UPDATE: Latest on West Virginia derailment, explosion

Two recent stories in the media:

1.  WEST VIRGINIA METRO NEWS: No change for CSX, Bakkan oil will continue to roll through area where derailment took place
By Chris Lawrence, February 27, 2015 at 2:47PM

MOUNT CARBON, W.Va. — There will be another CSX train carrying Bakkan oil going through eastern Kanawha and Fayette counties soon now that the track has been repaired following the Feb. 19 derailment of an oil train near Mount Carbon.

“It’s part of the freight that goes over that line,” CSX Spokesman Gary Sease told MetroNews Friday. “Those shipments, along with all the other freight we haul, have resumed.”

The rebuilt line, just a few miles from Montgomery, reopened Thursday afternoon following a week long cleanup.  [CONTINUED]

2.  PBS NEWSHOUR: Fiery train wrecks put pressure on safety standards for oil transport
February 27, 2015 – 8:43am
A combination photo shows a sequence of an explosion erupting from a CSX Corp train derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia pictured across the Kanawha River in Boomer, West Virginia February 16, 2015. Photo by Steve Keenan/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.

Nine days later a 100-car train hauling crude oil and petroleum distillates derailed and caught fire in a remote part of Ontario, Canada. Less than 48 hours later, a 109-car oil train derailed and caught fire in West Virginia, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning a house to its foundation. As the fire spread across 19 of the cars, a nearby resident said the explosions sounded like an “atomic bomb.” Both fires burned for nearly a week.  [CONTINUED]


    MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO: Seven things you need to know about oil-by-rail safety

    Repost from Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)

    7 things you need to know about oil-by-rail safety

    By Emily Kaiser, Feb 26, 2015
    Derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia
    This aerial Feb. 17, 2015 file photo photo made available by the Office of the Governor of West Virginia shows a derailed train in Mount Carbon, West Virginia. Steven Wayne Rotsch | AP file

    Last week’s oil train derailment in West Virginia launched a national conversation about the safety of shipping oil by rail. It’s a topic we’ve been hearing about over the past couple years, especially here in Minnesota, where Bakken oil crisscrosses the state’s rail lines in large volume.

    It’s a complex topic combining federal policy with scientific questions. The Wall Street Journal’s Russell Gold has been following the issue closely and spoke to MPR News’ Tom Weber to explain what you need to know.

    Here are 7 things you should know about oil transport by rail:

    1. The most misunderstood part of crude oil transport by train: It’s very explosive.

    “The kind of oil that’s being taken out of the ground in North Dakota and put into these tanker cars is a much lighter oil,” Gold said. “It is a very gassy oil; it has a lot of ethanes, and butanes and propanes dissolved in it. It really does explode and that’s really what’s causing the problems.”

    When a set of tanker cars goes up in flames, it can cause 20-story-tall fireballs.

    Footage from the West Virigina derailment last week:

    2. The amount of crude oil carried by train has increased exponentially in less than a decade.

    According to the American Association of Railroads, there were 9,500 rail cars carrying crude in 2008. Last year is was 400,000.

    We’ve been moving small amounts of crude by rail for years, but it was one or two cars in long train, Gold said. Now we see 100 to 120 tanker cars all filled with crude oil. That’s 70,000 barrels of crude per train, he said.

    3. Once the crude oil is extracted in North Dakota, it has to be transported to the country’s major refineries on the coasts.

    Refineries are built to utilize the gases removed from the product. If it was stabilized near the extraction site, North Dakota would have to find a way to use or dispose of the ethane and propane gases that make the oil explosive.

    4. Railroads have become “virtual pipelines” for oil.

    From a Gold WSJ article:

    While these virtual pipelines can be created in months, traditional pipelines have become increasingly difficult to install as environmental groups seek to block permits for new energy infrastructure.

    “What we are seeing on rail is largely due to opposition to and uncertainty around building pipelines,” said Brigham McCown, who was the chief pipeline regulator under President George W. Bush . Pipelines, he adds, are far safer than trains.

    5. Pipeline leaks and spills are environmental problems. Oil train derailments are public safety issues.

    When you have a tank car that derails and starts losing it’s very gassy oil, it’s going to burst into fire rather than leak into waterways, Gold said.

    6. If you live close to these rail lines, get in touch with local first responders.

    Gold recommends checking with emergency responders nearby and ask if they are properly trained to handle a crude oil train derailment. Make sure your fire chief is in contact with the rail companies to know when major shipments come through your area. Push for decreasing train speed limits and increased track inspection.

    7. Can we make the tanker cars safer? Gold gave us the latest:

    MPR News Producer Brigitta Greene contributed to this report.


      Multiple train disasters: Public awareness increasing exponentially

      By Roger Straw, Editor, 2/26/15
      Oil train.
      Oil train. Credit flickr user: Roy Luck (CC-BY-2.0)

      A series of horrific train accidents over the past two weeks has opened a floodgate of media news stories, investigative reports, editorials and calls for action.  Local, state and federal first responders and emergency planners, as well as elected and appointed officials have produced an incredible amount of headlines.  As an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it, “Public awareness of these issues is increasing exponentially.”

      That is good news for those of us who have been calling for a moratorium on dangerous crude by rail and a cutback and eventual ceasing of production of Bakken crude and Canadian tar-sands dilbit.

      Here is a rough sampling of a few of the postings by media nationwide:

      MONTANA PUBLIC RADIO: Rail Safety Analysis Sparks Concern Over Oil Trains
      By Edward O’Brien, 2/26/15

      A new analysis of train safety and recent accidents involving spilled crude oil has caught the attention of many Montanans, especially as more trains carrying oil are moving through the state.  ¶ That’s because a lot crude moves on our rail lines.  ¶ Joe Hanson is well aware of the risk presented by these crude shipments.  ¶ “I went to the door and opened it up and it was just this gray, greenish cloud floating in the street. It was really eerie because of the street lights.”  ¶ That was April 11 of 1996 when 19 Montana Rail Link freight cars derailed near Hanson’s Alberton home. Six of those cars contained hazardous chemicals including chlorine gas.  ¶ The spill killed one person and forced the evacuation of over 1,000 Alberton residents for over two weeks.  [MORE]  [AUDIO]

      RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH: Op-Ed: Missed opportunities could prove toxic for Virginia
      By Greta Bagwell and Emily Russell, February 25, 2015 10:30 pm

      The headlines should be familiar to Virginians by now: “River on fire after train derailment”; “Drinking water supplies shut down to thousands after spill”; “Polluters fined for violating environmental laws.” Last week, another CSX train carrying volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia. At least 15 rail cars caught fire, sending a neighborhood into evacuation mode….The train cars were state-of-the-art, designed to address safety concerns arising from the transport of a highly flammable fuel. ¶ The intended destination of this fuel? Yorktown, Va. With this train derailment, we have now had two railway accidents on the same railroad that cuts across the commonwealth…. [MORE]

      BUFFALO ART VOICE WEEKLY: Buffalo’s Bomb Trains
      by Michael I. Niman, 2/26/15

      They span over a mile long containing up to 140 tank cars and as much as 4.5 million gallons of some of the nastiest forms of crude oil on earth, pumped from “extreme” extraction operations in North America’s new oil boomtowns. They cross rivers and transverse open plains, wilderness forest and some of the most densely populated urban areas in the country. Occasionally, with alarmingly increasing frequency, they careen off into rivers, catch fire and explode, or both. When spilled in water, their heavy oil exterminates river ecosystems. When they blow up, they release the fires of hell, with one oil train accident in 2013 wiping out most of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and gutting its downtown. That’s when folks started referring to these explosive steel snakes as “Bomb Trains.”  [MORE]