A Drone's Eye View of the Latest Oil Train Explosion

Drones are helping to cover the woes of the second coming of the oil train disaster era.

There were more oil train explosions in 2013 than in the the previous four decades of record-keeping combined. Lest anyone get the impression that it was merely an isolated year of bad luck for the oil-hauling business, another spectacular derailment hit Lynchburg, Virginia last night.

It was the first oil train derailment in the state in 43 years—and it set the river ablaze as tens of thousands of gallons leaked out from the tankers. Sam Scott of East Coast Drones was on the scene with a quadcopter to get an aerial perspective of the disaster.

Drones used for journalism and disaster response have been hovering in a grey area, as the FAA argues that organized operations can't use them. The agency appears to go easier on journalists, as it has failed to pursue a case against Pedro Rivera, who used a drone to cover a deadly car crash. However, the agency also said it was "looking into" another recent case of a drone being used to film a tornado in Arkansas.

The footage above helps emphasize the usefulness of drone coverage—you get a true sense of the scale of the disaster—and helps drive home how nasty these oil train crashes are. So does this:

That's a photo snapped by a local and shared on Reddit by /u/SuperTuff, where it racked up over 3,600 upvotes. Each tanker was loaded with 30,000 gallons of oil, and officials say at least 50,000 are missing at last count. 

Last year, 1.15 million gallons of oil leaked, spewed, and exploded out of train cars. This unfortunate incident will add to that tally, as well as continue to remind us that we're in a bold new age of oil train transport.

With the domestic oil boom in full swing, trains and barges are heading to refineries and ports that haven't been used in ages. Operators aren't used to this volume of traffic either, and regulators are woefully behind and overwhelmed