Watch. Dozens more each week are less hazardous. During the past two decades, pipeline spills and explosions accounted for about $6.35 billion in damage. However, because there are only 460 state and federal inspectors, and most spills are reported by the companies, “There is a high probability there are more pipeline ‘events’ than are being reported,” according to oil/gas industry analyst Dory Hippauf of Dallas, Pa.
Most states don’t regulate Class 1 pipelines, which are pipelines located in areas with “10 or fewer buildings intended for human occupancy within 220 yards of the center-line of the pipeline,” according to PHMSA. A one year investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that PHMSA regulates only about 20,000 of 200,000 miles of natural gas gathering pipelines (such as those at condensers) and only about 4,000 of the estimated 30,000–40,000 miles of hazardous liquid gathering pipelines. Only about one-fourth of all oil, natural gas, and propane pipelines have been inspected since 2006, according to Public Employees for Environmental Response (PEER).
The 690-page critically-acclaimed Fracking America also discusses the collusion between politicians and the fossil fuel industry, innumerable health and environmental problems, how drilling for oil and gas in the United States doesn’t give the country independence from the Arab world as long as the drillers continue to ship fuel overseas, the industry’s fallacious claims of providing economic benefits and more jobs while not paying taxes, the theological base of the anti-fracking movement, corruption and collusion between academic research and the fossil fuel industry, the effects that drilling has upon the nation’s food supply, and how renewable energy diminishes reductions in fuel costs while being safer than fossil fuel drilling and consumption.
Fracking America is available at Greeleyandstone.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and local bookstores.
Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., social issues journalist
Fracking America (investigation)
Before the First Snow (historical fiction)