KATC Investigates

Jul 24, 2014 7:40 PM by Kari Beal

Crude Reality part 1: Outdated trains carrying volatile material spotted in Acadiana

The government is issuing new regulations on a potential threat that could be in the backyards of many Acadiana residents.

It all has to deal with the shipment of volatile, crude oil. The government is recognizing some of the trains cars transporting crude oil, particularly from the Bakken Shale plate in North Dakota, aren't safe.

Yesterday, the Department of Transportation set new regulations. Train companies transporting crude oil are now required to enhanced brake systems, reduce train speeds under 40 mph and update their equipment. DOT is giving two years for companies to phase out the outdated train car DOT-111.

When older trains are used, such as DOT-111, it's a combination that has proved destructive, even deadly. In the past year at least nine of these outdated trains carrying crude oil have derailed across the country-- causing major explosions.

Just over a year ago when a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Canada's Quebec, 47 people died.

Our investigative team found these very trains travel through Acadiana neighborhoods.

Just this month, we spotted a fleet of more than 50 train cars lumbering through Iberia Parish. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe-BNSF---trains were labeled as carrying crude oil. Most of the trains we saw were in a the outdated car model, DOT-111.

"It scares me a lot. It has me concerned about what could really happen," New Iberia resident Nancy Johnson said.

Johnson lives across the street from the tracks in New Iberia. She had no idea this crude rolls by her house or that it's even volatile.

In May, the government told train companies they need to start reporting any shipments of at least one million gallons or about 35 cars of Bakken Crude to emergency responders in the area

"I recently checked with state officials and they say they have not gotten any of these alerts," Iberia Parish Office of Homeland Security Director, Prescott Marshall.

The trains we saw labeled crude oil were traveling through this area along Highway 182 in New Iberia, but we don't know if the crude oil is from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota or from the Louisiana Gulf or elsewhere because the train companies are refusing to release this information.

"I am pressing because I would love to know and my fire chiefs and the sheriff would love to know would how many cars are coming and when they are coming so we can be more prepared," Marshall said.

Wilma Subra is a chemist who used to work for the Environmental Protection Agency in Louisiana.

She said the oil in those trains are likely coming from North Dakota because oil transported from the Louisiana gulf is usually transported by pipeline. Regardless of where it is from though Subra said any crude being transported in outdated train cars is not safe.

"When one derails it takes others with it and they explode as well. So it makes a huge disaster and this is frequently occurring across the United States," Subra said.

In Louisiana, over the last five years seven times more crude has spilled than the previous 33 years combined according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These spills were all minor and more than half were because of defective components or devices. Most accidents happened on DOT111's.

"The train companies haven't looked at what the chemicals were and how they are very explosive before they said yes, we will transport that," Subra said.

But the oil and gas industry stands by its transportation methods.

"We've been safely transporting oil in Louisiana for a long time and we will continue to do so," President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association Don Briggs said.

He added the stalled Keystone Pipeline could be another means of transportation.

Emergency officials in other states said they have received emergency alerts about crude oil transportation. For example public records show in Chicago as many as 27 crude oil trains pass through in just one week. But state officials here denied our request for similar records, saying they're "confidential."

How prepared are emergency responders for a crude oil derailment? Stay tune tomorrow at 6 p.m. for the full story.



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