Recent media reports have found a new number on which to hang crude-by-rail stories: 144. A recent San Francisco Chronicle editorial, titled “New rules on crude by rail transport fail to protect communities,” for example, stated that there were a record 144 rail accidents involving crude in 2014. Delving into the details, however, shows that this could not be further from the truth.
To begin, the PHMSA data from which the 144 figure is taken shows there were 144 incidents (not accidents). Of these 144 incidents, three were indeed high-profile derailments in La Salle, Lynchburg and western Pennsylvania. However, 101 of these incidents involved a crude oil spillage of 1 gallon or less.
Furthermore, 44 of these incidents were so minor that no costs – clean-up or otherwise – were incurred in the process, and only seven incidents involved spillages of 120 gallons or more – a figure that includes the three derailments.