KPIX report – Marilaine Savard visits Bay Area

Repost from KPIX5/AP

Explosion Survivor Warns Of Fracked Oil Trains; Newer Safety Regulations Delayed

March 6, 2014 7:07 PM
Christin Ayers, reporter for KPIX 5 Eyewitness News

Firefighters douse blazes after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac-Megantic in Canada's Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire. At least 80 people are missing after a driverless oil tanker train derailed and exploded in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, destroying dozens of buildings, a firefighter back from the scene told AFP. AFP PHOTO / François Laplante-Delagrave (Photo credit should read François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters douse blazes after a freight train loaded with oil derailed in Lac-Megantic in Canada’s Quebec province on July 6, 2013, sparking explosions that engulfed about 30 buildings in fire. At least 80 people are missing after a driverless oil tanker train derailed and exploded in the small Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, destroying dozens of buildings, a firefighter back from the scene told AFP.  Photo: François Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images

(KPIX 5/AP) — A woman who lived through one of the deadliest train derailments ever hopes her experience serves as a wake-up call about allowing highly-volatile fracked crude oil to be transported by rail – as has been proposed in the Bay Area.

Thursday in Washington, a Senate transportation panel grilled federal railroad officials over delays in drafting new safety regulations in light of recent deadly oil and commuter train accidents.

Railroads are also taking too long to implement safety improvements Congress ordered under legislation passed seven years ago, lawmakers said at the hearing.

Meanwhile, a report released Thursday by Canadian regulators said the crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota is as volatile as gasoline. The derailment of a train carrying this oil last July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec created an inferno that destroyed much of the town center.

KPIX 5 spoke to a Marlaine Savard who was just a few miles away when the train carrying 30-thousand gallons of fracked crude derailed.

“We knew for sure that people were dying,” said Savard.

47 people were killed in the disaster. The toxic mess left behind will take years to clean up. “It’s like 50 football fields that are really highly contaminated,”she said.

Last week, federal regulators issued emergency regulations that require shippers to test crude coming from the Bakken region to make sure it’s properly classified while banning certain older-model tanker cars.

But they still haven’t issued any new rules for the much more common tank cars that exploded in Quebec.

Bay Area refineries are still receiving most of their crude by ship and pipeline, but experts warn that could soon change.

“This is the refining center of the western U.S.,” said Greg Karras with the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment. “It’s a huge amount of crude that is being proposed to be delivered here by rail now.

Karras said it all comes down to profits. The tanker cars are mostly owned or leased by oil companies, that don’t want to pay. “There are alternatives, they can afford them.

Karras said fracked Bakken crude isn’t the only threat. He said trains are now hauling tar sands oil, the dirtiest kind of crude.

“It sinks to the bottom when it gets into the water body like the bay, and this has happened in other parts of the country,” he said.

Seven months after the Lac-Megantic disaster, trains have just started to roll through Marlaine Savard’s town again. “The first thing that they rebuilt was the railroad, ok!”

There are no tankers carrying crude yet, because she says this time her town won’t allow it. ”If everybody stands up, I am sure that this is the hope.”

WesPac Energy Group has plans to rebuild an old oil storage facility in downtown Pittsburg and bring in fracked crude oil by rail, ships and pipelines.

The Pittsburg city council is set to vote on the proposal’s environmental impact report in the coming months.

    Unsafe rail cars remain in service, Senators angry

    Repost from The Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN

    Slow pace of oil train fixes draws Senate ire

    Article by: JIM SPENCER, Star Tribune
    Updated: March 7, 2014

    On Capitol Hill, senators were told that none of the thousands of inadequately protected rail cars has been removed from service.

    OilTrainAn oil train headed for Minnesota rolled through Casselton, N.D., scene of an explosive rail accident in December. Photo: New York Times file.

    WASHINGTON – Virtually all of the potentially unsafe rail cars carrying crude oil across the country remain in service, hauling highly flammable liquid, an official from the American Petroleum Institute (API) testified at a Senate hearing on rail safety Thursday.

    API official Prentiss Searles told Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., that to his knowledge the oil and gas industry had retired none of the puncture-prone tankers from their fleets.

    The issue arose after Searles testified that 40 percent of the rail cars now hauling crude have updated superstructures designed to keep them intact if they derail.

    Heitkamp pressed Searles to clarify his point. The senator explained that crude oil shipments from her state’s Bakken formation are growing so fast that all the newer, safer tanker cars being produced are needed for increased capacity, not replacement.

    The tanker fleet “has grown,” Heitkamp said to Searles. “You haven’t taken any [of the more vulnerable cars] off the rails.”

    “Not to my knowledge,” Searles replied.

    Those cars continue to carry crude oil despite a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determination that “multiple recent serious and fatal accidents reflect substantial shortcomings in tank car design that create an unacceptable public risk.”

    There were 27,130 substandard cars carrying crude oil as of the third quarter of 2013, according to the Railway Supply Institute. Another 29,071 carried ethanol, which also is flammable.

    Frustration with the speed at which safety reforms are being implemented dominated Thursday’s hearing, which came in the wake of fiery oil train derailments in North Dakota and Canada.

    Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, pointed out to a panel of government regulators and private industry representatives that federal rules for safer tank cars have been 2½ years in the making with no resolution.

    “We’re moving as fast as we can,” answered Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    Her response and those of leaders of the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Communications Commission, drew an exasperated rebuke from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chaired the hearing.

    “We need to get it right, but we need to get it done,” Blumenthal said.

    The volume of crude oil moved by train from production points in the United States to refineries grew from about 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 400,000 carloads in 2013. Each tank car holds 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

    Virtually all of that oil gets where it is going without incident. But in the very rare exceptions, consequences have been destructive and sometimes deadly. The danger raises the stakes for people living near rail lines in states like Minnesota, where eight oil trains pass on a daily basis, six through the Twin Cities.

    The oil and gas industry, which owns or leases most of the rail cars used to ship crude oil, developed a set of voluntary standards for more puncture-proof and leakproof tanker cars. But the NTSB considers the new design inadequate, something the petroleum institute disputes.

    “This is shaping up as a regulatory fight,” Heitkamp observed. “This is very problematic from a public ­perspective.”

    Besides the structure of rail cars, lack of computerized control of trains — called positive train control — and the unique volatility of oil drawn from the Bakken Formation were sore points at the hearing.

    Positive train control will require installation of roughly 22,000 antennae near tracks across the country. The Federal Communications Commission has delayed antenna  deployment while it checks to see if any of the sites violate environmental and historic preservation laws. Several senators blasted the FCC for bureaucratic foot-dragging.

    The unique volatility of Bakken oil also remains in dispute. The oil and gas industry denies it, but the Department of Transportation has said the oil drawn from North Dakota “may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”

    Quarterman of the Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said the government has moved from testing its flash point and boiling point to looking at its vapor pressure and sulfur and flammable gas content. Still, regulators and industry have not settled on a new testing or classification regimen.

    “It’s a learning process,” Quarterman said

      TSB releases analysis of crude oil samples from train accident in Lac-Mégantic

      Repost from CNW (newswire.ca)
      [BenIndy Editor’s note: this news release doesn’t really tell much about the results of the testing.  The first link below goes to the actual report, which is a thorough scientific analysis.  I will be watching for a good review that tells the story in simple layperson’s terms.]

      GATINEAU, QC, March 6, 2014 /CNW/ – The Transportation Safety Board of  Canada (TSB) today released its engineering laboratory report (LP148/2013) on the analysis of the petroleum crude oil contained in tank cars of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) train that derailed on 6 July 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

      As the TSB noted in its 11 September 2013 news release announcing the issuance of safety advisory letters to Canadian and U.S. regulators, test results indicate that the level of hazard posed by the petroleum crude oil transported in the tank cars of the occurrence train was not accurately documented.

      For this report, samples were collected from the 9 tank cars at the end of the occurrence train (MMA-002). These tank cars did not derail and were pulled back to Nantes, Quebec after the accident. Samples were also taken from 2 tank cars located at Farnham, Quebec. These 2 tank cars were part of another unit train operated by MMA (MMA-874) that was transporting petroleum crude oil of the same origin as the oil carried by train MMA-002. All the samples were tested and examined. The TSB is releasing the engineering laboratory report documenting this comprehensive analysis in advance of the final investigation report.

      The Lac-Mégantic train derailment remains a priority for the TSB, and a team of experts continues to be dedicated to the investigation, which is now in the report-writing phase. If at any stage during the remainder of the investigation the TSB identifies additional safety deficiencies, it will communicate directly with regulators and the industry, and inform the public.

      The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

      SOURCE  Transportation Safety Board of Canada

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