Ohio: Leaders don’t keep track of oil trains

Repost from The Bucyrus Telegraph, Bucyrus, Ohio

Leaders don’t keep track of oil trains

Explosive shipments go right through city centers

Apr. 3, 2014
by James Pilcher, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Domestic oil production, including that in Ohio, keeps growing. And with oil being produced in new areas that don’t have pipelines, more crude is heading to refineries in rail cars. Yet neither federal nor state regulators track the shipments that are increasingly crisscrossing the country — potentially cutting through neighborhoods and business districts nationwide.

Much of the oil apparently is more volatile than traditional crude, with some experts saying it is as explosive “as gasoline.” A number of oil tanker accidents and explosions made headlines last year, including last July’s derailment and explosion in  Quebec that killed 47 people and all but leveled a small town. The train was pulling at least a dozen tank cars carrying crude pulled from Bakken shale deposits.

Similar types of oil are being pulled from shale fields all over the U.S., including eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and North Dakota.

“Regulators across North America simply have not kept up with the boom in moving oil by train,” said Keith Stewart, a Canadian-based researcher for the environmental group Greenpeace. “You would be shocked how little governments know how much and where and when this oil is moving by rail.”

Federal regulators don’t know what is  on the tracks at any given time. Nor do first responders and community officials, apart from getting a list of the top 25 hazardous materials that move through their communities. But because of security concerns, local officials can’t make the top 25 lists public. Railroads must keep a list internally, but those records also are not public.

The lack of disclosure could pose a problem for a city such as Cincinnati, which has one of the Midwest’s largest railyards in CSX-owned Queensgate, which sits near downtown.

“All kinds of hazardous materials go through (Queensgate) and no, we’re not notified of what is going through when,“ said Cincinnati Fire Department District Chief Tom Lakamp, who oversees special operations and hazardous materials response teams for the city.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees the shipments of all hazardous materials, including crude oil, superseding state regulators for rail shipments. The agency did not make anyone available for interviews, but said in a statement that it was starting to look at changing its rules and was taking a closer look at oil shipments.

All that’s called ‘crude’ is not necessarily the same

The United States is poised to become the world’s largest combined producer of natural gas and crude oil in the coming year, according to federal data, which  indicate the country produced 7.5 million barrels of oil a day last year. Oil industry officials saying national production has been above 8 million barrels per day since November.

Ohio is a part of that growth, because of the wells in the eastern part of the state pulling up oil and natural gas from Utica shale reserves. The state produced 16,000 barrels of oil a day last year, up more than 23 percent from 2012.

But even as oil production has grown, pipeline infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. That’s forced oil producers and refiners to turn to rail shipments, especially in remote areas such as North Dakota, but also in Ohio. The railroad industry reports that crude oil shipments nearly doubled in 2013 as compared with 2012, with the American Association of Railroads estimating that more than 400,000 tank loads of crude arrived by rail last year.

A single tank car holds about 714 barrels of oil, and each barrel contains 42 gallons, meaning every tank car contains 30,000 gallons of oil. But an Ohio oil industry official says the majority of what’s called oil produced and shipped in the state is “ very volatile” and “basically liquified natural gas,” even as he points out that Ohio oil has been pumped and shipped safely for decades.

“It is still classified as crude oil, even thought it is a lot closer to gasoline,” said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Natural Gas Association. “The bottom line is that it should be treated differently than other crude oil.”

Stewart says most of Ohio’s oil is shipped out of state — although refineries in the state are starting to take on this volatile oil.

Finally, the oil is being shipped in outdated tanker cars. The National Transportation Safety Board started recommending in 1991 that oil companies stop using the older model of tanker because they have proven not to prevent spillage and explosions in case of derailments. It renewed its call this January.

“You’ve got one of the most profitable industries in the world looking to save a few dollars at the cost of safety,” said Fred Millar, a Virginia-based rail/hazmat safety consultant who has worked with major cities on safety planning.

Issue creates tensions; changes on the way?

Tension abounds between the oil and rail industries over the shipments, even as railroads court oil producers as customers.

Many carriers — including CSX and the Genesee & Wyoming railroad — actively market their capacity to oil producers. But on the other hand, national railroad officials openly acknowledge differences with the oil industry over safety standards.

“The shippers own the cars and the materials and are responsible for safe packaging and labeling, but we’re the ones liable in case of an accident,” said Holly Arthur, spokeswoman for the American Association of Railroads.

The rail industry last month agreed with the U.S. Transportation Department to voluntarily impose tighter procedures, including:

•  Installing better brakes on trains with 20 or more oil cars.

•  Limiting speeds to 40 mph on trains with 20 or more rail cars in highly populated areas.

•  Increase track inspections on lines that carry trains with heavy oil traffic.

Oil industry officials say they also are trying to improve safety, but have not yet agreed to any specifics. “Our mitigation efforts are looking at topics like tank car design and crude oil testing and classification,” said Jack Gerard, president and chief executive officer for the American Petroleum Institute.

As for the regulators, PHMSA is studying new variations of the domestically produced oil and its potential volatility. It’s also double-checking that domestic oil is property categorized and shipped.

    Sacramento Bee editorial calls for delay in crude by rail

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee

    Editorial: Oil trains require more safety and scrutiny

    By the Editorial Board
    Published: Thursday, Apr.  3, 2014

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    Randall Benton /  A tanker truck drives past train cars containing crude oil at McClellan Park. Until recently, local officials didn’t know the site was being used for oil transfers.

    You’d think that local officials would be told when trains full of highly flammable oil are rolling through their cities so  they could be ready for derailments and other emergencies.

    But fire officials do not get detailed information on oil shipments from the railroads, and they are only just finding out that as many as 100 train cars filled with crude could be traversing the Sacramento region daily on the way to a proposed terminal at Valero’s refinery in Benicia.

    The oil trains would use the Union Pacific line that runs through the downtowns of Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis and that also carries the Capitol Corridor commuter service,  The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate of McClatchy’s Washington bureau reported Wednesday.

    Last week,  they reported that since at least September, oil trains have pulled into the former McClellan Air Force Base, where crude is transferred into tanker trucks – without a required air quality permit and without local emergency officials being notified.

    What is becoming increasingly – and alarmingly – clear is that regulations and disclosures are not keeping pace with more frequent rail shipments of oil. Local and state officials are right to push for better preparation and training, funded at least partly by railroads and oil companies.

    Crude oil coming into California by rail increased from 1 million barrels in 2012 to more than 6 million in 2013, according to the state Energy Commission. Oil companies are shifting to rail because more crude is being pumped out through hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota, Canada and other inland areas.

    Some oil from fracking is more flammable than conventional crude, and the safety risk is not hypothetical. Last year, an oil train derailed in Quebec, sparking a massive fireball that killed 47 residents and leveled the entire town center. There’s also the danger of environmental damage.  More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents last year than in the previous four decades combined.

    Federal regulators and the rail industry have cooperated on voluntary safety measures taking effect July 1, including slower speeds through major cities and more frequent track inspections, and are working on better-reinforced tank cars. These common-sense rules should be mandatory.

    Californians don’t need to look back too far to see the devastation that can happen when corners are cut on safety and local officials are kept in the dark.

    A PG&E pipeline exploded in San Bruno in 2010, killing eight people and leveling nearly 40 homes. Company officials fell down on maintenance and ignored safety threats, even after a similar 2008 blast in Rancho Cordova killed a man and destroyed five homes. Tuesday, a federal grand jury indicted PG&E on 12 criminal counts of violating pipeline safety laws.

    Every energy source comes with some risk. It’s good that America is reducing its reliance on foreign oil, particularly from the volatile Persian Gulf. But domestic oil must be transported safely. Rail could be one avenue – but not until safety and disclosure rules are much stronger.

      Sacramento officials concerned, will meet with Area Council of Governments

      Repost from The Sacramento Bee
      [Editor: Excellent article by Bee reporters Bizjak & Tate.  It’s encouraging that Sacramento is waking up to the threat of catastrophic accidents.  We will want to keep an eye on the April 22 meeting of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.  – RS]

      Refinery plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil through Sacramento

      By Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate, The Sacramento Bee
      Published: Wednesday, Apr.  2, 2014

      A Bay Area refinery’s plan to run up to 100 train cars of highly flammable crude oil daily through Sacramento is prompting a late push by area leaders to protect cities on the rail line.

      Sacramento officials say they only recently learned that a proposed rail terminal at the Valero company’s refinery in Benicia could dramatically increase the number of trains carrying crude oil through the region, including through populated downtowns. They say they are scrambling to fashion a joint statement to Valero officials expressing concerns.

      The trains would travel on the Union Pacific line that runs through both the Roseville and downtown Sacramento railyards, as well as through downtown West Sacramento and Davis. Those are the same tracks that carry Capitol Corridor passenger trains between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

      The Valero rail terminal is one of several being proposed by refineries responding to a major shift in how crude oil is transported nationally. Currently, the Benicia refinery receives most crude via pipeline and ships. But Valero and other companies are moving quickly toward more rail transport to align with the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in inland areas like North Dakota, where much of the new oil is a lighter, more flammable type from the Bakken oil fields.

      “These rail shipments are the wave of the future,” Sacramento city official Fran Halbakken said, “but there is not much information out there.”

      Data compiled by the California Energy Commission shows crude oil shipments into the state via rail from other states jumped from  1 million barrels in 2012 to more than  6 million in 2013. Local fire officials, who would be the first responders in case of crashes or derailments, say they do not receive detailed information on how many of those train cars come through Sacramento.

      “We’re trying to figure what is the baseline that comes through now,” said Davis city official Mike Webb. “All jurisdictions would want to know.”

      Union Pacific officials say their company, one of the major rail transporters in California, shipped less than 1,000 carloads of crude oil statewide on a monthly basis last year – or 33 cars a day. A UP spokesman declined this week to say how much of that goes through Sacramento. “We are not currently breaking out how much crude we move through a specific community,” UP’s Aaron Hunt said. “We are only giving out our state number.”

      BNSF, the other major rail transporter in California, also declined to discuss crude oil routing information.

      Valero’s terminal project description offers a brief but clear statement on plans for major shipments through Sacramento: “(Union Pacific Railroad)-operated locomotives would haul up to 100 crude oil rail cars a day from the UPRR Roseville railyard to the refinery,” the report states.

      And more rail shipments could be on their way: Phillips 66 says it intends to begin deliveries of crude by rail sometime next year to its coastal refinery in Santa Maria. Union Pacific would deliver as many as five 80-car trains a week of oil “from a variety of sources in North America.” One route could pass through Sacramento.

      Officials with the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response say refineries around the state may ultimately have the capacity to process up to 143 million barrels of crude shipments via rail a year, far more than the  6 million shipped last year.

      Last year, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in a Quebec town, sparking a massive fire that killed 47 people and leveled the town center. Subsequent derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, though not fatal, caused fires and evacuations and showed that disaster could strike again.

      While such incidents are rare, local fire officials say the pressure is on to be more prepared for that possibility.

      “Any time you increase numbers, you increase the probability of problems that would come with that,” said Sacramento City Interim Fire Chief Dan Haverty.

      Last week, The Sacramento Bee reported that McClellan Business Park is being used as a transfer station where oil, including Bakken crude, is being moved from rail cars to tanker trucks. Local safety officials told The Bee they knew little about the McClellan operation.

      Valero and Benicia officials are expected to publish a draft environmental impact report later this month on the company’s planned rail terminal next to Interstate 680 just north of the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. Sacramento officials say they likely will issue a joint statement to Valero on what they think should be done to increase safety in “up-line” cities.

      The Sacramento Area Council of Governments is planning a meeting of its 32 local cities and counties on April 22 to discuss the issue.

      West Sacramento Fire Chief Rick Martinez said officials may ask that Valero be required to finance extra emergency training and safety equipment for up-line communities, and that there be tight rules on when or whether trains are allowed to sit on track sidings.

      He said the emerging national discussion about rail safety may provide a platform for cities to push for other safety improvements, such as better “real-time” information on what materials are coming through town, so fire and hazardous materials crews know what they are getting into as they head to a call.

      “As they look at this Bakken oil, is there a way through technology to get more information to local agencies?” Martinez said. “We are trying to take advantage of the interest to pose the questions that may guide” future regulations.

      Aides to Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, say she has begun exploring the issue as well. Matsui’s office issued a statement this week, saying “it is imperative that the rail cars are safe and that local agencies are prepared for the increased risk.” Aides said Matsui sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security recently, “seeking additional federal funding for first-responder training, arguing that the increased risk posed by these oil cars warrants additional federal funds.”

      Although the federal government regulates rail shipments, federal rules haven’t caught up to the surge in oil traffic on the nation’s rail network. That’s left local leaders and community activists in cities around the country at the forefront of pushing for changes in state and federal laws.

      Last week, the city councils of Berkeley and Richmond voted to oppose crude shipments on rail lines through their cities. The resolutions call for state lawmakers and members of Congress to seek tougher regulations.

      Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit last week against pipeline operator Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The groups said the agency quietly issued a permit to Kinder Morgan for a crude-by-rail facility in February without reviewing potential environmental and health impacts.

      “We don’t accept that as a foregone conclusion,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups in the lawsuit.

      A group of community activists in Benicia and Martinez has been trying to stop Valero and another refiner, Tesoro, from expanding their crude oil deliveries by rail. And they’re pressing local, state and federal officials to push for tougher oversight of crude oil shipments by rail.

      “People are afraid that anybody along the rail line could become the next (Quebec),” said Andres Soto, a community activist in Benicia.

      Oil industry officials say fears of derailments and fires are overstated. The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, says 99.997 percent of hazardous materials shipped by rail reach their destination without incident.

      Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association, dismissed the movement to oppose new terminals and additional rail shipments, saying “you’re always going to see the anti-fossil fuel mentality in California.” He said, given the cost savings, “the vast majority of Californians will be happy to get Bakken crude.”

        For safe and healthy communities…