Railroads carried 4.2 million barrels of crude oil — enough to fill up 267 Olympic-size swimming pools — through Maine last year, up from 25,000 barrels in 2011 and down from 5.2 million barrels in 2012.
The 2013 amount does not include the months of April to August when Pan Am Railways temporarily stopped reporting how much crude oil it shipped into Maine and paying into the state’s 3-cent-per-barrel oil spill cleanup fund, according to Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessamine Logan.
At the time, the company told the Bangor Daily News that state law did not specifically require them to do so. The state Legislature revised the statute effective last October.
After several fiery train explosions involving crude from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota, federal regulators issued a Jan. 2 warning that the crude may be more flammable than other varieties. A federal “Bakken Blitz” investigation has revealed that in eleven out of 18 random samples, Bakken crude was misclassified as a less volatile variety.
Three railroads — Pan Am Railways, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, and Eastern Maine Railroad — have carried Bakken crude oil through Maine to an Irving Oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick.
The MMA Railway line enters Maine at Jackman and then traverses across central Maine to Mattawamkeag. The now-bankrupt company, whose assets are in the final steps of being purchased by a New York-based investment firm, stopped carrying crude oil last August.
A Pan Am line enters Maine at South Berwick and carries crude through towns near Interstate 95, including Portland and Bangor, before heading to Mattawamkeag.
There, Eastern Maine Railroad transports the crude oil from Mattawamkeag to Vanceboro, to the refinery. Eastern Maine Railroad does not pay into the cleanup fund because state law only affects carriers bringing oil into Maine, according to Logan.
In Maine, crude oil shipments by rail have dropped off since last fall, but industry experts say dynamic global oil prices could quickly change that.
North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms has estimated that up to 90 percent of the state’s crude will be transported by rail in 2014.
Following growing scrutiny of the rupture-prone DOT-111 tank cars involved in recent derailments, Irving Oil announced in February that by April 30, it will voluntarily retrofit its crude oil fleet to meet higher standards recommended by the Association of American Railroads for tank cars built after 2011.
Even stricter federal standards for the tank cars could be released by the end of 2014, said Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, at a Feb. 26 congressional hearing.
Last year, U.S. railroads spilled more crude oil — 1.15 million gallons — than in the last 38 years combined, according to a McClatchy news service analysis of federal data that does not include the 1.6 million gallons spilled in Lac-Megantic.
The Association of American Railroads states that through 2010, 99.9977 percent of rail shipments of hazardous material reached their destination without a release caused by a train accident.
In Maine, railroads have spilled more than 200 gallons of hazardous materials like flammable gas oil and sulfuric acid since 2003, according to a review of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data. This represents a large decrease from the 120,000 gallons of hazardous materials like fuel oil and sulfuric acid reported spilled between 1976 to 1999.
Approximately one gallon of crude oil spilled in March 2013, when 13 tank cars operated by Pan Am Railways derailed near the Penobscot River in Mattawamkeag, according to a report filed to the National Response Center. Each car in the 96-car-unit train was carrying 31,000 gallons of crude.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version, the state’s cleanup fund was incorrectly characterized. It is a 3-cent-per-barrel oil spill cleanup fund.
Earlier versions of this story require correction. The state’s oil spill cleanup fund is 3 cents per barrel, not per gallon. Eastern Maine Railway is not owned by Irving Oil Co., it is owned by J.D. Irving.