Thursday, February 7, 2013

Keystone, Railroad?

I lead a HAZOP recently on a facility that would offload oil from rail cars and pump it to barges for transport. It seems that there is a glut of oil out there and not enough pipeline capacity to move it to refineries. Therefore, this operator is planning to ship crude oil in tank cars.

As they say, what's old is new again. The industry has not used rail cars to ship crude oil since before 1900 and the days of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. In fact, John D pioneered shipping in pipelines as a way to avoid rail tariffs. Pipelines have since become the most economical and safest way to transport oil and oil products.

Environmentalists have blocked construction of new pipelines, so the industry has had to find alternatives. This facility is designed to offload more than 120 rail cars simultaneously and pump the oil to a barge on the river or to a storage tank. Each tank car connection has to made, by hand, by a man who has to crawl under the rail car. Every one of those connections is a potential leak point. And think about the condition of the nations rail system. A train of over 100 tank cars travelling from, say, North Dakota through the small towns of America to south Louisiana. How often do you hear about derailments? I know, we already transport dangerous chemicals by rail, but I don't think we have over 100 cars of the stuff at one time!

I hope that my HAZOP served to make the operation a little safer. But I think the environmental lobby is stupid for blocking construction of new pipelines and thereby increasing the risk of an accident and oil spill.

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