All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Yet another derailment – in central Philadelphia

Repost from Philadelphia-based Protecting Our Waters.  Pay close attention to paragraph 2 … “Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area…in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.”

A Near Miss from Disaster: Oil Train Derails in Philadelphia

January 20, 2014

by

Bakken Shale oil train derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on January 20th, 2014. Photo: NBC Chicago/SkyForce

Philadelphia’s wake-up call is here. A few months ago, Protecting Our Waters started warning people about the dangers of the fracked oil trains coming to Philadelphia from the Bakken Shale formation out west. We’ve reported on multiple oil train explosions and derailments across North America, one of which, in Lac Megantic, Canada killed 47 people. As of this morning, the threat of an accident here in Philadelphia is no longer hypothetical.

Just after 1 a.m. this morning, seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand. ABC 6 Action News and Fox Philadelphia have short videos on the derailment, although the AP story they include incorrectly states that the accident occurred around 1 p.m. The bridge runs just south of the South Street Bridge from University City to Grays Ferry. It also runs over the heavily-trafficked Schuylkill Expressway, which was shut for two hours following the derailment. Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area. It’s also in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge over the University of Pennsylvania's fields, the Schuylkill Expressway, and the Schuylkill River. From Google Maps

As the trains were carrying oil from out west and following a route we know that the Bakken oil trains take on their way to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, it’s a safe bet that these were the same trains that have derailed and exploded four times in the last eight months and whose construction and contents are becoming notorious for their safety hazards. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trains were crossing a 100-year-old bridge that now sees two mile-long oil trains each day. Fortunately, none of the cars fell off the bridge, nor have authorities found any leaks. News photos show the cars almost dangling from the narrow two-track bridge, precariously close to falling into the river. As of 9 a.m. this morning, they were still there.

As with pipeline explosions and leaks, it seems like oil train derailments and explosions are becoming business as usual. Also as usual, authorities aren’t sure what may have caused the train to derail. That’s a question that needs to be answered before any more of these trains run. Will it be? That’s partly up to us– and to you.

So Philadelphians, or anyone else living in the path of these “bomb trains”: write and call your elected officials and ask them if they have an evacuation plan for if disaster occurs. Urge them to make sure the trains are stopped to ensure residents’ safety; join our regional letter-writing campaign (contact powinquiries@gmail for fact sheets and more information), and tell your neighbors about the threat chugging right through our backyards.

Please share!

More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades

Repost from McClatchy Washington Bureau:

More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades, federal data show

By Curtis Tate
McClatchy Washington Bureau
2014-01-21T21:37:35Z
McClatchy_Newspapers

WASHINGTON — More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents last year than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills, an analysis of the data shows.

Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.

The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.

Nearly 750,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a train on Nov. 8 near Aliceville, Ala. The train also originated in North Dakota and caught fire after it derailed in a swampy area. No one was injured or killed.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn’t yet have spill data from a Dec. 30 derailment near Casselton, N.D. But the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the lead investigator in that incident, estimates that more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled there. Though no one was injured or killed, the intense fire forced most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents to evacuate in subzero temperatures.

The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, estimates that railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year. That’s more than 11.5 billion gallons, with one tank car holding roughly 28,800 gallons.

Last year’s total spills of 1.15 million gallons means that 99.99 percent of shipments arrived without incident, close to the safety record the industry and its regulators claim about hazardous materials shipments by rail.

But until just a few years ago, railroads weren’t carrying crude oil in 80- to 100-car trains. In eight of the years between 1975 and 2009, railroads reported no spills of crude oil. In five of those years, they reported spills of one gallon or less.

In 2010, railroads reported spilling about 5,000 gallons of crude oil, according to federal data. They spilled fewer than 4,000 gallons each year in 2011 and 2012. But excluding the Alabama and North Dakota derailments, more than 11,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from trains last year.

Last week, the principal Washington regulators of crude oil shipments by rail met with railroad and oil industry representatives to discuss making changes to how crude is shipped by rail, from tank car design to operating speed to appropriate routing. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the meeting productive and said the group would take a comprehensive approach to improving the safety of crude-oil trains.

Foxx said the changes would be announced within the next 30 days.

Crude oil spills on U.S. railroads

From federal data showing locations, dates and amounts of oil spilled from trains, 1975 to 2013.

Crude_Oil_Spills_2013

Please share!

Editor’s update, January, 2014

By Roger Straw

Valero_Crude_by_Rail-Project_Description_March_2013_(cover_page)The City of Benicia has tentatively scheduled the release of the Valero Crude by Rail DRAFT EIR for “January, 2014.”  Watch here for news of its release.  Click here to send me an email if you would like to be on the Benicia Independent mailing list.  I will let you know as soon as it breaks.

Meanwhile, study up and be prepared to make your views known about the prospect of tanker trains rolling over the tracks from North Dakota, through communities uprail from here, over the protected waters of the Suisun Marsh and into Benicia.

You can learn a lot here on Benicia Independent – see Recent Posts and Archives at left.  And here are a few encouraging links I discovered this morning:

  • Railroad town battles train crude cars
    LAMY, NM (KRQE) – The railroad has been running through Lamy, New Mexico for more than a century. Since 1880, rail cars have hauled people and freight through the tiny town. But while the town is tied to its tracks, many here feel like something is barreling down on them: train cars hauling crude oil.  MORE
  • Oil-by-Rail: Crude oil shipments poised to take over Northwest railways
    CENTER FOR JUSTICE / ADVOCATES & ATTORNEYS/RIVERKEEPER: Washington state is becoming ground zero in transportation of oil, putting Spokane, surrounding communities and the Spokane River once again in the cross hairs of dirty energy.  MORE
  • Grays Harbor Crude-By-Rail Terminals Blocked – State board to halt oil projects.
    EARTHJUSTICE:   OLYMPIA, WA — The Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board stated that it will reverse the permits issued to two major crude-by-rail shipping terminals in a letter to interested parties. The decision will send the proposals back to the City of Hoquiam and the Washington Department of Ecology to conduct a complete review of the environmental risks and harms of transforming Grays Harbor into an industrial crude oil zone.  MORE

You can also study the original documents on the City’s “Valero Crude by Rail” page.   Many of those documents are also posted here in searchable form – click on Documents above.

You must make up your own mind, of course, but as for me, after months of study, I will oppose the proposal on grounds of public safety, air quality, inadequate emergency planning and inadequate federal regulation of rail transport of hazardous materials.  It is unlikely that any mitigations proposed in the DEIR will be sufficient to change my mind.  Let’s hope that our Planning Commissioners will deny the permit on these and other grounds, and that our City Council will stand firm if/when Valero appeals.

Roger Straw
Editor and Publisher
The Benicia Independent

Please share!