Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor: Significant quote: “Valero Energy Co. has agreed to haul Bakken crude to its Benicia bayside refinery in the newer CPC-1232 cars as part of its city permit application to revamp its facilities to receive crude by rail rather than via oceangoing tanker. But that promise now appears inadequate to protect the safety of those in Benicia as well as in other communities — Roseville, Sacramento, Davis — along the rail line.” (emphasis added) – RS]
Get rid of exploding tank carsEDITORIAL On Crude by Rail, Monday, February 23, 2015
When a train carrying crude oil derailed last week in West Virginia, sending up a fireball that burned for five days, communities on rail lines in California noted that the accident involved the newer — and it was hoped safer — CPC-1232 model tank cars. Some 3 million gallons of Bakken crude spilled from 26 cracked cars into a Kanawha River tributary, endangering water supplies and forcing the evacuation of two towns. The smoldering crude burned a home, but thankfully no one was killed.
Two days before the West Virginia train wreck, a train pulling CPC-1232 tank cars derailed and caught fire in Ontario, Canada. There was a similar accident last year in Lynchburg, Va.
Clearly, it will take tank car safety upgrades more extensive than those adopted voluntarily by the rail industry four years ago to assure the public safety and protect the environment of communities crossed by rail lines. Yet authorities have dithered.
Bakken crude, a light crude with a low sulfur content, is highly flammable, by the Department of Transportation’s own account. The shippers are working on new procedures to strip out highly volatile elements before the crude is loaded, but they are not uniformly required.
The Obama administration is considering more extensive safety upgrades such as rollover protection, sturdier hulls, shields to prevent tank rupture or collapse, and electronic brakes that would stop the cars before they slam into each other. But it is taking too long to adopt new federal rules. The oil and rail industries support some upgrades, but want more time to accomplish them. This is unacceptable.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has been working on the rules since 2012 but does not expect adoption until mid-May. Once the new rules are accepted, the industry would have three to four years to phase out the unsafe DOT-111 model tank cars, which the National Transportation Safety Board has warned are not suitable to transport flammable liquids. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of the faulty DOT-111 tank cars remain on the rails. Canadian rail authorities accelerated their phaseout of the cars after a fire set off by a derailed oil train killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013.
Safety upgrades are lagging the rapid increase in oil moving by rail: Shipments have increased from 9,500 car loads in 2008 to 500,000 car loads in 2014, driven by the boom in the Bakken Oil Shale formation in North Dakota, where there are few oil pipelines and 70 percent of the petroleum is shipped by train.
Valero Energy Co. has agreed to haul Bakken crude to its Benicia bayside refinery in the newer CPC-1232 cars as part of its city permit application to revamp its facilities to receive crude by rail rather than via oceangoing tanker. But that promise now appears inadequate to protect the safety of those in Benicia as well as in other communities — Roseville, Sacramento, Davis — along the rail line.
The government and the oil and rail industries will need to move more quickly to adopt new safety rules before communities along the rail lines can welcome oil trains rolling into town.