Martinez could become hazardous rail car choke point

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Martinez could become hazardous rail car choke point

By Jim Neu  |  May 29, 2014

On May 14, a few members of the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG) attended the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) seminar in Vallejo, where the major topics of discussion were petroleum crude oil being shipped by rail and new regulations for rail tank car construction.

Since September 2013, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of petroleum crude by rail derailments and explosions across the U.S. and Canada, due to the expanded market of Midwestern crude oil being transferred to the Gulf and East and West coasts. This has hazardous materials specialists and first responders nervous, and looking for local, state and federal regulation on rail car inspection, labeling, speed controls in residential areas, car construction, overloading, and offload monitoring.

Currently, Phillips 66 in Rodeo, Valero in Benicia and Shell and Tesoro in Martinez, receive highly volatile and explosive Bakken crude oil by rail, ship, and/or pipeline. There are no regulations in place for the DOT 111 rail tank car which has a tendency to split apart when derailed or comes into contact with other surfaces. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration (PHMSA) have drafted a proposed regulation regarding construction, transportation, and usage of DOT 111′s  that will be recommended to the refiners and shippers. This will be a recommendation, not a mandate.

The DOT 111 rail car was originally designed to haul corn syrup but now hauls crude oil, ethanol, butane, propane, a wide variety of hazardous chemicals such as hydrochloride and sulfuric acids, and non odorized liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Phillips 66 Refinery in Rodeo proposed a propane recovery project that will capture excessive butane and propane from refining Bakken crude oil. This process will increase rail tanker car traffic through downtown Martinez as Bakken crude oil moves west for refining and liquified petroleum gas moves east after refining. This project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) states 24 LPG cars per day will come out of the refinery which – added to the 100 plus LPG cars that regularly sit on rail sidings east and west of our downtown – are turning Martinez into a DOT 111 rail car choke point.

June 3 at 9 a.m. in the County Building at 651 Pine St., Martinez, the Contra Costa County Supervisors are scheduled to respond and decide on the Phillips 66 Propane Recovery Project EIR.

This hearing has been postponed several times because of inconsistencies and omissions in the EIR. If you have concerns about the increase of  hazardous materials in unsafe, deteriorating rail tank cars being moved through your downtown, or the effects on your health the Phillips 66 refinery project will inflict by refining dirtier crude oil, there is time on the agenda for public speaking. We encourage you to attend and be heard.

Additional note: at the June 3 meeting, the Supervisors will also be considering Shell’s request for an EIR consultant on their proposed changes to the Martinez Refinery, so we encourage you to come and ask questions about the project, as well.

More information can be found at the Martinez Environ­mental Group website at www.mrtenvgrp.com.

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    Federal Regulators get failing grades on Tank Car Design and “Positive Train Control”

    Repost from DESMOGBLOG.COM

    How This U.S. Rail Safety Measure Has Been Delayed for 44 Years … And Counting

    2014-04-30  |  Justin Mikulka

    On August 20, 1969, two Penn Central commuter trains collided head-on near Darien, Conn.  Four people were killed and 43 were injured. The crash led the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend that railroads implement new safety technology called positive train control — a system for monitoring and controlling train movements to increase safety.

    The NTSB first recommended positive train control in 1970. In 2008, after another fatal train collision that killed 25 people, Congress finally passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which mandated positive train control be implemented by the railroad industry by the end of 2015.

    Fast-forward another six years to multiple congressional hearings in recent months, during which the railroads have informed Congress that positive train control simply won’t be implemented by the end of 2015. It’s been 44 years since the NTSB first recommended positive train control to improve rail safety in the U.S. and it is still not being used.

    Looking at the way the positive train control scenario has played out for the past 44 years offers valuable lessons on how the U.S. is now dealing with safety regulations for shipping oil by rail.

    Last week, the NTSB held a two-day forum on rail safety regarding the transportation of crude oil and ethanol. One of the main topics was how to improve rail tank car safety and what to do with the DOT-111 tank cars currently being used to ship crude oil and ethanol.

    Much like positive train control, the NTSB has been recommending for decades that the DOT-111 tank cars not be used for ethanol and crude oil transportation due to the high risks they pose in derailments.

    So why hasn’t anything been done? Mostly because of opposition by oil and gas industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API). The API was a constant presence at last week’s rail safety forum, just as it has been at congressional hearings on rail safety this year. A recent Reuter’s article alluded to the problem:

    Industry sources say compromise has been difficult among stakeholders with different concerns such as costs and whether an overly bulky model might limit cargoes.”

    Basically, API is opposed to making changes to the rail tank cars because safety cuts into profits. Even NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman pointed to the profit motive in an interview with NPR on April 25th. Hersman said, “Absolutely. Follow the money. It all comes back to the money.”

    And the reality is that API’s members don’t have to worry about paying for accidents caused by using these unsafe DOT-111 cars. The current estimate for what it will cost to clean up and rebuild from the oil train accident in Lac-Megantic, Que., is $2.7 billion, which will be paid by Canadian taxpayers, not by oil or rail companies.

    During the recent rail safety forum, the NTSB’s Hersman asked Lee Johnson of the American Petroleum Institute: “Given the rates that we heard earlier for production and the needs of your members how long do you think we are going to see DOT-111 tank cars to continue to exist in the fleet and at what rate percentage?”

     

     

    As you can see in the video, it was an instructive exchange. Surely, the question of how much longer unsafe tank cars will be transporting explosive substances through U.S. communities should be directed to regulators, not oil companies?

    After estimating the DOT-111s will be in use for at least another decade, Hersman states: “You’re not making me feel very optimistic, Mr. Johnson.”

    It’s doubtful the American public feels very optimistic either when the person in charge of the board tasked with transportation safety is asking the American Petroleum Institute, tasked with representing the oil and gas industry, how much longer unsafe tank cars will be allowed on American railways.

    Photo: Chairman Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board via Flickr

     

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      Interactive Map and Report: “Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America”

      Repost from DESMOGBLOG.COM
      [Editor: The map has some errors, but overall this is a great report and an important contribution in understanding the massive scope of the oil train boom.  – RS]

      Interactive Map and Report on Oil-By-Rail, “Booming Bomb Train Industry”

      2014-05-28  |  Justin Mikulka

      A new report and website released today by Oil Change International provides a comprehensive overview of the current oil-by-rail industry in North America and it isn’t a pretty picture.

      The report and interactive map of the “booming bomb train industry” capture the alarming scope of this very recent development.  As the report points out, 70 times as much oil was moved by rail in 2014 as there was in 2005. That rapid expansion is continuing, placing more North American communities at risk.

      “This analysis shows just how out of control the oil industry is in North America today. Regulators are unable to keep up with the industry’s expansion-at-any-cost mentality, and public safety is playing second fiddle to industry profits,” said Lorne Stockman, Research Director of Oil Change International and author of the report.

      According to the report, Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude By Rail in North America, approximately one million barrels of oil per day are moved on 135 trains of 100 cars or more each day in America.  If all of the currently planned development of oil-by-rail facilities occurs, the full capacity to move oil would be five times that amount.

      “This is what the All of the Above Energy Strategy looks like – a runaway train headed straight for North American communities,” Stockman said.

      N.Amer.CrudeByRail(600)

      This massive investment by the oil and rail industries to expand their capacity to move oil by rail is one of the main reasons that improving oil-by-rail safety is unlikely when it comes to the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars.  These cars currently make up approximately 70% of the oil-by-rail tank car fleet and there is currently a two to three year waiting list for companies wanting new tank cars.

      The planned expansion of the oil-by-rail industry is simply impossible without the existing DOT-111 cars.  In 2013 this point was made by an industry analyst:

      “People who want to ship oil can’t get them,” Toby Kolstad, president of the consultant firm Rail Theory Forecasts LLC said. “They’re desperate to get anything to move crude oil.”

      Without the oil-by-rail transportation option, the Bakken Shale oil would have no way to get to market.  Despite the fact that the DOT-111 cars are inadequate and the Bakken crude is more explosive, the industry continues to rapidly expand with no new regulations.

      The planned expansion of the industry and the current known capacity restraints help explain the recent public relations effort by the oil industry to dismiss any safety concerns.

      Last week, the North Dakota Petroleum Council released a new study that said Bakken crude was “comparable in volatility to gas-rich oils from other shale formations in other regions.”

      Which is true.  However, in other regions, like the Eagle Ford formation in Texas, the natural gas liquids are stripped from that oil before being shipped by rail which greatly reduces the danger of explosion.

      Last week, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers also weighed in with their opinion.  AFPM President Charles Drevna stated their position to Railway Age:

      “As the standards are today for flammable liquids, Bakken crude fits right in, and the DOT-111 cars should be fine”

      These claims are being made despite testimony by Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board calling the DOT-111’s an “unacceptable public risk” when used to transport Bakken crude.

      Last week, the White House announced that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will be proposing new oil-by-rail regulations in July.  However, this will just be a proposal and the beginning of a likely contentious political battle about these regulations.  No one expects any new regulations before 2015.  Meanwhile, the industry continues its expansion plans.

      In July, at the same time PHMSA is expected to announce its proposed new regulations for the oil-by-rail industry, activists across the country are planning a week of action.  Starting on July 6th, the anniversary of the deadly explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the “Oil by Rail week of action” will highlight opposition to the shipping of oil by rail through communities and remember the victims of that first Bakken crude oil explosion.

      In Lac-Megantic, there is little good news. The town is facing years of clean-up and reconstruction, and billions of dollars of expenses to deal with that disaster.  Recently, Réjean Roy, whose daughter died in that accident, talked about the reality of Lac-Megantic’s current situation and their need to try to revive the town’s tourism industry.

      “We need it for my town, because my town is dying. If we do nothing to attract tourists here, the town will die.”

      A town will die. But the oil-by-rail industry is booming and regulations are not coming any time soon. It will take a huge public outcry to change that.

      Stockman, author of the Oil Change International report, remains hopeful that the tide could turn.

      “Communities are already waking up to the dangers of oil trains barreling through their backyards, with spills, explosions and derailments happening all too often. This report and online tool will help provide the critical information that’s been sorely missing in order to shine a light on what’s really going on, and to help stop the runaway train of crude-by-rail in its tracks before more damage is done.”

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