Oil Train Derailment in West Virginia Ignites Safety Debate

  • Train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia. Feb. 15, 2015. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Angie Vallier

February 20, 2015
With reporting by Dave Mistich and West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded in West Virginia this week, causing a fire that lasted for days. At least 125 residents were evacuated from their homes, one person was injured from smoke inhalation. The CSX train was hauling 3 million gallons of crude oil from the Bakkan shale in North Dakota.The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection says it’s too soon to know how much spilled into the Kanawha River. Two drinking water intakes were temporarily shut down. They’ve since re-opened.

The incident has reignited discussion about the safety of transporting crude oil across the country—whether by train or by pipeline.

Peter Goelz is a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, leading the day-to-day operations at the agency.“This issue is, is can we do better on transporting oil by rail, or can we do better by transporting it by pipeline? And the answer is yes. Even though transporting oil by rail 99.995 percent of all tank cars reach their destiny safely. Now that probably seems like a hollow number to the folks who are living near this wreck. But it’s the truth. And, can we do better? We can always do better.”

Geolz spoke with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. This is the third derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia in the past year - and these were tank cars that already meet a higher safety standard than what federal law requires.