America, and the world for that matter, uses lots of energy. The energy source used more than any other in the United State is oil – at 36 percent of the energy consumed in this country.
In the American energy portfolio, natural gas is next at 27 percent, coal at 19 percent, renewable energy at 10 percent, and nuclear at 8 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The oil is produced — pulled from underground rock and reservoirs — wherever those reserves are. Before being used, oil must be refined. To get from production area to refinery, obviously, it must be transported.
In the United States, 70 percent of crude oil is shipped by pipeline, the safest and most efficient of all methods of oil transportation.
Twenty-three percent is shipped on tankers and barges over water, while 4 percent is trucked, and only 3 percent, amazingly, is shipped by rail, according to James Conca writing in an April 2014 Forbes column.
Each method of transportation has its own unique problems and benefits. None is without risk.
Amid a North American energy boom and a lack of pipeline capacity, Conca reported, oil shipping by rail has sharply increased.
“The trains are getting bigger and towing more and more tanker cars,” Conca wrote. “From 1975 to 2012, trains were shorter and spills were rare and small, with about half of those years having no spills above a few gallons. Then came 2013, in which more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents than was spilled in the previous 37 years.”
With Monday’s train derailment, Montgomery, W.Va., now joins the list of places — Lac Megantic, Quebec; Lynchburg Virginia; Pickens County, Ala.; among others — that have seen dramatic and dangerous oil tanker fires involving the volatile Bakken crude.
Considering the increase in oil transport, the CSX Corp. and other railroads need to do a much better job — obviously — on safety. Shorter trains, upgraded tank cars, lower speeds, and better track maintenance are among improvements railroads can and should make even before greater pressure from regulators and lawmakers begin.
In the bigger picture, however, the nation needs to develop a long-term, cohesive and realistic national energy strategy — something that has been talked about since the 1973 energy crisis but never fully developed. That strategy needs to encourage rapid development of an integrated network of modern, safe and more efficient underground pipelines to carry the energy we rely on.
— Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail, Feb. 18