KQED Forum – panel on efforts to stop crude by rail

Repost from KQED Forum with Michael Krasny


Bay Area Groups Seek to Halt Crude-by-Rail

Concerns are growing over the safety of transporting crude oil by train after a series of derailments, most recently last week in Virginia when 13 tankers fell off the tracks, sparking a fire and forcing evacuations. The Federal Railroad Administration has issued emergency rules and will reassess new safety standards for tank cars. In California, environmental groups are challenging crude-by-rail shipments to the city of Richmond. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of transporting crude oil by rail, as well as state and national efforts to improve safety.

Host: Michael Krasny

  • Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association
  • Molly Samuel, science reporter for KQED
  • Suma Peesapati, staff attorney with Earthjustice, which filed an injunction to halt the shipment of crude oil into the city of Richmond

More info:

    Lynchburg cleanup, and quote by Contra Costa County Fire Marshal

    Repost from The Huffington Post
    [Editor: A detailed account of the difficulties in emergency response and cleanup.  Look for the quotes by Contra Costa County Fire Marshal Robert Marshall, indicating that they couldn’t adequately fight this kind of fire unless the oil company provide specialized equipment.  – RS]

    After Lynchburg, Virginia Oil Train Crash, Fire Chiefs Fear Other Accidents

    AP | by By ALAN SUDERMAN and LARRY O’DELL | 05/02/2014
    Workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014.  Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
    Workers remove damaged tanker cars along the tracks where several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., Thursday, May 1, 2014.  Virginia state officials were still trying Thursday to determine the environmental impact of the train derailment. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Early reviews found no human error or mechanical failure that could have caused a fiery derailment of an oil train in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.

    Investigator Jim Southworth said a total of 17 train cars derailed Wednesday afternoon, with three tumbling into the James River. Southworth said one of those cars breached and caught on fire. The CSX train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota when it derailed.

    CSX said in a statement Friday that all but two of the derailed cars have been position for removal from the site.

    Southworth said at a news conference that investigators have interviewed the train’s conductor and engineer, and reviewed footage from a camera mounted on the front of the locomotive and the train’s data recorder that is similar to a black box found on airplanes.

    “I don’t see anything in the way the crew handled the train that might contribute to this accident,” Southworth said. He said they would continue to try to find the cause.

    He also said no defects have been found in the train cars or the track signals. Southworth said there’s still large amount of work to do to examine the rail itself due to the ongoing cleanup. Recovery efforts are moving slowly because of complexity involved in hauling a more than 200,000-pound tanker car out of the river by crane, he said.

    State environmental officials on Thursday spotted oil sheens 12 miles downstream from the derailment site, said Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Bill Hayden. The state has estimated that about 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of oil escaped. Hayden said the department had not seen any oil around Richmond, which is downriver from Lynchburg and draws its drinking water from the James River.

    The derailment was the latest in a string of oil-train wrecks, which has brought renewed demands that the Obama administration quickly tighten regulations governing the burgeoning practice of transporting highly combustible crude by rail. Some experts say stronger rules to head off a catastrophe are long overdue.

    There have been eight other significant accidents in the U.S. and Canada in the past year involving trains hauling crude, and some of them caused considerable damage and deaths, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Bakken crude ignites more easily than other types.

    No one was hurt or killed when a train derailed in Lynchburg, but emergency officials say it underscores that many departments don’t have the resources to deal with such an accident along a busy route for hauling oil from the booming Bakken oil fields in the northern U.S. tier and Canada.

    “It definitely raises concerns,” said Williamsburg Fire Chief William Dent. “We have some minimal resources here.”

    The worst-case scenario for his department, Dent said, would be an oil-train derailment on a stretch of CSX track passing between the College of William & Mary and the popular Williamsburg historic area. Some buildings on both sides would have to be evacuated, and the department would have to call on neighboring localities for help responding to the disaster.

    Lynchburg officials evacuated some buildings and let the fire burn out, but Richmond Fire Chief Robert Creecy said a more aggressive response would be required if an oil train plunged from the elevated CSX track dissecting Virginia’s capital. The track spans Interstate 95 and, like the stretch in Lynchburg, grazes the edge of James River.

    Richard Edinger, assistant fire chief in the Richmond suburb of Chesterfield County, said no fire department except those at some refineries has sufficient equipment and materials to deal with exploding oil-filled tank cars.

    Edinger, who also serves as vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Hazardous Materials Committee, said emergency responders have long been aware of the threat posed by the transport of crude oil.

    “What’s new to this picture is the scale, the amount of product coming through,” he said. “That’s the game changer.”

    Fire chiefs said firefighters receive training on responding to oil tanker fires — Williamsburg just conducted an exercise based on a simulated derailment of Bakken crude March 27, Dent said — but it hasn’t received any special emphasis.

    “These are low-frequency, high-consequence incidents,” Edinger said. “When looking at all you need to purchase and train on, this is one of them but it doesn’t always make the highest priority.”

    Nearly all of the train’s cars in Lynchburg were carrying crude, and each had a capacity of 30,000 gallons, officials said.

    Lynchburg city spokeswoman JoAnn Martin said there was no effect on the water supply for Lynchburg’s 77,000 residents because the city draws from the river only during droughts.


    O’Dell reported from Richmond.  Associated Press Writer Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

      Photo essay: Tar-sands Country, Alberta, Canada

      Repost from MSNBC
      [Editor: This is a beautifully written and photographed documentary of the Alberta, Canada communities suffering under the grab for tar-sands bitumen, which Valero admits could allowably be part of its crude-by-rail import “mix” (in its diluted form, known as “dilbit”).  Read below, and click on the photo to see the photo essay.  -RS]

      How Fort McMurray became an energy industry gold mine

      By Olivia Kestin and Ned Resnikoff

      Photo essay
      Photos by Philippe Brault/Agence VU/Pictures from “Fort McMoney” directed by David DufresneyHighway 63 in North Alberta, Dec. 16, 2012. In the winter the road becomes entirely ice. It is called the "the highway of death" because the traffic is heavy and car crashes are deadly. On this road, approximately 150 miles north of Fort McMurray is Fort Chipewyan, one of the oldest communities in the area and home to native groups in North Alberta.

      Whether you see it as the key to energy independence or the next step toward environmental catastrophe, tar sands oil’s transformative power cannot be denied. And nowhere is that power felt with more bracing immediacy than in the shale oil boomtowns.

      Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada, is one such town. Once a sleepy rural village with a population of barely 2,500, “Fort Mac” now has 100,000 residents, many of whom work in the energy industry. The change began in 1967, when Suncor (then known as Sun Company of Canada) finished construction of its Fort McMurray oil sands plant. Since then, the town has practically lived and breathed black gold.

      Today, Alberta exports over one million barrels of oil per day to the United States, and the energy industry accounts for over one quarter of the province’s GDP. The Keystone oil pipeline, currently the subject of a heated political battle in the United States, is just one of many pipelines which shuttle those millions of barrels into the United States around the clock. Even if President Obama acquiesces to the demands of environmental activists and blocks the Keystone XL pipeline extension, the blow would barely dent U.S. reliance on Alberta’s rapidly expanding tar sands operation. Fort McMurray, which rests atop the fruitful Athabasca tar sands deposit, is at the center of the boom.

      That operation has done wonders for Fort McMurray’s economy, but that’s not all it has done. Tar sands oil is an especially hazardous fossil fuel, producing an estimated 12% more emissions than regular crude oil. Alberta health officials have confirmed that the cancer rate near oil sands is higher than expected, but the vice president of Alberta Health Services says there is “no cause for alarm.” Fishers have repeatedly found deformed fish in Lake Athabasca, near the oil sands.

      Photojournalist Philippe Brault traveled to Fort McMurray to witness up close how the oil energy has reshaped nature and society there. His photographs document everyday life in the heart of an energy industry gold mine.

      Brault’s photos are featured in the interactive web documentary, “Fort McMoney,” directed by David Dufresne and produced by Toxa, Arte, and the ONF (Canada). The multimedia series is an innovative part game part documentary where players step into the world of Fort McMurray.

        For safe and healthy communities…