(NaturalNews) Far from the offshore rigs where many a spill has occurred in the past is another major source of environmental contamination by fossil fuels that often gets overlooked: freight trains. A new report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has revealed that more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil were spilled by freight trains just in 2013, which is more than the collective total spilled by trains during the nearly 40-year period between 1975 and 2012.
According to government data, several major derailments that occurred last year made significant contributions to this astronomical spill total, including a November 8 crash that occurred near Aliceville, Alabama. This incident resulted in 750,000 gallons of crude oil being dumped on nearby soil. And a little more than a month later, a major derailment near Casselton, North Dakota, led to a spill of roughly 400,000 gallons of crude oil.
Traditionally, oil companies have relied primarily on a mix of pipelines and tanker fleets to transport oil long distances, methods that have resulted in very few spills over the years. But according to industry insiders, a widespread shift to rail transport, the result of the ongoing North American energy boom, has generated a whole new set of problems both for the environment and for human safety.
"Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013," writes Curtis Tate for McClatchy DC. "By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom."
Department of Transportation data shows hundreds of times more oil spilled by trains than pipelines
Environmental advocacy groups have been vocal in opposing the establishment of new oil pipelines, including the infamous Keystone XL Pipeline which is planned to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada, all the way down to Houston, Texas. But the data shows that transporting oil through pipelines is hundreds of times safer than transporting it via railcar.
"Pipelines transport such a greater volume of crude and refined oils that they likewise spill the most and pose a much more serious risk, both now and in the future," writes Malik Singleton for International Business Times (IBTimes). "But in terms of amount of oil spilled into waterways used by people (and difficult to clean up) per equal amounts shipped during the 24-year period covered in the study, the research found that trains are less efficient since they spill a greater portion of their units during transport."
Though the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) has avoided coming forward with an opinion on which method of transport is safer, the data clearly show that rail is not the way to go from an environmental safety perspective, at least not using the rail systems as they are currently designed. Oil companies are now loading up as many as 100 train cars in a single line with crude oil, an immense volume that has resulted in many more accidents than ever.
"No one has ever had a solar energy spill," stated Daniel Souweine, campaign director for an anti-oil group known as Forecast The Facts, as quoted by IBTimes. "Safety is a tough question because any type of oil transport is dangerous. It's a matter of picking your poison. What's your most favorite bad thing?"