Railroads, Emergency Responders Prepared in Event of Oil Spill in Texas


All-hazard training prepares first responders for the worst-case scenario.

(TNS) - Each day, freight trains slice through the center of the city at a swift 70 miles an hour, carrying industry goods eastward and westward. With the explosion of heavy train traffic stemming from the Permian Basin oil boom, the threat of rail-related accidents looms larger.

Earlier this summer, a freight train slipped off its tracks in Odessa. Ten rail cars carrying hydraulic fracturing sand derailed and fell sideways along the track. About a week ago, Midland County Fire Marshal Dale Little saw the derailed cars still belly-up, causing him to ask the critical question: “What if that had been oil or a chemical?”

Throughout the past 10 years, 109 hazmat-carrying train cars have been involved in accidents, according to data rail lines report to the Federal Railroad Administration. In that same period, five instances of derailments have been reported inside Ector County. To the east, in Howard County, 54 cars carrying hazardous materials have been involved in accidents with six instances of derailments in the last decade, according to federal data.

But in Midland County, not a single derailment episode has been reported.

“With all the hazard disaster training, we teach that you always have to plan on the worst-case scenario,” Little said. “Anything can happen. When you deal with disaster work, every day you go without a disaster is one day closer to one.”

By that logic, if Midland’s vehicle traffic continues to thicken, causing an uptick in vehicle-train related accidents that are known to cause derailments, that day might be fast approaching. In the last five years, the stretch of railway between Sweetwater and Pecos led the nation in vehicle-train collisions in 2013, according to Union Pacific.

Last spring, a string of derailed trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale caused explosions and prompted national scrutiny over whether safety regulations are adequate as rail continues to be a more popular vehicle for oil.

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Brandon Mulder, Midland Reporter-Telegram

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