Good investigative report: DOT issues new emergency order

Repost from ABC7 WLS Chicago

Government issues emergency order on dangerous DOT-111 crude oil tankers

By Chuck Goudie

February 25, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Four months after an I-Team investigation exposed dangerous freight train shipments of crude oil running through our area, the federal government issued an emergency order to start dealing with the threat.

Tuesday’s emergency order from the U.S. Department of Transportation calls crude oil tankers an “imminent hazard.” As the I-Team found months ago, the hazard has been imminent for a long time. Twenty years year ago, safety board inspectors determined that what are known as DOT-111 tank cars were subject to rupture in derailments. They ordered design changes and structural upgrades, but nothing was ever done. Federal regulators sat up and noticed after ten accidents in the past year.

After recent derailments and explosions in North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec, Canada, the Department of Transportation issued an emergency order Tuesday that says “in light of continued dangers associated with petroleum crude oil shipments by rail, actions described in this order are necessary to eliminate unsafe conditions and practices that create an imminent hazard to public health and safety and the environment.”

The order requires all crude oil be properly tested before being transported. And all crude that travels by rail must be carried in these DOT-111 tank cars.  The older DOT-111 tank cars were deemed inadequate by the National Transportation Board more than 20 years ago.

Since the I-Team first reported on the risk on the rails last October, an investigation dubbed “Operation Classification” revealed some crude from the Bakken region,  including the oil in the tragic Lac Megantic derailment, was misclassified.

What that means is that potentially explosive crude oil was being shipped in rail cars even less safe than the DOT-111’s.

The so-called misclassification has resulted in $93,000 in fines. Tuesday’s order stated “misclassification is one of the most dangerous mistakes to be made when dealing with hazardous materials.”

There is a meeting Wednesday in Washington with government officials, and rail and oil industry leaders to talk about what to do next. Suburban Chicago leaders who have been all over this problem are still hoping the government will require tanker cars to be fixed to make them less likely to puncture or explode if they derail.

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Fourth Department of Transportation Warning, Stricter Safety Standards

Repost from E2 WIRE – The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog

Emergency DOT order mandates rail crude oil tests

By Laura Barron-Lopez

The Department of Transportation on Tuesday issued an emergency order mandating stricter standards for shippers transporting crude oil by rail.

The order, which requires shippers to test the crude oil coming from the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, warns against improperly classifying the oil before it is transported by train.

This is the fourth warning by the department on safety concerns over crude oil in the last seven months.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide — if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement.

“And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups. From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude.”

Effective immediately, those transporting crude must properly test the oil and classify it according to federal safety regulations.

Earlier this month, the Transportation Department hit three companies with notices of possible violations for improperly labeling crude coming from the Bakken. The fines totaled $93,000.

In January, officials warned that Bakken crude could pose a greater flammability risk than previously thought.

In the last seven months there have been roughly four derailments of trains carrying crude oil. The accidents prompted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue an alert in January warning the public, emergency responders and carriers that Bakken crude oil may be more likely to set off an explosion than other types of crude.

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Canada: get rid of the dangerous DOT-11A tank cars!

Repost from The Montreal Gazette

Opinion: Railways should just refuse to accept dangerous DOT-111A cars

By Jerry Dias, The Gazette February 23, 2014
Opinion: Railways should just refuse to accept dangerous DOT-111A carsDOT-111 tanker cars

When tragedy strikes, we are first overcome by emotion. In the case of Lac-Mégantic, the severity of the tragedy now requires us to take action so that such a catastrophe cannot occur again.

There has been no shortage of such discussions since the derailment last summer, when 47 people were killed and the heart of this small Quebec community was destroyed by the crash of rail cars carrying volatile fuel.

Much of that discussion has focused on the DOT-111A cars that were involved. These tank cars were made before more strict manufacturing standards were put in place. Cars made today must be safer, but companies are free to keep using the old DOT-111A cars, rather than replace them.

The result is that while we now have higher standards, the less-safe DOT-111A cars are still rolling through our communities filled with volatile fuels. And that has many worried that another tragedy is inevitable.

Speaking in Calgary last week to a crowd of business people, the chief executive of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. was blunt in his assessment of the situation, and suggested that the DOT-111A cars be banned.

“So what should we do with them? Stop them tomorrow. Don’t wait to study. We know the facts,” Hunter Harrison said. “You know what this comes down to? And I hate to tell you this: The almighty dollar. Who is going to pay for this?”

This is encouraging, but we need to see more. Some companies, including Irving Oil, are already moving to take the old DOT-111A cars out of use, but we need the big rail companies to act to really ensure the safe movement of oil through our towns and cities.

Speaking publicly about a getting rid of the DOT-111A is one thing — actually pursuing a ban on using such dangerous rail cars is quite another. Unifor is eager to work with Harrison and the rail companies to win a total and immediate elimination of the use of the DOT-111A cars.

Since Lac-Mégantic, the rail companies have imposed a $325-per-car surcharge on any oil company using DOT-111A cars. The idea is that the extra costs will serve as a deterrent to companies using the cars. I am not convinced. With a capacity on the cars of some 114,000 litres, the surcharge works out to just a fraction of a cent per litre. The surcharge, then, won’t be a deterrent. And with both big rail companies charging it, the surcharge will simply become part of the cost of doing business.

Unifor encourages Harrison to make a formal proposal to Lisa Raitt, the federal minister of transport, for an immediate moratorium on the use of DOT-111A cars. As Harrison says, don’t wait for a study. We know the facts.

Better still, Harrison should be telling the oil companies that his rail line will no longer put the safety of its workers and the communities through which it operates in danger, by hauling the DOT-111A and will from this point forward refuse to accept the cars.

The announcement by Irving last week that it will no longer use, as of April 1, old DOT-111A cars made before October 2011 shows that the rail companies need not wait for the Harper government to ban the cars. They can act now.

Jerry Dias is the national rail president for Unifor, Canada’s largest union in the private sector with 300,000 members, including 9,000 in the railway sector.

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