Soil Contamination in Lac-Mégantic: new study

Repost from The Montreal Gazette

Contamination in Lac-Mégantic may be less than original estimate: study

By Michelle Lalonde, THE GAZETTE – July 31, 2014

Estimates of soil contamination at Lac-Mégantic after last summer’s deadly train derailment may have been exaggerated, according to a new study commissioned by the provincial environment department.

Envisol Canada Inc., a Montreal-based engineering firm that specializes in geostatistical studies of contaminated sites, re-examined data collected in Lac-Mégantic in 2013. The firm used 3D mapping to visualize contamination dispersion to re-estimate contaminated soil volumes.

An earlier estimate of contaminated soil in the worst-hit area of downtown Lac-Mégantic — using the traditional method, known as the Thyssen Polygons method — was 126,300 cubic metres. The geostatistical method found between 64,000 and 92,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil in the same area.

“With this method we can look at the migration of contamination in specific topology and geology,” said Sara Godoy, a contaminated site consultant with Envisol who worked on the study.

She explained that the geostatistical method, which is used widely by mining companies to analyze the commercial viability of sites and has been evolving since the 1950s, is more scientific and considers more variables than the Polygons method.

It is more expensive because of the equipment and expertise required, but she said it can save money in the long run by pinpointing contaminated areas with more accuracy and avoiding unnecessary decontamination work.

An estimated 6 million litres of crude oil spilled out of the runaway freight train that rolled into downtown Lac-Mégantic on July 6 and burst into flames. The fire killed 47 people, destroyed the downtown area of the tourist town and caused extensive environmental damage to soil and waterways.

Two other reports released last year by the Environment Department indicated a total of 558,000 tonnes of contaminated soil will have to be removed and replaced in downtown Lac-Mégantic.

By the end of October, 75,000 cubic metres of soil had been excavated from the town and moved to a storage and treatment site. The Environment Department has said soil decontamination work could cost between $75 million and $100 million.

The Envisol study recommends the Environment Department conduct further research into whether the province should be using the geostatistical method to characterize soil contamination in the event of significant oil spills in the future.

    Two-month comment period starts for new federal oil train rules

    Repost from The Hill
    [Editor: The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing new rules for oil train transport. You can post a comment online here.  The proposed rules, including instructions for submitting comments, can be downloaded here.  – RS]

    Comment period starts for oil train rules

    By Timothy Cama – 08/01/14

    The Obama administration Friday formally published proposals in the Federal Register to stiffen safety rules for trains carrying crude oil and other fuels, kicking off a two-month period in which the public can comment.

    The proposals were prompted chiefly by the increase in oil shipped by rail from the Bakken region of North Dakota, which Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week necessitates “a new world order on how this stuff moves.” A train carrying crude derailed in Quebec last year, setting off an explosion that killed 47.

    The Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed phasing out old rail cars for oil and other flammable liquids like ethanol, implementing new speed and braking standards for the trains and establishing a new testing and classification system for the fuels. Foxx called the rules “the most significant progress” in protecting the country from explosions caused by trains carrying Bakken crude.

    DOT said it wants comments on three different possible rules for speed limits and three different options for the thickness of steel on cars.

    DOT also said it was not likely to extend the comment period beyond the 60-day standard, “given the urgency of the safety issues addressed in these proposals.”

      Ethanol dependent on old-style tank cars

      Repost from Argus

      Railway Supply Institute: Ethanol dependent on old-style tank cars

      1 Aug 2014

      Houston  — The US ethanol industry is particularly vulnerable to pending regulatory changes that will require retrofitting or retiring a type of railcar that carries 98pc of ethanol production.

      In comments to the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) planned changes to tank car design released last week, the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) said about 29,200 of the approximately 29,780 tank cars moving ethanol as of June were doing so in unjacketed old-style DOT-111 tank cars. Those cars must be retrofitted or retired under the proposed rules.

      Jackets add another layer of steel to the tank, increasing overall protection. They are an option to retrofit DOT-111s to make them safer.

      DOT-111 cars have been under renewed scrutiny since several exploded into flames in a July 2013 derailment at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Four more fiery crude-by-rail accidents since then spun regulators in both the US and Canada into action on car design.

      But it was an ethanol train derailment in June 2009 that spurred the first wave of action. The Cherry Valley, Illinois, accident killed one person and prompted industry to voluntarily strengthen car design in 2011, creating the current industry standard known as CPC-1232.

      But despite the reliance on older DOT-111s to move ethanol, documentation from the Surface Transportation Board and the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration shows there was only one ethanol-by-rail accident last year — with no release or fire — compared with five crude-by-rail accidents.

      The last reported US ethanol-by-rail accident involving a fire was in August 2012 at Plevna, Montana, when 17 cars derailed and 12 spilled more than 245,000 USG.

      According to RSI’s comments to the DOT, which were released last week along with a series of proposals on new speed limits and tank car design for flammable liquids, 580 tank cars either of the newer CPC-1232 model or jacketed DOT-111s were moving ethanol in June, making up 2pc of the fleet.

      Meanwhile, of the 42,550 tank cars moving crude in June, 19,750 either were newer-model CPC-1232 or DOT-111 with jacketing, accounting for 46pc.

      “Our industry’s rapid expansion occurred in 2005-2006-2007, and the only cars made available were the [DOT-111] cars, which were purchased or leased with the expectation of a 40- or 50-year lifespan,” Bob Dinneen, chief executive of the Renewable Fuels Association, told Argus. “When you started to see a lot more crude oil moving from the Bakken, by then the [CPC-1232] cars were being made available, so they were lucky to get those cars.”

      DOT last week suggested that DOT-111 tank cars be retired after two years, to be replaced either by a more stringent design it has proposed, another proposed by the Association of American Railroads that is largely similar except that it lacks electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or continuation of the current CPC-1232 design.

      The initial regulatory push is too broad-brush and should be more focused on crude, Dinneen said.

      “They ought to be prioritizing by the commodity about which, by their own admission, they are most concerned,” Dinneen said, referring to light crude. Conversely, the American Petroleum Institute chastised the government for singling out Bakken crude, which it said is no more volatile than other grades.

      Yesterday, railcar lessor GATX also called for a more commodity-based approach to the DOT-111 phase-out, saying it is not currently clear what markets DOT-111s might serve once they are banned from crude or ethanol use.