Crude oil rides Texas’ rails with little tracking

Rail tank cars are seen on tracks behind new homes under construction in the Cottage Grove area on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Houston. Transport of crude oil by rail has become increasingly common, raising safety concerns after a series of derailments around the country. ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )

Rail tank cars are seen on tracks behind new homes under construction in the Cottage Grove area on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Houston. Transport of crude oil by rail has become increasingly common, raising safety concerns after a series of derailments around the country. ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )

Nationwide, rail transit of crude oil faces intense scrutiny. As traffic surged, a series of accidents, including a spectacular derailment that killed dozens of people last summer in Canada, has led to outcry from fire marshals and assurances from rail industry officials. Federal officials have issued a safety warning and emergency orders.

But in Texas, home of the country’s most prolific production and most expansive refining capacity, crude oil rides the rails with little oversight, energy reporter Michael Brick writes.

To fulfill the minimum requirements of a federal emergency order, state public safety officials agreed to receive some information about potentially volatile oil arriving from the Bakken in North Dakota.

They do not assess cargo starting in Texas, passing through from other places or moving toward Houston. They do not test its flammability. They do not, in any significant detail, track its quantities, movements or destinations.

Now, as federal officials begin testing some wells in South Texas for the same explosive properties found in North Dakota, some experts say Texas may be taking a serious safety risk by turning a blind eye.

“Nobody really keeps track of it,” Sandy Fielden, an industry analyst in Austin for the consulting firm RBN Energy, told Brick. “As far as the safety of it, the jury is still out.”

For a detailed look at crude riding the rails in Texas, read the full story at HoustonChronicle.com