Tag Archives: Alabama

1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment

Repost from Vindi.com, Youngstown OH
[Editor:  Quoting Ed Greenberg, spokesperson for the Association of American Railroads: “We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard.”   – RS]

1.4M at risk in Ohio for crude-oil derailment, study finds

March 30, 2015 @ 12:05 a.m.

Almost 1.4 million Ohioans live within a half-mile of railroad lines where some of the most-volatile crude oil in North America rolls by each week, a Columbus Dispatch analysis has found.

Those people, about 12 percent of the state’s population, are at risk of being forced from their homes should a train hauling crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota run off the tracks.

Most trains that transport crude oil stay on their tracks, but derailments can be catastrophic.

A Bakken train that derailed in 2013 burst into flames, killing 47 people and destroying most of downtown Lac- Megantic, Quebec. Trains have wrecked in Ontario, as well as in Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, sending trains up in flames, prompting mass evacuations and, in some cases, obliterating homes.

A Bakken train derailed in West Virginia last month, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and spilling oil into the Kanawha River.

Teresa Mills, program director of the Buckeye Forest Council, said that both rail officials and the oil and gas industry should do more to keep people safe.

“Before they leave the fields, before they pump that oil into a train, they should be required to make that oil less explosive,” Mills said. “And if they can’t transport it without its being so explosive — if the Bakken is so volatile that it can’t be transported without being explosive — then they should leave it in the ground.”

The Bakken shale field stretches over northwestern North Dakota and into Montana and produces some of the most-desirable crude oil in the United States. It’s often less expensive than imported crude. It also requires less refining than other shale oils to be turned into diesel fuel or gasoline.

But the same things that make Bakken crude such a good fuel source also make it highly flammable.

Ohio, with its more than 5,300 miles of tracks, is a key junction between the Bakken region and East Coast oil refineries.

Millions of gallons of Bakken crude come through Ohio each week on trains, according to the reports that railroad companies submit to the state. Those reports show that from 45 million to 137 million gallons of Bakken are moving on Ohio’s railroad tracks every week.

That volume, combined with high-profile derailments, has prompted federal regulators, lawmakers, industrial lobbying groups and environmental nonprofit organizations to pay closer attention to how oil moves on rail lines throughout the country.

“If it could happen in these other places. It could surely happen right here in Ohio,” said Melanie Houston, director of water policy and environmental health for the Ohio Environmental Council, an environmental advocacy group. “It could happen in a rural area, but it could also happen in a highly populated metropolitan area like Columbus.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that trains carrying crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year for the next 20 years. Property damage could top $4 billion, the DOT analysis, completed last summer, found.

The department is preparing new rules on how crude oil is transported on tracks throughout the country. Last year, railroad companies voluntarily agreed to limit oil-train speeds to 40 mph in cities.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, a trade group that represents railroad companies, said that organization has lobbied for tougher restrictions on the tanker cars that carry crude oil.

“We believe that every tank car moving crude oil today should be phased out or built to a higher standard,” Greenberg said.

But keeping people along crude-oil shipping lines safe will take a comprehensive approach, said Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank-car owners and manufacturers.

“The tank car is not the silver bullet. You cannot really design a tank car to withstand the derailment forces in a derailment, and so you can’t get the risk down to zero,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to look at the other factors, and that includes derailment prevention and ensuring [that] the materials have the proper packaging, and also educating the emergency-response personnel in the cities and villages along the right of way.”

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    OPINION: Governor DOES have authority to stop crude by rail

    Repost from The Albany Times Union
    [Editor:  Has anyone researched similar legal authority in California?  Under what jurisdictional authority would Governor Brown have power to stop crude oil trains, regardless of federal preemption?  – RS]

    State’s next gamble is oil trains

    By Christopher Amato and Charlene Benton, March 19, 2015

    Having won approval for legalized casino gambling in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now rolling the dice on oil trains. The string of oil train disasters over the last year and a half, including four derailments in the past month in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario resulting in massive fires, explosions and air and water pollution, shows that transporting crude oil in unsafe rail cars poses a significant threat to New Yorkers’ lives and property and the state’s natural resources.

    Indeed, the oil train report prepared at the governor’s direction by five state agencies and the scores of oil train safety violations detected by federal and state inspectors confirm the dangers of transporting oil in unsafe rail cars. Yet the governor refuses to use the state’s authority to end this hazardous practice. Instead, he claims — incorrectly — that only the federal government has the authority to protect New Yorkers from the dangers of oil trains.

    The Environmental Conservation Law authorizes the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation to order the immediate discontinuance of any condition or activity that he finds “presents an imminent danger to the health or welfare of the people of the state or results in or is likely to result in irreversible or irreparable damage to natural resources.”

    In 1990, then-DEC Commissioner Tom Jorling ordered several companies to halt the transportation of oil and sludge in unsafe barges. In that case, a federal appeals court ruled that federal law did not prevent the commissioner from exercising his emergency authority.

    In October 2014, we submitted a petition to DEC on behalf of a broad coalition of community and environmental organizations requesting that Commissioner Joe Martens use his authority to prohibit the receipt and storage of crude oil in unsafe rail cars at the Albany oil terminals operated by Global Cos. and Buckeye Partners. Recently, DEC rejected the petition in a two-page letter, claiming that only the federal government can act to protect New Yorkers.

    If, as the federal appeals court has held, federal law does not prevent the DEC commissioner from ordering an emergency halt to the transport of oil and sludge in unsafe barges, why can’t the commissioner order a halt to the receipt and storage of crude oil in unsafe rail cars? Given the high stakes, isn’t this course of action at least worth trying?

    The Cuomo administration has repeatedly claimed that New York is the most aggressive state in the nation taking action on the threats posed by the rail transportation of highly volatile crude oil. But a recent news story reported that dangerous oil train shipments in New York have expanded on Cuomo’s watch, while other states like Washington are blocking crude-by-rail projects or requiring a full environmental, health and safety review of such projects.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that an average of 10 oil train derailments will occur each year for the next two decades, and predicts that a derailment in a populated area — such as Albany — could kill hundreds of people and result in billions of dollars in damages. It is time for the Cuomo administration to stop gambling that New York will escape the type of oil train catastrophe that has already occurred in Alabama, Virginia, North Dakota, West Virginia, Illinois, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Quebec. If the governor’s luck runs out, it may cost New Yorkers their lives.

    Christopher Amato is an attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. Charlene Benton is president of the Ezra Prentice Homes Tenants Association, which represents public housing tenants in Albany’s South End.

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      Dems to Obama: Use Powers to Crack Down on Oil Rail Transportation

      Repost from The PJ Tatler

      Dems to Obama: Use Powers to Crack Down on Oil Rail Transportation

      By Bridget Johnson, March 9, 2015 – 2:50 pm

      Wisconsin Democrats are urging President Obama to explore using his executive authority to take “immediate” action against “dangerous” trains transporting oil from hugely successful production areas in North Dakota.

      Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) noted that the Obama administration missed a Jan. 15 deadline to release final Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration rules on oil train accidents.

      “We write to you today with deep concerns about the risk that trains carrying crude oil continue to pose to our constituents.  Oil train accidents are increasing at an alarming rate as a result of the increased oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota. Congress has provided additional funding to study safer tank cars, hire more track inspectors, and repair rail infrastructure. We urge your Administration to use this funding, along with its regulatory powers, to improve oil train safety as quickly as possible,” Baldwin and Kind wrote to Obama today.

      “…It is time for you to take immediate action and we request that your Administration issue final rules without further delay. We believe that recent accidents make clear the need for rules stronger than those originally proposed.”

      Baldwin and Kind said that the primary risk is crumbling rail infrastructure, including not enough Federal Railroad Administration inspections and old bridges.

      “The danger facing Wisconsin communities located near rail lanes has materialized quickly. Just a few years ago, an oil train in the state was a rare sight. Today, more than 40 oil trains a week pass through Wisconsin cities and towns, many more than 100 tank cars long,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is clear that the increase in oil moving on the rails has corresponded with an uptick in oil train derailments. In addition to the derailment in Illinois on Thursday March 5, 2015, there have been derailments in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, and a fatal explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.”

      “These catastrophes have illuminated the many areas ripe for improvement, as well as additional measures needed to be taken in order to ensure safety when transporting crude oil by train.”

      They want new regulations for the stabilization of oil to make crude “less likely to ignite,” new safety requirements for tank cars, new speed limits for oil trains, and “increased transparency” about oil shipments as “it is also important that our communities are aware of what is being shipped in their backyard.”

      Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have noted the need for a comprehensive energy infrastructure that involves rail and roads, though Baldwin voted against the pipeline in January.

      Baldwin sought amendments requiring that tar sands producers pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and guarantees that American consumers get the Keystone oil before foreign export markets.

      “Working with Canada we can achieve true North American energy security and also help our allies,” sponsor Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said then. “For us to continue to produce more energy and compete in the global market we need more pipelines to move crude at the lowest cost and in the safest and most environmentally friendly way. That means that pipelines like the Keystone XL are in the vital national interest of our country.”

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        INSURANCE JOURNAL: Derailed Train in West Virginia Had Safer Tank Cars

        Repost from Insurance Journal

        Derailed Train in West Virginia Had Safer Tank Cars

        By John Raby and Jonathan Mattise | February 26, 2015 

        The fiery derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia earlier this month is one of three in the past year involving tank cars that already meet a higher safety standard than what federal law requires – leading some to suggest even tougher requirements that industry representatives say would be costly.

        Hundreds of families were evacuated and nearby water treatment plants were temporarily shut down after cars derailed from a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude on Feb. 16, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a Kanawha River tributary and burning down a house nearby. It was snowing at the time, but it is not yet clear if weather was a factor.

        The train’s tanks were a newer model – the 1232 –designed during safety upgrades voluntarily adopted by the industry four years ago. The same model spilled oil and caught fire in Timmins, Ontario this month, and last year in Lynchburg, Virginia.

        A series of ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.

        If approved, increased safety requirements now under White House review would phase out tens of thousands of older tank cars being used to carry highly flammable liquids.

        “This accident is another reminder of the need to improve the safety of transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

        Oil industry officials had been opposed to further upgrading the 1232 cars because of costs. But late last year they changed their position and joined with the railway industry to support some upgrades, although they asked for time to make the improvements.

        According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

        The downside: trains hauling Bakken-region oil have been involved in major accidents in Virginia, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Alabama and Canada, where 47 people were killed by an explosive derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

        Reports of leaks and other oil releases from tank cars are up as well, from 12 in 2008 to 186 last year, according to Department of Transportation records reviewed by The Associated Press.

        Just two days before the West Virginia wreck, 29 cars of a 100-car Canadian National Railway train carrying diluted bitumen crude derailed in a remote area 50 miles south of Timmins, Ontario, spilling oil and catching fire. That train was headed from Alberta to Eastern Canada.

        The train that derailed in West Virginia was bound for an oil shipping depot in Yorktown, Virginia, along the same route where three tanker cars plunged into the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia, prompting an evacuation last year.

        The train derailed near unincorporated Mount Carbon just after passing through Montgomery, a town of 1,946, on a stretch where the rails wind past businesses and homes crowded between the water and the steep, tree-covered hills. All but two of the train’s 109 cars were tank cars, and 26 of them left the tracks.

        Fire crews had little choice but to let the tanks burn themselves out. Each carried up to 30,000 gallons of crude.

        One person – the owner of the destroyed home – was treated for smoke inhalation, but no other injuries were reported, according to the train company, CSX. The two-person crew, an engineer and conductor, managed to decouple the train’s engines from the wreck behind it and walk away unharmed.

        The NTSB said its investigators will compare this wreck to others including Lynchburg and one near Casselton, N.D., when a Bakken crude train created a huge fireball that forced the evacuation of the farming town.

        No cause has been determined, said CSX regional vice president Randy Cheetham. He said the tracks had been inspected just three days before the wreck.

        “They’ll look at train handling, look at the track, look at the cars. But until they get in there and do their investigation, it’s unwise to do any type of speculation,” he said.

        State officials do have some say over rail safety.

        Railroads are required by federal order to tell state emergency officials where trains carrying Bakken crude are traveling. CSX and other railroads called this information proprietary, but more than 20 states rejected the industry’s argument, informing the public as well as first-responders about the crude moving through their communities.

        West Virginia is among those keeping it secret. State officials responded to an AP Freedom of Information request by releasing documents redacted to remove nearly every detail.

        There are no plans to reconsider after this latest derailment, said Melissa Cross, a program manager for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

        ___

        Contributors include Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C.; Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana; and Pam Ramsey in Charleston, West Virginia. Mattise reported from Charleston.
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