Calculating percent of residents in danger zone for crude oil train derailment

Repost from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
[Editor: Someone with better statistician skills than me should verify this: take a look at NRDC’s Derailment Risk Zone Maps for California and do the math.  For instance, the population of Sacramento at risk according to NRDC, (using 2010 figures) is 256,299.  Divide that by the 2010 population of 466,488, and you find that 54.9% (!!) of Sacramento’s population is in the danger zone!  Could this be right?- RS]

PublicSource: 40 percent of Pittsburgh, PA residents in danger zone for crude oil train derailment

By Natasha Khan / PublicSource, August 17, 2014

More than 40 percent of Pittsburgh’s residents live in areas at risk if a train carrying crude oil through the city derails and catches fire, according to a PublicSource analysis.

That number does not include children at 72 K-12 schools inside those areas.

PublicSource created a map using a perimeter of a half-mile on each side of the rail lines known to carry crude oil in the city. A half-mile is the federal evacuation zone recommended for accidents involving crude oil trains.

Pittsburgh’s Office of Emergency Management Services and Homeland Security began doing a risk assessment of the trains after the federal government ordered railroads in May to turn over information about which rail lines carry a million gallons or more of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale at a time.

“Nobody really knows that there is an explosive bomb driving through their neighborhood,” said Bill Bartlett of Action United, a Pittsburgh group that advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income families.

Dubbed “virtual pipelines,” these trains can carry millions of gallons of crude oil in more than 100 tank cars and can be a mile long. Many of them are on their way to Philadelphia refineries carrying increasingly large shipments of Bakken crude from North Dakota.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many trains come through Pittsburgh carrying crude oil because the two major railroads, Norfolk Southern and CSX, don’t identify their routes to the public for security and business reasons.

Crude-by-rail traffic has increased by more than 4,000 percent over the past five years. There have been at least 12 significant derailments involving crude oil in North America since May 2013. Lawmakers and public safety groups are concerned that residents near railroad tracks are exposed to more danger. And officials have said safety regulations aren’t keeping up.

The July 2013 accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, was the most devastating in years. A train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying half the downtown.

And, since January, Pennsylvania has had three derailments involving crude. There were no injuries in any of the accidents.

While hazardous materials have traveled on railroads for years, trains have never carried this much crude oil, much of it Bakken crude, which is more flammable than other types of crude.

Emergency response in Pittsburgh

Raymond DeMichiei, deputy director of Pittsburgh’s office of emergency management and homeland security, said his office decided to do the emergency assessment after receiving information in June from the state that trains carrying more than a million gallons of crude were going through the city.

Mr. DeMichiei said his office didn’t have that information previously.

“We’ll determine if we have enough training, equipment,” Mr. DeMichiei said. “If we don’t have enough, we’ll get more.”

At least six states — Washington, North Dakota, California, Montana, Florida and Virginia — have made information publicly available about the amount of Bakken crude and the routes it is traveling.

Pennsylvania did not.

Mr. DeMichiei wouldn’t comment on how many crude trains come through the city daily, but said he generally sees a train along Route 28 on his way to work in the morning and then another one when he drives home.

“We are aware of the issues and we are working to make everyone as safe as possible,” he said.

Mr. DeMichiei said Pittsburgh doesn’t have a response plan specifically for Bakken crude and the railroads haven’t provided one. If an accident did occur, he said the city would base its response on U.S. Department of Transportation guidelines for accidents involving flammable liquids and establish a danger zone of a half-mile on either side of the track. That danger zone could expand depending on the scope of the accident, he said.

Emergency response officials in major cities and small towns have testified before Congress that responders wouldn’t be prepared to handle a large-scale crude oil disaster like the deadly one in Quebec.

Sixty-five percent of fire departments responsible for hazardous materials response haven’t trained all of their personnel for crude, a member of the International Association of Firefighters told Congress last month.

New York fire officials asked Congress to direct $100 million in emergency funds for a national training program for firefighters to address risks from these trains. The money would be used to train firefighters and to put in place stashes of firefighting foam and equipment, according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Alvin Henderson, chief of Allegheny County Emergency Services, said the rail industry has been very cooperative and first responders in the county are receiving training specific to crude oil.

Mr. Henderson said he’s not “losing any sleep” over crude oil moving through Pittsburgh.

A spokesman for Norfolk Southern said they’ll offer training in Pitcairn this month to first responders so they can get more hands-on experience with rail tank cars, equipment and information about crude oil shipments.

Under a recent voluntary agreement with the DOT, the rail industry committed $5 million for training first responders.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said that, in case of an accident, the city could call on the PA Region 13 Task Force. The task force is an initiative that allows counties to pull resources from the region in an emergency.

Trains rerouted in Missouri

Safety groups have urged railroads to reroute crude oil trains around populous areas.

In St. Louis, a city similar in population size to Pittsburgh, the fire chief and a group of residents said the Union Pacific Railroad has agreed to reroute crude oil trains around their neighborhood, and possibly the entire city.

“We stayed focused on the one issue: Get these trains away from people, get them away from the heart of the city,” said Tim Christian, a member of St. Louis for Safe Trains.

Residents of St. Louis’ Holly Hills neighborhood, where crude oil trains passed daily, held public meetings, lobbied experts and politicians and passed out pamphlets around St. Louis.

“We made just the right amount of noise through the right channels,” Mr. Christian said. “It was community in action and it worked well.”

St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said he has a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the main railroad operator to reroute the trains around Holly Hills. There is no formal agreement, he said.

“I think they rerouted because of a concerned [citizens] group,” Mr. Jenkerson said.

Mr. Christian said he’s received more than a dozen phone calls from people across the U.S. asking how they can organize to reroute crude trains.

Benicia Herald: report on the August 14 Planning Commission hearing

Repost from The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Winning the award for most ridiculous comment was Larry Fullington: “For the past 45 years, Fullington said, the refinery has not experienced any overturned oil tanker car.”  His unskilled use of statistics rises almost to the level of expertise of the Illinois consultant, who came up with the once-in-111-years spill estimate, based on PAST experience and neglecting to account for the massive increase in rail traffic if Valero’s proposal goes forward.  – RS]

Rail plan hearing goes long again

■ Capacity crowd offers pro, con views in commission meeting that is continued 2nd time

THE COUNCIL CHAMBER was filled, and others were seated elsewhere throughout City Hall for Thursday’s meeting. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

The Planning Commission’s ongoing public hearing on the Valero Crude-By-Rail Project draft environmental impact report resumed Thursday. It lasted until 12:30 a.m. Friday and it still wasn’t long enough.

After hearing hours of comments and testimony from the proposed project’s supporters and detractors, the Planning Commission decided to continue the hearing a second time, to its Sept. 11 meeting, to give more people — including commission members — a chance to weigh in on the environmental document.

As they did when the hearing first was opened July 11, members of the public filled the Council Chamber at City Hall, which has a capacity of 120, including the commission, staff members and those handling the recording and broadcast of the meeting.

Between 20 and 30 were seated in the Commission Room and another dozen or more were in a City Hall conference room, where they could watch the proceedings on a screen. Nearly 20 more sat in the City Hall courtyard, where they could hear an audio broadcast. More than 70 chose to spoke Thursday.

Unlike the practices at past meetings, city staff kept the Council Chamber doors locked until about 6:15 p.m. while additional sound equipment was put in place. Once the room was filled, those attending the hearing were directed to side rooms.

Despite the packed City Hall, several speakers said Thursday that people in Benicia remained unfamiliar with the project, and many didn’t even know it had been proposed.

The project initially was proposed after Valero wrote its land use permit application December 2012. The Benicia Department of Community Development has been taking public comment since May 30, 2013.

Public comment on the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) will be taken until the close of business on Sept. 15.

The project would add 8,880 feet of rail and would modify or expand some of the refinery’s infrastructure. Once completed, it would enable the refinery to accept up to 100 tank cars of crude oil a day in two 50-car trains entering refinery property on an existing rail spur that crosses Park Road.

The crude would be pumped to existing crude oil storage tanks by a new offloading pipeline that would be connected to existing piping within the property.

Using photographs, maps and some animation, Ed Ruszel, who owns a business near the proposed construction site, showed how railroad tracks in the city’s industrial area have been reduced, changing from loops that circulated trains around the area to cul de sacs.

He said the project would impact trafic more significantly than described in the DEIR, especially along commercial driveways and along Interstate 680 and major Industrial Park roads, such as Bayshore Road.

He criticized the contention that the twice-a-day trains that would arrive and depart the refinery would have little or no impact on traffic, saying Union Pacific Railroad won’t agree to limits on volume of product it ships or frequency, routing or configuration of its shipments.

In general, railroads are governed under federal law, not by state or local agencies or regulations.

Ruszel said the DEIR presumes the railroad and refinery will operate flawlessly as the oil cars are brought in, unloaded and depart. “The notion that longer trains and increased train traffic will reduce auto traffic is absurd and intentionally misleading.”

Marilyn Bardet, speaking briefly for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, one of the organizations that opposes delivery of crude by rail, said some issues were “obscured” in the DEIR, especially those affecting railside cities besides Benicia.

“The local and regional impacts spiral out,” she said.

Bardet was one of several who told the commission that the state had little regulatory authority over locomotives or how many would be used. “Union Pacific is not part of the application,” she said. “Union Pacific logistics and performance is pivotal.”

Because trains and railroads are regulated at the federal level as interstate commerce, she said, Valero would have little control over Union Pacific, the railroad the refinery would hire to deliver the crude.

“This cast doubts on the DEIR,” she said, adding that “the report didn’t discuss the threat of derailment and of flammable liquid in the Industrial Park.”

Bardet called the project a “local, undesirable land use,” or “LULU.”

Roger Straw, publisher of an online website dedicated to opposing the Crude-by-Rail Project and members of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, challenged the DEIR’s statistics about the likelihood of derailments and spills, calling those numbers “an insult.”

Straw also questioned the safety of the reinforced tanker cars the refinery has promised to use instead of those currently in use. He urged putting the process on hold until only new tank cars and stronger federal rail regulations are in place.

Bibbi Rubenstein, also with Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, disagreed with project supporters that allowing Valero to bring in crude by train would provide any significant jobs, either during construction or once the operation started.

More supporters of the project spoke than detractors. Among them was attorney John Flynn, who said he has been helping Valero Benicia Refinery during the environmental review process. Flynn reminded the commission that the DEIR applies to elements over which the city has control — not those it doesn’t. “Context is essential to any fair discussion,” he said.

In answer to those who sought to delay the project until new federal guidelines are adopted to improve the safety of rail delivery of crude oil, he said rule changes “can’t be the reason to delay,” because Benicia can’t control the federal government.

“Does that mean … that you don’t have a voice?” he said. “No.” But people need to express those concerns to the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in Washington, rather than to a city panel.

“The city has drafted a DEIR it can be proud of,” he said.

Don Cuffel, the refinery’s environmental engineer, repeated several residents’ frustration that some of the DEIR’s findings were that some air quality impacts were “significant and unavoidable.”

“It sounds ominous,” he said; however, he explained that phrase is a California Environmental Quality Act term to note that certain thresholds would be exceeded by the project.

And those thresholds differ by county, he said, and numbers that might indicate no impact in Placer County could be considered “significant” in Yolo County.

The air quality differences caused by the project in those areas would be the equivalent of 10 round trips from Benicia to Tahoe in a diesel recreational vehicle, Cuffel said.

“That doesn’t seem quite so fearsome,” he said.

LINED UP in front of Benicia City Hall, spectators wait for the doors to open to the Planning Commission meeting. Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

Another term that bothered some residents was “unavoidable,” used in the DEIR to describe some of the impacts.

Cuffel said that word meant no mitigation was available to Benicia or Valero because the situation is governed at the federal level, not the state or city level.

“I hope this brings peace of mind,” he said.

The volatility of crude oil brought in from the Bakken fields of North Dakota also worried some who spoke Thursday. But Cuffel said Valero Benicia Refinery has been shipping more volatile chemicals than the light, sweet Bakken crude.

Even before Valero bought the original Humble refinery, he said, the plant had been shipping butane and propane, “which are more volatile than any crude.”

Some speakers were not reassured.

Ramón Castellblanch joined others who were skeptical of the information provided by the refinery to ESA, the city’s consultant that composed the DEIR.

While some contended the consultant had started with a desired goal and found statistics to match, or accused the refinery of manipulating numbers, Castellblanch pointed out that Valero Energy, the local refinery’s owner, had paid millions to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 for air pollution violations, and that in 2008 and 2009 the Benicia refinery was cited for 23 violations.

Such characterizations were countered by other speakers, such as Larry Fullington, who described the Benicia refinery’s history that dates to 1969, when Humble built the plant.

For the past 45 years, Fullington said, the refinery has not experienced any overturned oil tanker car.

“Valero is one of the safest in the nation,” he said, joining those who pointed out the refinery is the only one of two in California — the other also belongs to Valero — to be certified by the California Occupational and Safety Act as an approved Voluntary Protection Program Star site. Valero Benicia Refinery has been earning that designation since 2006.

“They truly care about safety,” Fullington said.

Union Pacific Railroad, the company that would be transporting crude oil should the project be approved, “is one of the most prestigious firms,” he said.

Fullington noted that some critics had expressed fears that the project could lead to an event similar to the 2013 Lac-Megantic tragedy, in which an unmanned runaway train derailed as it sped along the tracks and killed 47 people in Quebec, Canada.

But circumstances in Benicia “aren’t even close,” he said.

Several speakers had described the July 6, 2013, Lac-Megantic incident in which a crude-carrying, 74-car train had been left unmanned but with one locomotive running to provide power to air brakes.

Emergency responders had responded to reports of smoke and fire. The locomotive was shut off, and the train again was left unattended. Without the air brakes, the train began rolling down the hill and picked up speed as it approached Lac-Megantic.

The train derailed and exploded.

At least five of the 47 who died were thought to be incinerated; 30 buildings were destroyed and water lines were severed and couldn’t be repaired until December of last year.

On Thursday, Giovanna Sensi Isolani called crude-carrying trains “rail bombs” as she spoke against the project, and Alan C. Miller demanded the refinery build a rail bypass that would set rail traffic back from heavily populated areas.

But Fullington explained how Benicia’s circumstances were different.

“Valero is on level land,” he said, and trains going in and out of the refinery would travel at 10 mph or less. At that speed, he said, a car that derailed simply would sit on the road bed.

Nor, he said, would a train be left alone, as it was in Lac-Megantic: At several public meetings, refinery officials have said no train would be left unattended.

Fullington said the refinery also had stated it would use the reinforced tank cars that are sturdier than the current Department of Transportation-111 model. The reinforced types are numbered 1232, and he said the ones Valero would use would be manufactured by reputable companies.

And by bringing North American crude to Benicia, he said, the company would help the nation reduce its dependence on oil from other countries.

James Bolds, a rail car specialist who had traveled from Montgomery, Texas, to speak, said he had been hired by Valero to develop specifications, review drawings and review the cars it would use for its project. He described the 1232 car as being made from high-strength steel, with reclosing valves, head shields and other features that make it stronger than the DOT-111 car.

Others remained unconvinced, saying the DEIR didn’t delve deeply enough into possible seismic disturbances; into who would be responsible for the cleanup and liability of any accident; whether train safety could be assured along the Feather River and other places California has considered high risk for derailment; or why the city was considering the project before new federal regulations for tanker cars, rail inspection and automatic systems were in place.

They weren’t swayed by supporters’ reminders that Valero annually contributes about a quarter of the city’s General Fund revenues, and that it had donated more than $13 million to area charities in 10 years; that the refinery employs 450 people, contracts for another 250 and supports 3,900 others; or that the project would provide temporary jobs to 120 construction workers and create 20 permanent jobs at the refinery.

But to those who spoke out against “big oil,” Art Gray, a shift supervisor at Valero, said, “The refinery is made up of people like me. My front yard is 150 yards from the refinery fence line.”

Explaining that the DEIR “finds this to have a positive effect,” he asked the commission, “Let us compete against other refineries.”

Rather than wrapping up the hearing as it kept going until early Friday, the commission unanimously decided to continue the opportunity to take public comment at its Sept. 11 meeting, at which commissioners also would be given a chance to speak.

Donna Beth Weilenman/Staff

Benicia Herald Op Ed: My Dream for Benicia, by Sue Kibbe

Repost from The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Sue Kibbe also submitted her “Dream for Benicia” to the Benicia Planning Commission as a comment for the record on Valero Crude By Rail.  – RS]

My dream for Benicia

I HAVE A DREAM THAT ONE DAY BENICIA WILL RISE UP and be known across the nation as the Little City that said “No” to Big Oil, putting human life and environmental stewardship above human greed and the insatiable quest for increased profits. What a proud day it would be if Benicia said the risk to the thousands living up-rail is too high a price to pay.

Because it is too high a price to pay. The effect on the environment from a spill or explosion would be an unmitigated disaster, a fire that cannot be extinguished, a toxic slick destroying every living thing.

Crude-by-rail has been called “a disaster in the making” by more than one expert. A railway safety consultant has warned, “We’ve got all kinds of failings on all sides, inadequacies that are coming to light because trains are blowing up all over the place.” The Federal Railroad Administration is able to inspect only two-tenths of 1 percent of railroad operations each year. With 140,000 rail miles across the nation, regular inspection of the tracks is impossible.

The Department of Transportation has yet to provide regulations for crude-by-rail transport. Expect pushback from the rail industry. Safety measures such as “positive train control” (PTC) were recommended 45 years ago, yet the technology operates on only a tiny slice of America’s rail network. The railroads have preempted local control and can make routing decisions without public disclosure.

Meanwhile, aging rail trestles and lines such as the one through Feather River Canyon — lines that were never constructed for such heavy traffic — continue to be used with greater frequency. The New York Times reported last month that “400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year . . . up from 9,500 in 2008. . . . From 1975 to 2012, federal records show, (railroads) spilled 800,000 gallons of crude oil. Last year alone, they spilled more the 1.15 million gallons.”

Scott Smith, a scientist whose work has focused on oil spills, has studied samples of the Bakken crude oil from three accident sites. He may be the only expert outside the oil industry to have analyzed this crude. All the samples he studied share the same high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and alkane gases in exceptional combinations. Smith says 30 percent to 40 percent of Bakken crude is made up of toxic and explosive gases. “Any form of static electricity will ignite this stuff and blow it up,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal, based on its own analysis, reported that Bakken has significantly more combustible gases and a higher vapor pressure than oil from other formations. Basically, its flash point is dangerously low, and a chain reaction from tank car to tank car is inevitable.

Examining the draft environmental impact report (DEIR)

Pay attention to the wording in Valero’s proposal: “The Project would not increase the amount of crude oil that can be processed at the refinery . . .” It never says the amount of crude oil that “is being processed” at the refinery. In the DEIR, page 3-2, it says: “The Refinery’s crude oil processing rate is limited to an annual average of 165,000 barrels per day (daily maximum of 180,000 barrels) by its operating permit.” That is a huge increase from the 70,000 barrels per day that it says are processed now. With the 70,000 by rail per day, add 18 vessels shipping 350,000 barrels per vessel — that equals 6,300,000 barrels, a total of 31,850,000 barrels per year — thus an increase in processing, and hence in emissions.

We have read in a Bay Area newspaper that “Valero was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year as one of California’s top distributors of dangerous substances. It was second to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the most profligate disseminator of poisons in the Bay Area, releasing 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground. It was the 10th biggest source of chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to (a) report released in January.

“Almost half of the violations cited by the (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) between 2011 and 2012 involved excessive short-term emissions and valve leaks on tanks.”

According to the DEIR, Section 4.1-23: An unmitigated, significant and unavoidable air quality violation, with a net increase in Nitrogen oxides and ozone precursor emissions would result from transporting crude by rail through the communities up-rail within the Sacramento Basin: in the Yolo-Solano, Sacramento Metropolitan and Placer County Air Quality Management Districts.

How can we, in good conscience — or even legally — violate the air quality of our neighbors to the north by authorizing these shipments? And not only would we affect their air quality, we also would authorize the transport of a highly toxic, corrosive, flammable material in 36, 500 tank cars, each weighing 143 tons when loaded with crude oil — an annual total of 1,460 locomotives weighing more than 7,150 tons when loaded — through these communities, over rails that were never built for and have never carried such heavy traffic, all for the sole purpose of satisfying human greed?

Valero’s net income rose 28 percent in the first quarter of 2014; net income to shareholders jumped to $828 million, while revenues rose to $33.6 billion. If you are telling me that Valero needs this project to stay competitive, you haven’t looked at the facts.

A closer look at ‘job creation,’ one of the claimed benefits to the community from crude-by-rail

The addition of 20 full-time jobs at the refinery will be the result of switching from crude by vessel to rail delivery. There will be 72 fewer vessel deliveries, in which crude is pumped directly from a ship at the dock into pipes and storage tanks in one operation. Instead, there will be 36,500 tank cars per year to be emptied at the refinery, coupling and uncoupling 100 tank cars per day.

Let’s be clear, these are HAZMAT jobs. Not only would you be unloading one of the most toxic substances on the planet, breathing in toxic “fugitive emissions” from the tank cars, you also would be in direct contact with the toxic emissions from 730 locomotives per year. The only thing appealing about these new jobs will be the “good pay” (they are never described as “good jobs”), because they are hazardous, arduous, truly nasty jobs.

Section 4.6.5 Impacts and Mitigation Measures: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Another one of the project’s “benefits” much proclaimed by Valero is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Valero states that crude by rail would “improve air quality in the Bay Area.” They are not lying — this is a carefully worded deception. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is a huge area encompassing every county that touches the Bay, the entirety of every county except for Sonoma and Solano counties. This is the area in which they can legally claim to improve air quality.

The mitigating factor here is the reduced number of oil tankers traversing the Bay. What they calculated were the emissions from 72 ships that will no longer be sailing across 49.5 miles — from the sea buoy outside the Golden Gate to the Valero dock in Benicia and back out again. (That’s 99 miles total for each of the 72 tankers.) They were allowed to subtract those Bay Area emissions from the direct emissions that will be generated right here from construction of the rail terminal, the unloading of crude oil and the 730 locomotive engines moving through the Industrial Park.

This, then, gives Valero a “less than significant” increase in emissions (DEIR Table 4.1-5) — but in reality, while reducing emissions out in the Bay they will be increasing them right here where we live and breathe by 18,433 metric tons per year (DEIR Table 4.6-5). This may be legal in terms of the permitting process, and good news for sailboats on the Bay, but for the people of Benicia and especially for any businesses located in the Industrial Park, it is a terrible deal.

What people need to understand is that this “mitigation” in the “Bay Area” has been used to offset the very real pollution that will happen right here in our city. That pollution is not reduced by one particle, except on paper. To tell us that this is a “benefit” to Benicia is hugely hypocritical and a manipulation of the facts. Do not be deceived. Know that the pollution in this city will increase as a result of crude by rail, and the “mitigation” out in the Bay actually works against us. And if you have a business in the Industrial Park, you will be in the thick of it.

Further emissions and omissions

The DEIR, page 4.1-21, states: “. . . locomotives generate more emissions than marine vessels per mile, per 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil delivered each year, of ROG (reactive organic gas), NOx, (nitrogen oxide), CO (carbon monoxide), PM10 and PM25 (particulate matter of differing micron size).” Estimates are vague regarding all this pollution. We are supposed to take comfort, however, in the decrease in marine emissions from fewer oil tankers traveling from Alaska, South America and the Middle East, which according to this document is supposed to offset all but the lethal NOx from the trains. It’s fancy figuring, subtracting what is happening on the ocean blue from the reality of emissions from 1,460 locomotives, each traveling more than 1,500 miles, that would be added to the terrestrial U.S., directly to hundreds of communities, farms and forests along the railways. The impact would, in fact, be “significant and unavoidable.”

But all this is avoidable — if Benicia declares a moratorium on crude by rail.

I have a dream today . . . that could all too easily become tomorrow’s nightmare.

Sue Kibbe is a longtime resident of Benicia’s Highlands district.

Outdated tank cars carry explosive crude in NY; feds seek refit

Repost from, the Journal News
[Editor: Check out the map of rail routes in NY State showing schools, hospitals and shopping centers along the oil train tracks.  (Zoom in on the area about 35 miles north of New York City.)  – RS]

Outdated tankers carry explosive crude; feds seek refit

Khurram Saeed, August 16, 2014

When you see an oil train roll by, you’re probably looking at a DOT-111 tank car.

The DOT-111s are an industry workhorse. They’ve been around for decades and make up 68 percent of the 335,000 tank cars in active use.

Until recently, the non-pressurized cars weren’t used to haul oil. That changed with the Bakken oil boom and when rail became the modern-day pipelines.

The federal government now wants the industry to retrofit or replace them over the next two years in the name of safety. Currently, 100,000 DOT-111s move crude oil and ethanol but only 20,000 meet the latest safety standards, making the older models susceptible to ripping open in a derailment or collision.

Railroads like CSX own fewer than 1 percent of the tank cars; most are owned by the oil industry and leasing firms, the Association of American Railroads says.

The U.S. Department of Transportation wants new tank cars to have thicker outer shells, thermal protection, a full-height head shield, rollover safeguards for top fittings and removable handles on valves that protrude from the bottom of the cars to reduce the risk of opening in an accident.

Eric de Place, a policy director at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, said the valves, which are used to drain fluid, likely would remain even though federal investigators have found they can shear off or open in derailments, causing the car’s contents to spill and possibly catch fire.

“Generally speaking, the oil producers — abetted by the oil shippers and the railroads themselves — have encouraged a go-slow approach to upgrading safety standards,” de Place wrote in an email. “They are principally concerned that requirements to use new tank cars or to retrofit existing ones would cost money and reduce the fleet available to move oil in the near term.”

Phil Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, said the rules do not go “nearly far enough” to protect the public and the environment, and include loopholes. He said the safer tank cars would only have to be used on trains that have 20 or more rail cars hauling flammable liquids.

“If they don’t like these safety standards, they can continue to ship oil in mixed trains with 19 older DOT-111s on them,” Musegaas said. “It doesn’t take 20 of these cars to cause a horrific accident.”

Riverkeeper and other environmental groups have called on the DOT to ban use of the tank cars immediately, citing an imminent risk to the public.

“How we ship this oil can be figured out later,” Musegaas said. “We need to protect communities that live near these oil trains.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has been calling for stricter standards for the “dangerous, crude-carrying” DOT-111s since last year.

“These much-needed regulations will phase out the aged and explosion-prone DOT-111 tanker cars that are hauling endless streams of highly flammable crude oil through Rockland and Westchester counties and lead to commonsense safety measures — like speed limits, new braking controls and standards for a safer tank car — that will further safeguard local communities,” Schumer said.

A newer-model tank car known as the CPC-1232 features many of the higher standards the DOT is seeking but they are not invincible. On April 30, a 105-car CSX oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Va.  Several of the 17 tank cars that went off the track fell into the James River, and a CPC-1232 spilled about 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil, causing a massive fire. No one was injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which raised issues about the DOT-111s several years ago, said it has concerns about the newer tank cars.

“We have found that the 1232 is also not as robust as is needed,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

For safe and healthy communities…