Texas regulators concerned about safety of crude oil rail shipping

As oil production continues to grow in Texas, companies are turning to railroads to transport their product. But some regulators are growing concerned about the potential risks.

Recently, the Houston Chronicle reported that the number of rail spills in the state has skyrocketed during the past few years. Though such incidents were relatively rare as recently as 2010, now it is not unheard of for the state to experience 15 or more annually.

This is simply due to increased volume. In 2008, 9,500 carloads of crude oil traveled through the state. Last year, this number increased to 400,000. 

The reason for this growth has less to do with the desirability of transporting oil by rail and more to do with the lack of pipelines. Pipelines are static structures and they take time to build. In recent years, new technology has allowed for the development of drilling at shale deposits, which were previously thought to be unreachable sources of oil. At the same time, pipeline construction has not been able to keep up with these relatively rapid changes.

Having all this oil and no way to send it, petrochemical companies have turned to railroads. But scrutiny over safety issues is increasing. Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a safety warning and implored railroads to ship oil on cars with the "highest level of integrity reasonably available within their fleet."

In the short term, it is certainly important for railroads to focus on safety. But in the long term, petrochemical companies must work with CNC machine shops to build new pipelines that will facilitate future oil development in Texas.