The Father of Fracking, and Tracking Oil Trains | WBEZ
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The Father of Fracking, and Tracking Oil Trains

In a story produced in collaboration with Marketplace from American Public Media, we explore the history of hydraulic fracturing – aka fracking – in North Texas, where the technologies that are now employed in the Bakken were born.

Host Al Letson talks to Marketplace energy reporter Scott Tong about George Mitchell, a man many refer to as the father of fracking. Tong did a rare interview with Mitchell a few months before he died in 2013.

Also: Washington is one of the biggest oil refining states in the country, with a million and a half barrels heading its way each week by rail. And while America’s energy boom means cheaper oil, shipping massive amounts of crude can lead to another kind of boom: So far this year, five oil trains have derailed and caught fire.

BNSF Railway, one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America, has lobbied the state Legislature to kill any bills that would encourage or require increased transparency. The company says it’s an issue of national security and “proprietary business information.” But some residents and public officials want more information.

KUOW reporter Ashley Ahearn of the public radio collaboration EarthFix meets a citizen who’s leading the fight for transparency on the part of railroads. Last year, Dean Smith gathered volunteers in his community and founded the Snohomish County Train Watch, a group that counts trains – around the clock. Watchers take shifts and note what the trains are carrying and what time they passed through.

In this story, Ahearn joins Smith on a train-spotting shift to see how it works.

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