Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Was Avoidable Corporate Crime

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Was Avoidable Corporate Crime

By Justin Mikulka, October 24, 2017 – 17:39
Lac-Mégantic before oil train explosion leveled its downtown
Lac-Mégantic before oil train explosion leveled its downtown. (See below for before/after photo.)

Damning new testimony from an engineer of the locomotive involved in the deadly 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, reveals several ways corporate cost-cutting directly led to the accident, which claimed 47 lives.

We already knew for certain that a fire on the locomotive, which had been left parked and running for the night, per standard practice, was the direct cause of the disaster. That blaze resulted in the local fire department, directed by a rail company employee, to turn off the power to the locomotive. However, that action also shut off power to the air brakes, which eventually failed and caused the train to roll down the tracks into downtown Lac-Mégantic, where it exploded and leveled the area.

However, in newly released testimony reported by CBCNews, we learn about a troubling exchange between train engineer François Daigle, who had driven the oil train two days before its fiery derailment, and his supervisor:

Daigle said on that trip he noticed the locomotive kept losing speed and produced black smoke.

Daigle told the court he reported the problems to his supervisor, Jean Demaître, and sent a fax to the repair shop in Maine at the end of his shift.

Daigle said he asked Demaître to change the lead locomotive because of the repair issues.

“What was Demaître’s answer?” Crown prosecutor Marie-Éve Phaneuf asked.

“You’re complaining again?” Daigle said Demaître told him, continuing: “This is what we have, and at any rate, you are going to be receiving your pension after me.”

Daigle said he understood that to mean no changes would be made.

If that locomotive had been replaced, the Lac-Mégantic disaster most likely would not have happened.

A Train Much, Much Too Heavy

A second factor in the accident was related to its braking system. Once the fire department shut off the locomotive’s brakes, the train was only held in place by manual handbrakes, which proved insufficient for the train’s weight.

In Daigle’s testimony, which is part of the criminal trial of three of his Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA) colleagues, he revealed that the train was almost 50 percent heavier than regulations allowed. The train’s maximum allowed weight was 6,300 tonnes. The actual weight was 9,100 tonnes. Would the handbrakes have been sufficient to hold the train in place if it wasn’t so much heavier than permitted?

In his testimony Daigle also stated that management would not allow him to refuse to operate that train even when he knew it was overweight.

On top of all this, we already knew that it was company policy for employees to save time by not engaging a train’s third “automatic” braking system. Even with everything else going wrong, if the automatic braking system had been engaged, this disaster would likely have been averted and 47 lives spared.

It’s Not Them We Want

Less than a week after the 2013 disaster, Martin Lukacs, columnist for The Guardian, wrote a prophetic statement: “the explosion in Lac-Mégantic is not merely a tragedy. It is a corporate crime scene.” He couldn’t have been more right.

At DeSmog we have previously detailed the many other cost-cutting steps that led to this oil train disaster.

However, there was one other person who certainly knew who was to blame long before Daigle’s testimony was released. Thomas Harding is the engineer currently on trial with two fellow employees, none of them executives. In 2014 I wrote a piece about Lac-Mégantic for DeSmog, titled, “Should CEOs Get Jail Time For Oil-By-Rail Accidents Like Lac Megantic?” In that story, I included the following description of the crowd of people who watched as Harding and the others were taken into court after their arrests:

When Harding and two other crew members were frog marched into court after their arrest, Ghislain Champagne, the father of a woman who died in the Lac-Mégantic accident, yelled out, “It’s not them we want.”

But perhaps the management at MMA would be inclined to reply: “Are you complaining again?”

Images: Lac-Mégantic before and after the oil train explosion in 2013. | Credit: Claude Grenier, Studio Numéra, Lac-Mégantic.
Please share!

GAO: Climate change already costing U.S. billions in losses

Repost from the Los Angeles Daily News
[Editor: This came to us in an E-Alert from Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who wrote, “The red lights are flashing – hottest summers and fall, greatest hurricane force, worst fires in history of California, lives lost, air pollution killing millions, and all of this is costing us billions… …rising sea level will affect structures near the Benicia waterfront at 6 feet above current sea level.  Our water (sewer) will be affected by rising sea level before 2050.  Our water supply may be uncertain.  We can mitigate and adapt….”  – RS]

US Government Accountability Office: Climate change already costing U.S. billions in losses

By Michael Biesecker, Associated Press, October 23, 2017 8:13 pm
california wildfires
Sarah Boryszewski is helped by her father Gerald Peete as they dig for belongings in the remains of Boryszewski’s home in Coffey Park, Friday Oct. 20, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Northern California residents who fled a wildfire in the dead of night with only minutes to spare returned to their neighborhoods Friday for the first time in nearly two weeks to see if anything was standing. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

WASHINGTON — A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise as devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts become more frequent in the coming decades.

A Government Accountability Office report released Monday said the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. That tally does not include the massive toll from this year’s three major hurricanes and wildfires, expected to be among the most costly in the nation’s history.

The report predicts these costs will only grow in the future, potentially reaching a budget busting $35 billion a year by 2050. The report says the federal government doesn’t effectively plan for these recurring costs, classifying the financial exposure from climate-related costs as “high risk.”

“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” the study said. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”

GAO undertook the study following a request from Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“This nonpartisan GAO report Senator Cantwell and I requested contains astonishing numbers about the consequences of climate change for our economy and for the federal budget in particular,” said Collins. “In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. We are experiencing a real change in the sea life, which has serious implications for the livelihoods of many people across our state, including those who work in our iconic lobster industry.”

The report’s authors reviewed 30 government and academic studies examining the national and regional impacts of climate change. They also interviewed 28 experts familiar with the strengths and limitations of the studies, which rely on future projections of climate impacts to estimate likely costs.

The report says the fiscal impacts of climate change are likely to vary widely by region. The Southeast is at increased risk because of coastal property that could be swamped by storm surge and sea level rise. The Midwest and Great Plains are susceptible to decreased crop yields, the report said. The west is expected to see increased drought, wildfires and deadly heatwaves.

Advance copies were provided to the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, which provided no official comments for inclusion in the GAO report.

Requests for comment from The Associated Press also received no response on Monday.

President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, announcing his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords and revoke Obama-era initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has also appointed officials such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, all of whom question the scientific consensus that carbon released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming.

Earlier this month Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White of Texas to serve as his top environmental adviser at the White House. She has credited the fossil fuel industry with “vastly improved living conditions across the world” and likened the work of mainstream climate scientists to “the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics.”

White, who works at a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies, holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature.

Please share!

Rail industry phasing out DOT-111 tank cars involved in derailments ahead of deadline

Repost from The Jamestown Sun

Rail industry phasing out tank cars involved in Casselton derailment ahead of deadline

By John Hageman, Oct 24, 2017 12:27 p.m.
A fire from a train derailment burns uncontrollably as seen in this photograph Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, west of Casselton, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Amid declining shipments, the rail industry is phasing out “less-safe” tank cars carrying crude oil ahead of rapidly approaching deadlines to do so.

The federally mandated deadlines to remove the DOT-111 tank cars from oil service came after several high-profile derailments involving Bakken crude. That included the deadly Lac-Megantic, Quebec, disaster in 2013 and the explosion near Casselton, N.D., later that year.

As of Jan. 1, DOT-111 cars without a protective steel layer known as a jacket can no longer carry crude oil. Those cars with the jacket must be phased out two months later.

A U.S. Department of Transportation report sent to Congress last month shows the number of those cars carrying crude oil has dropped dramatically over the past few years. In 2013, 14,337 of them carried crude oil, which sank to 366 last year.

That shift has been aided by a steep decline in Williston Basin rail exports over the past few years. A rush of activity in western North Dakota forced oil onto the tracks, but pipelines are now the dominant form of oil transportation, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

“The first phase, in terms of removing the DOT-111s … that’s moving along very nicely,” said John Byrne, vice chairman of the Railway Supply Institute’s Committee on Tank Cars. “Because there’s a surplus of cars available to take them out of service and replace them with compliant cars.”

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said the Dakota Access Pipeline helped push oil off the tracks when it went online earlier this year. But rail shipments across the country have been declining since 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads.

The latest BNSF Railway Co. report provided by the state Department of Emergency Services, dated September, shows as many as three oil trains moved through Cass County in one week, down from a high of 56 first reached in 2014.

Pointing to increased training for first responders, DES Hazardous Chemical Officer Jeff Thompson said they’re “more comfortable with the situation than we were before.” But that doesn’t mean they’ve let their guard down.

“There’s always the fear that (it) happens in the middle of a town. And that goes with all train derailments, not just crude oil,” he said.

About 476,000 gallons of oil spilled near Casselton in late December 2013 after an oil train slammed into a derailed grain car, sparking a fireball over the snowy landscape. Residents evacuated, but there were no deaths or serious injuries, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Oil spilled from 18 of the derailed DOT-111 cars in that incident, according to the NTSB, which “long had concerns” about the “less-safe” tank cars because they’re not puncture resistant, have relatively thin shells and lack thermal protection.

In announcing the agency’s findings on the Casselton derailment in February, the NTSB’s then-Chairman Christopher Hart said “progress toward removing or retrofitting DOT-111s has been too slow.” Thousands of those cars are still being used to carry ethanol and other flammable liquids, which have later phase-out dates, according to the transportation department’s report.

By 2029, flammable liquids can only be carried in DOT-117s, which have thicker shells and insulating material, Byrne said. The new and retrofitted versions of those cars now represent 9 percent of the fleet carrying Class 3 flammable liquids, which includes crude oil and ethanol, according the transportation department report.

“There’s been a huge improvement in the overall safety of the cars moving crude today versus what we were looking at in 2013, 2014,” Byrne said.

Please share!

For safe and healthy communities…