Despite controversy over its environmental impact, hydraulic fracturing- or fracking – is fueling a renaissance in the U.S. energy sector.
If the boom continues as projected, domestic crude production could exceed 8.5 million barrels a day by the end of the year, up 70 percent from 2008.
But getting all that oil to refineries is challenging. And U.S. railroads are trying to keep up with a tidal wave of oil.
Last year, the industry moved 415,000 carloads of crude. That’s up more than 4,000 PERCENT in the past six years.
This week though, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board told members of Congress that rail tank cars being used to ship crude oil pose an "unacceptable public risk. "
Tanker cars known as DOT-111s, were involved in derailments in the U.S. and in Canada in 2013. The Lac-Megantic crash killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings in Quebec northwest of Maine across the U.S. border.
In North Dakota, a BNSF train derailed just outside of Casselton and created a massive fire that burned for more than 24 hours.
Since 1991, the NTSB has been calling for retrofitting or replacing existing tank cars. But it wasn’t until 2011 when new cars were targeted for tougher regulations. Those new guidelines are expected to be proposed before the end of the year.
But many rail companies complain the process is taking too long and creating uncertainty.
Rail giant BNSF refused to wait and has already begun the bidding process for 5,000 new tank cars made to specifications the company has developed.
According to the NTSB, the DOT-111s are easily ruptured during accidents releasing crude oil or other fuels like ethanol that then ignites.
Also this week, federal regulators issued an emergency order requiring all crude oil shipments undergo testing to determine how susceptible the cargo is to explosion or fire. This order follows the 2013 rail explosions.
The Federal Railroad Administration directive would place crude oil under the two most protective sets of hazardous materials shipping requirements, rather than classifying the load as less dangerous.
Federal officials said some of the current cargo is misclassified. Materials could fall under one of nine categories depending on risk involved. If identified incorrectly, shipments could occur in less protective rail cars and emergency responders might follow wrong protocols when responding to a spill.