Energy Infrastructure, Hydrocarbon Exports, and Community Risk

Research poster
Anne Junod
Jeffrey Jacquet
School of Environment and Natural Resources

The ongoing North American shale boom exerts unprecedented pressure on U.S. energy transportation and export infrastructure, with oil train shipments increasing by over 4,000% in the last decade. Corresponding to this growth, the number and severity of catastrophic oil train accidents has increased, with derailments resulting in billions of dollars in infrastructural, environmental, and agricultural losses in addition to public health impacts and death. Such outcomes have prompted many municipalities across the U.S. to attempt to regulate oil trains within their boundaries: some have denied proposed oil storage facilities or rail spurs, others experience increases in protests and civic organizing. Meanwhile, a far greater number of rail communities experience no such activity, raising questions about conditions influencing perceptions of, and societal responses to, oil train energy technology and attendant impacts.

This novel, multi-regional study presents a socio-psychological examination of the characteristics, likelihoods, and magnitudes of oil train risk and associated variations across rurality, urbanity, and related socioeconomic and demographic contexts. We find that rural communities, communities which have experienced a catastrophic derailment in the past which is of high community salience, older populations, those who perceive higher dread with regards to a potential accident, and those with higher pro-environmental views are more likely to perceive greater risks concerning oil train activity.

Findings are discussed with implications for community development, energy policy, and risk governance regarding hydrocarbon energy systems.