Document Type


Publication Date


Student's Major


Student's College

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Mentor's Name

Cindy Miller

Mentor's Department


Mentor's College

Social and Behavioral Sciences


The extraction of Bakken crude oil in the Williston Basin of North Dakota is transforming how petroleum is shipped. Before 2008, North American oil was carried primarily via pipeline from source regions to refineries along the Gulf Coast or to metropolitan areas close to consumers. The current pipeline system is ill-equipped to accommodate massive volumes of oil from this previously low producing region. Lack of infrastructure and high demand for “light tight oil” (LTO) led to the use of railroads as a means of moving the product to refineries across the nation. Transporting oil via rail over long distances was rare in past decades because of the associated costs. This research examines how a new rail logistics system has evolved over the past five years by mapping previously undisclosed routes used by major railroads that carry Bakken LTO. Safety issues resulting from the unusually volatile nature of the product prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to mandate the release of routing data to states affected, however some states refused to make the information public. By supplementing this information with locational data regarding spills and accidents, the results reveal a new pattern of crude oil movement to coastal areas of the nation previously supplied by Alaskan and Middle Eastern tanker deliveries. Findings show Bakken LTO is increasingly routed to the Pacific Northwest and northeastern cities, particularly Philadelphia, passing through major population centers, putting millions at risk of major accidents.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License