Bakken

Joshua Doubek, Wikimedia Commons

The current oil and gas boom, fueled by a technique called hydraulic fracturing, has opened massive shale gas and oil formations in states like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

But unlike past booms, this time drilling is bumping right up against communities. With oil and gas development now at their doorsteps, people are worried about the health impacts.

But the industry has taken off so quickly that scientific research about those impacts - which is timely, costly, and complex - is playing catch up.

American Oil and Gas History Association

There’s an invisible network connecting every corner of the United States. Without it, cars wouldn’t start and lights wouldn’t turn on. At 2.6 million miles, if it were stretched out, it would reach around the Earth more than a hundred times. Chances are, you’ve never noticed it. The nation’s sprawling pipeline network is buried underground, out of sight and out of mind.

Stephanie Joyce

In the first quarter of 2014, the United States surpassed both Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. It already hit that mark for natural gas late last year. All of that oil and gas has to be transported from the fields where it’s drilled to refineries and processing plants, and most of that is done by pipeline, but the nation’s pipeline infrastructure isn’t currently up to the task.

INSIDE ENERGY: Montana Crude Rail Routes Revealed

Jun 27, 2014
insideenergy.org

A dozen or more trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken region are moving across northern Montana every week, skirting the edge of Glacier National Park. More trains -- far fewer in number - pass through populated regions farther south.

Governor Steve Bullock released the route information this week, making Montana the latest state after Washington to buck railroads’ requests to keep the information out of public hands.

Hundreds of thousands of tank cars full of crude oil snake across the nation each year, and the number is only increasing.  In the last five years, the number has jumped 14-fold. Along with that, there’s been an increased number of accidents, derailments and spills.

Nat Hamilton/WHYY

In the wake of recent derailments and explosions of crude oil trains, state officials will start receiving information about when those trains are moving through their states. The federal Department of Transportation issued an emergency order in early May, requiring the railroads to share information with states about the routing of any shipments of Bakken crude oil over a million gallons. It goes into effect Saturday.

Despite recent accidents with shipment of crude oil by rail, including a derailment and explosion in North Dakota on Monday, industry analysts say it will continue to be a popular mode of moving oil out of the Bakken.

Trisha Curtis is with the Energy Policy Research Foundation. She says most crude from the Bakken does not travel through Wyoming, but that the state could see a spike in crude-by-rail traffic with new rail loading facilities coming online in the next year.