The sound of rumbling trains and trucks throughout Buchanan County has raised the curiosity of local officials.
With oil exploration increasing in areas to the north, the Buchanan County Local Emergency Planning Committee wants to learn more about what is being transported through the city.
Bill Brinton, liaison of the committee, began an assessment to determine the volume of hazardous materials entering Buchanan County. Mr. Brinton, the chief of the Region H Hazmat team, and hazmat technician Adam Perry will monitor placarded trucks on Interstates 229 and 29 and on U.S. Highways 36 and 59, as well as Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNFS) and Union Pacific (UP) tanker cars.
“We need to know when emergency responders respond to different types of accidents, like train derailment, they would have some idea of what they might expect to happen,” Mr. Brinton said. “We plan to monitor these roadways for a period of 100 hours, in order to gather sufficient data to support our analysis. They will be monitored at different dates and times throughout a 24-hour period.”
UP spokesman Mark Davis said the top five commodities shipped in the state of Missouri are intermodal containers, assembled automobiles, nonmetallic minerals, roofing products and stone and gravel. He estimated that 2 percent of UP’s commodities include crude oil nationwide.
For BNSF, spokesman Andy Williams said top commodities in 2013 included coal, agricultural, consumer and industrial products.
“BNSF moves more than 4.5 million carloads of freight in Missouri annually,” Mr. Williams said. “Many items found in local retail stores, restaurants and automobile dealerships were shipped on a BNSF train. And each year, BNSF moves about 10 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States.”
Risks of the rail
American railroads continue to operate under federal laws that shield them from local or state oversight and provide a blanket of secrecy over much of their operations. Mr. Brinton said there has been a rapid rise in the number of trains carrying crude oil — along with some derailments and explosions.
Last July, a train loaded with crude oil derailed in an eastern portion of Quebec, Canada, killing 47 people and destroying much of the town. Although serious train accidents involving hazardous materials are rare, Mr. Brinton pointed out the possibility exists.
“First responders really need an idea about what is going through,” Mr. Brinton said. “We have a list of the companies that are in the city … but when trains come through, we don’t really know what we are dealing with until we see placards in their hazmat corners.”
According to the Journal of Management and Marketing Research, 20 percent of the nation’s chemicals move by rail. Commodities can include combustible liquids, hazardous gases and a variety of fuels and oil.
The Association of American Railroads stated that U.S. crude oil production was projected to increase by almost 60 percent from 2008 through 2014, from 5 million barrels per day in 2008 to a projected 8.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014. While the boom can create jobs and other public benefits, the evolution of oil transportation is facing challenges in moving the ever-increasing amounts.
“Information about exact routes of crude oil trains, and other trains transporting hazardous materials, is not made public for security reasons,” Mr. Williams said. “But it is provided to public emergency response agencies in communities across our network on their request to help with their preparedness efforts in the event of an incident.”
In 2013, BNSF averaged eight crude oil unit trains across all shale areas on the network, with destination points on the East Coast, the West Coast, Midwest and the Gulf Coast, Mr. Williams said. On average, the company operated one to six crude oil trains a week through Missouri; crude oil represents only about 4 percent of the railroad’s 2013 unit volume.
Mr. Williams said the oil shale industry is relatively new to BNSF. The company began transportation of its first unit crude train in 2010.
An ongoing study
Mr. Brinton said committee members will continue to study in intervals through Sept. 30. The last LEPC local study was conducted in October 2004.
“Everything has changed so much, even in the past year and 10 years ago, because people used to just drive up on these accidents,” Mr. Brinton said. “While you are far more likely to experience a traffic accident than a train derailment, preparedness and planning is going to be the best matter of defense we can have.”