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Railroads Emerge As 'Rolling Pipelines' In Scramble To Frack New Shale Plays

railroad oil cars on a track
Russ Allison Loar
Flickr Creative Commons

Some of the best new oil and gas plays are in some of the most remote areas of the country, where there’s little to no pipeline infrastructure to move freshly drilled crude out.

And getting the massive amounts of tracking sand to where is a major issue, too. The answer to both problems? Railroads, as The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports:

The boom in oil and natural gas drilling from shale means the nation’s railroads are handling more unit trains of crude oil and shipments of sand used in hydraulic fracturing, a vice president for BNSF Railway Co. said Tuesday.

Dean Wise spoke to the Rotary Club of Oklahoma City. He says in 2013, BNSF will handle more than half a million barrels of crude oil by “rolling pipeline,” up from practically none just four years ago. And it’s North Dakota’s doing.

Part of that is the result of the rapid growth of the Bakken tight oil formation in North Dakota. … “The pipeline capacity can’t grow fast enough given the new shale plays, so we’re in there as a good option and faster to market for the producers,” [Wise says]

And — given Wise was speaking to the Rotary Club of Oklahoma City, not Bismark, N.D. — he played up the benefits of a booming BNSF to OKC.

The company plans to spend $125 million for maintenance and rail expansion projects in the state this year. “Forty-five percent of our units move from, to, or through Oklahoma City,” Wise said. “That’s a stunning amount of column for one state, so you’re very important to our network, and we see more opportunities as we go forward.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma. Logan spent six years as a reporter with StateImpact from 2011 to 2017.
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