Federal Inspector General to audit transport of volatile crude by rail cars

Repost from The Chicago Sun Times
[Editor: See the Inspector General’s audit announcement here and the PDF notice to the Federal Railroad Administrator here.  – RS]

Federal IG to audit transport of volatile crude by rail cars

Rosalind Rossi, October 29, 2014
A CSX train from Chicago carrying crude oil derailed in April in Lynchburg, Va., forcing the evacuation of hundred.
A CSX train from Chicago carrying crude oil derailed in April in Lynchburg, Va., forcing the evacuation of hundreds.

A federal inspector general is launching an audit of whether hazardous materials are being carried safely over the nation’s rails — including highly-volatile Bakken crude that travels through the Chicago area.

“Due to the public safety risk posed by increases in the transportation of hazardous materials by rail, we are initiating an audit assessing the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) enforcement of hazardous materials regulations using inspections and other tools,” a memo on the website of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

The memo specifically cited a fatal July 2013 Bakken oil train derailment in Lac Megantic, Canada, that “highlighted the importance of oversight of hazardous materials being transported by rail.” The Lac Megantic blast decimated more than 30 downtown buildings in the Canadian town and killed 47 people.

At least eight rail lines carry Bakken crude through Illinois, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. They are BNSF, Norfolk-Southern, Alton & Southern, CN, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific. Maps provided by BNSF to the Illinois emergency agency indicated BNSF rails carry Bakken through Cook County.

A candlelight vigil about what protestors called “bomb trains” was held July 10 at the BNSF terminal at 16th Street and Western Ave out of fear that black tank cars observed there with  placards indicating they held flammable petroleum were actually carrying Bakken crude. The protest was among those waged nationally to observe the one-year anniversary of the Lac Megantic disaster.

“We saw 47 people killed in Lac Megantic,’’ Debra Michaud, an organizer of the Pilsen protest, said at the time. “A bomb train explosion in Pilsen or Little Village would be many times that.’’

In April, a CSX train traveling from Chicago and loaded with crude oil derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Va.. The incident shut down roads and bridges and forced the evacuation of hundreds. No one was injured or killed.

The crash was among series of accidents across North America involving railroads’ crude oil shipments, which have surged dramatically as oil production rises in regions like North Dakota’s Bakken shale and western Canada.

Wednesday’s inspector general memo noted that crude oil shipments have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 407,761 in 2013 — a more than 4000 percent jump.

Mayors Karen Darch of Barrington and Tom Weisner of Aurora have been particularly vocal about the increasing transport of volatile crude and other dangerous products. They say their residents face frequent traffic jams caused by long trains carrying volatile liquids and worry about the sturdiness of tank cars holding such liquid.

Some volatile fluids are being transported in the equivalent of the “Ford Pinto” of rail cars and such tankers should be upgraded, Darch has contended.

Darch Wednesday welcomed the IG audit as a positive development.

“We are all concerned about public safety risk and hopefully this report will have suggestions for further enhancing public safety,” Darch said.

Share...

    Post Carbon Institute: report finds that tight oil production from major plays will peak before 2020

    Repost from Post Carbon Institute
    [Editor: Significant quote: “Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas production is found to be unsustainable in the medium- and longer-term at the rates forecast by the EIA, which are extremely optimistic.”  – RS]

    DRILLING DEEPER: A Reality Check On U.S. Government Forecasts for A Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

    By David Hughes, October 27, 2014
    Abstract

    cover_Drilling-Deeper_300w (2)Drilling Deeper reviews the twelve shale plays that account for 82% of the tight oil production and 88% of the shale gas production in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) reference case forecasts through 2040. It utilizes all available production data for the plays analyzed, and assesses historical production, well- and field-decline rates, available drilling locations, and well-quality trends for each play, as well as counties within plays. Projections of future production rates are then made based on forecast drilling rates (and, by implication, capital expenditures). Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas production is found to be unsustainable in the medium- and longer-term at the rates forecast by the EIA, which are extremely optimistic.

    This report finds that tight oil production from major plays will peak before 2020. Barring major new discoveries on the scale of the Bakken or Eagle Ford, production will be far below the EIA’s forecast by 2040. Tight oil production from the two top plays, the Bakken and Eagle Ford, will underperform the EIA’s reference case oil recovery by 28% from 2013 to 2040, and more of this production will be front-loaded than the EIA estimates. By 2040, production rates from the Bakken and Eagle Ford will be less than a tenth of that projected by the EIA. Tight oil production forecast by the EIA from plays other than the Bakken and Eagle Ford is in most cases highly optimistic and unlikely to be realized at the medium- and long-term rates projected.

    Shale gas production from the top seven plays will also likely peak before 2020. Barring major new discoveries on the scale of the Marcellus, production will be far below the EIA’s forecast by 2040. Shale gas production from the top seven plays will underperform the EIA’s reference case forecast by 39% from 2014 to 2040, and more of this production will be front-loaded than the EIA estimates. By 2040, production rates from these plays will be about one-third that of the EIA forecast. Production from shale gas plays other than the top seven will need to be four times that estimated by the EIA in order to meet its reference case forecast.

    Over the short term, U.S. production of both shale gas and tight oil is projected to be robust-but a thorough review of production data from the major plays indicates that this will not be sustainable in the long term. These findings have clear implications for medium and long term supply, and hence current domestic and foreign policy discussions, which generally assume decades of U.S. oil and gas abundance.

    Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

    Share...

      SF Chronicle Editorial, The real crazy train: moving Bakken crude by rail

      Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

      Editorial: The real crazy train: moving Bakken crude by rail

      Chronicle Editorial Board, October 26, 2014

      GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari likes to deride Gov. Jerry Brown’s high-speed rail plan as the Crazy Train, but the loonier rail proposal is the one that would carry explosive Bakken crude 1,000 miles across the country to the Valero refinery in Benicia and other California refiners. Californians must have more assurances of safe rail operation before Valero’s oil-transfer-terminal plans proceed.

      The City Council of Benicia, a town of 28,000 on the Carquinez Strait, has debated for months a draft environmental impact report on Valero’s plan to modify its refinery to bring in crude by rail. Oil, mostly from Alaska, currently enters the refinery via pipeline from ships docked at the Port of Benicia. Bakken crude, however, must come by rail because no major pipeline runs to the West Coast from North Dakota where it is extracted from the oil shale.

      Community concerns include environmental risks but center on public safety because Bakken oil is more volatile than most other crudes. A derailed tanker train loaded with Bakken crude exploded in July 2013, killing 47 people in Canada and alerting transportation officials and the public to the real hazards of transporting this easily ignited oil. For Benicians, potentially explosive trains are no theoretical debate as two 50-car trains would pass daily through the north end of town.

      Nor is it an abstract discussion for the residents of Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis, where trains would roll through downtown daily. Davis Mayor Dan Wolk noted: “This may be technically a city of Benicia decision, but no city is an island in our interconnected region. Our community has real concerns about the potential safety impacts.”

      So does California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who wrote Benicia officials earlier this month that “the DEIR fails to provide sufficient information for an adequate analysis of the safety risks from transportation or the air quality impacts from refining the new crude. These issues must be addressed and corrected before the City Council of Benicia takes action.” It is unclear whether the state would sue if the city failed to act.

      Valero representatives clearly have no interest in expanding the scope of the permitting process to the state. Valero spokesman Bill Day told The Chronicle, “This is really the city of Benicia’s decision.”

      Harris also wrote to Benicia that the draft report “ignores reasonably foreseeable project impacts by impermissibly limiting the scope of the affected environment analyzed to only the 69-mile stretch from Benicia to Roseville.” With so many communities affected, the state should stand firm and Solano County should use its authority over the refinery-expansion permits to persuade Valero to negotiate better public safety protections from the railroads, such as state-of-the-art train-control technology.

      What’s really crazy is the federal law that allows pre-emption of municipal and state law when it comes to critical decisions on rail safety. Affected communities deserve a say over what rolls through their towns.

      Share...