Tag Archives: Alabama

Do You Live In A “Bomb Train” Blast Zone?

Repost from Vice News
[Editor: This excellent ForestEthics interactive map shows oil train routes throughout the U.S. & Canada.  Just click on the map – be sure to zoom in close enough to see your own street’s name!  Note that the map seems to have been updated to more accurately show the blast zone in and around the Valero Benicia refinery and the Benicia Bridge.  – RS]

Do You Live In A “Bomb Train” Blast Zone?

By Spencer Chumbley, July 28, 2014

It’s estimated that 9 million barrels of crude oil are moving over the rail lines of North America at any given moment. Oil trains charging through Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, and Canada’s Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta provinces have derailed and exploded, resulting in severe environmental damage and, in the case of Quebec, considerable human casualties.

The map below provides a striking visualization of where crude oil is traveling by rail throughout the United States and Canada. ForestEthics, the environmental group that created it, used industry data and reports from citizens who live near oil train routes to provide one of the first comprehensive visualizations of how many people are at risk from oil trains, and where.

The group estimates that some 25 million Americans live within the one-mile evacuation zone that the US Department of Transportation recommends in the event of an oil fire. Do you live in the blast zone of a bomb train?

Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail. Watch our documentary here.

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    California legislators offering bills to prevent oil by rail accidents – Union Pacific & BNSF react

    Repost from The Los Angeles Times, via The Columbian

    California moves to prevent spills of oil shipped by trains

    By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2014

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Although most people think of oil spills in California as potential beachfront disasters, there is new anxiety in Sacramento about the surge of crude oil now coming through the state each day by train.

    Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers want to avoid the sort of fiery disaster that killed 47 people in July in southern Quebec when tank cars exploded as they carried oil from the booming Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through Canada. Other less spectacular oil tanker car derailments occurred in Aliceville, Ala.; Casselton, N.D.; and Lynchburg, Va., during the past 12 months.

    With a steady increase of oil now being shipped into California from out of state, policymakers are scrambling to come up with spill-prevention programs to lower the risk of potentially deadly accidents. Proposals under consideration include hiring new state railroad inspectors, developing better spill-response plans and improving communications between rail carriers and emergency services agencies.

    “California is seeing a huge shift in the way we import oil,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, one of two lawmakers pushing oil-by-rail safety bills this session in the Legislature. “We need to address the new and unique hazards of crude-by-rail transportation.”

    The threat to California communities is particularly dire, environmental justice groups contend, because many of the state’s busiest rail lines run through densely populated areas, and refineries often are in low-income neighborhoods, such as Wilmington in southern Los Angeles County and Richmond in Northern California’s Contra Costa County.

    Railroads question the need for new state regulations that could conflict with the federal government’s historic oversight of all aspects of rail safety, operations and working conditions. Rail companies say they have “a 99.997 percent safe delivery record of hazardous materials” and they are eager to cooperate with state officials to ensure even safer operations.

    Oil imports by rail account for just about 1 percent of total shipments to California refineries. Most of the crude arrives by ship or by pipelines from in-state production fields.

    But that mix is changing fast. Last year, railroads brought 6.3 million barrels of crude into the Golden State, mostly from North Dakota and Canada, according to the California Energy Commission. That’s up from 1.1 million barrels in 2012 and just 498,000 in 2010. A barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil.

    Shipments to Southern California accounted for most of last year’s almost sixfold jump in crude-by-rail activity, the commission reported. Tank-car transportation, it estimates, could reach about a quarter of all state imports in 2016 if the trend continues.

    Volume went “from nothing to massive, a huge expansion,” said Julia May, a senior scientist at Communities for a Better Environment, a Huntington Park group that advocates for low-income people living near pollution sources. “It’s a major concern.”

    Three proposals for protecting the state against rail-related oil spills are under consideration.

    As part of his annual budget, Brown wants to expand an existing prevention-and-response program for ocean oil spills to cover inland areas. The initiative would be funded by a proposed 6.5-cent-per-barrel fee on all crude oil delivered by rail to refineries. Additionally, Brown is asking lawmakers to approve hiring new track inspectors.

    Separately, Pavley last week steered a similar spill-response measure, SB 1319, through the state Senate, winning approval on a 23-11 vote.

    In the lower house, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, recently amended a bill that would require railroads to report to the state Office of Emergency Services information about hazardous materials, including crude oil, being transported into the state.

    His proposal, AB 380, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Wednesday, also would require rail carriers to maintain live, 24-hour communications lines that would enable local first-responders to contact them.

    “We want to make sure that in California we get the information we need,” Dickinson said.

    Meanwhile, the federal government, which is ultimately responsible for railroad safety regulation, recently issued an emergency order to railroads to notify states of the specific routes they will use when transporting more than 1 million barrels of Bakken crude. Such oil “may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude,” the U.S. Department of Transportation warned.

    “The number and type of petroleum crude oil railroad accidents … that have occurred during the last year is startling,” the department said in its May 7 order, referring to recent accidents in Quebec, Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia.

    The Brown administration plans and the Pavley legislation are opposed by the two principal railroads that haul crude oil to California: Union Pacific and BNSF.

    “The railroads understand the questions and concerns that California has regarding crude oil shipped into the state by rail,” the two companies said in a May 22 letter to Pavley.

    They also warned that the proposed California rules may be unworkable, preempted by existing federal laws and harmful to national security concerns.

    Union Pacific and BNSF also cautioned policymakers to be skeptical of official projections of an extremely rapid increase of crude shipments to California.

    The oil industry in a May 28 “alert” to state senators called the Pavley bill “excessive” and “not narrowly focused on areas where there may be a real risk from potential oil spills by rail.”

    The prospect of more and bigger accidents is real if immediate changes are not made, warned Jayni Foley Hein, executive director of the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law.

    “The danger is not so much the oil itself as a commodity,” Hein said, “but the sheer number of cars carrying this oil . combined with aging infrastructure.”

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      Firefighters get specialized training to fight crude oil tank car fires

      Repost from The Albany Times Union [Editor: We can expect that this kind of training is being initiated all across North America, given the proliferation of derailments and explosions.  Has the Benicia Fire Department sought training?  Other Bay Area fire departments?  How about a regional training event?  – RS]

      Firefighters train as crude oil surges through Albany port

      Controlled blaze gives firefighters practice for a real oil event at port
      By Brian Nearing  |  May 8, 2014
      An instructor, right, leads firefighter trainees during a live fire training drill on best practices for the suppression of ignitable liquids such as crude oil in the event of a flammable liquid emergency at the Port of Albany Wednesday May 7, 2014, in Albany, NY.  (John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union) Photo: John Carl D'Annibale / 00026798AAn instructor, right, leads firefighter trainees during a live fire training drill on best practices for the suppression of ignitable liquids such as crude oil in the event of a flammable liquid emergency at the Port of Albany Wednesday May 7, 2014, in Albany, NY. (John Carl D’Annibale / Times Union)

      To practice fighting towering flames that could erupt should crude oil-laden trains ever derail and explode, firefighters in the Port of Albany on Wednesday practiced on controlled blazes created on something not unlike a giant barbecue grill.

      In a parking lot off South Pearl Street, about two dozen firefighters spent several hours dragging hoses to spray special foam on fires fueled by propane lines from a tank truck parked nearby, and that burned both in vapors bubbling in a water-filled pan on the ground and from a valve atop an adapted tractor-trailer.

      Flames would shoot up, teams of firefighters would creep up to spray foam, flames would be extinguished and then the next team would repeat the exercise.

      The state Division of Homeland Security ran the two-day drill, which is part of routine training done statewide for local fire departments and companies with their own firefighting crews, said James Cable, chief of the division’s Special Operations Branch.

      Later Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring all railroads operating trains hauling large loads of highly flammable Bakken crude oil — like those into Albany’s port — to notify state emergency response officials about routes and operation of rail traffic through their states.

      The rule requires rail companies that have trains containing more than one million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude — equivalent to about 35 tanker cars — to notify state officials on the routes of those trains.

      Also the rules asks oil shippers to phase out use of the oldest, least-safe tankers, known as DOT-111s, as soon as is practical, without setting any deadline.

      Applauded by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, who last week called for such notification, and Kirsten Gillibrand, the federal announcement came after the local safety drill was finished. Before the drill, Albany Deputy Fire Chief Frank Nerney Jr. called the drill “an extension of our regular training to understand the use of foams to fight flammable liquids. We take part in this drill twice a year.”

      Nerney said training has focused on crews at the South End firehouse, which is closest to the Port of Albany, where trains carrying Bakken crude oil are arriving daily. Crude shipments have skyrocketed in the last two years. Derailments and massive fires in Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and Quebec in the last year have raised mounting safety concerns.

      In some of the infernos, flames were up to 200 feet high. Wednesday’s flames were much smaller, appearing to shoot five feet from the water-filled pan and 20 or 30 feet from the tractor trailer. Crews wearing protective clothing were able to walk within a few feet of the flames, which were still hot enough to be felt by reporters standing back about 40 yards.

      New recruits from the Albany department, as well as its five battalion chiefs, took part in the drill, as well as members from fire departments from Schuyler Heights, Maplewood and Schenectady and the SABIC chemical plant in Glenmont.

      Cable said the principles of the propane-based training system apply to crude oil fires or other “ignitable liquids.” The chemical foam is mixed with water under pressure, and the foam is sprayed over a fire. It acts like a blanket, sealing off the surface of the burning liquid from air, which extinguishes the blaze. The foam is consumed gradually by fire, and so must be applied enough to create a barrier; otherwise, gaps will allow air to continue to feed the blaze.

      The state has run the training course for local departments for three years, said Cable. “We are looking to increase this training, as more communities are asking for it.”

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