Tag Archives: American Petroleum Institute

NY Times: New Oil Train Rules Are Hit From All Sides

Repost from The New York Times

New Oil Train Rules Are Hit From All Sides

By Jad Mouawad, May 1, 2015

An oil train rolls through Surrey, N.D., in the Bakken region, where oil production has grown at a spectacular rate in recent years. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Ending months of uncertainty and delays, federal regulators on Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by trains, saying the measures would improve rail safety and reduce the risks of a catastrophic event.

But the rules quickly came under criticism from many sides. Lawmakers and safety advocates said the regulations did not go far enough in protecting the public, while industry representatives said some provisions would be costly and yield few safety benefits.

More than two years in the making, the rules followed a spate of derailments, explosions and oil spills around the country that highlighted the hazards of shipping large quantities of potentially explosive material on rails. The regulations introduce a new tank car standard for oil and ethanol with better protections, and mandate the use of electronically controlled brakes.

Facing growing pressure from members of Congress as well as local and state officials, the Department of Transportation has taken repeated steps in the last two years to tackle the safety of oil trains and reassure the public. Last month, for example, it set lower speed limits for oil trains going through urban areas.

Under the new rules, the oldest, least safe tank cars would be replaced within three years with new cars that have thicker shells, higher safety shields and better fire protection. A later generation of tank cars, built since 2011 with more safety features, will have to be retrofitted or replaced by 2020.

Oil trains — with as many as 120 cars — have become common sights in cities like Philadelphia, Albany and Chicago as they make the slow journey from the Bakken region of North Dakota, where oil production has surged in recent years.

Local and state officials have complained that rail-friendly rules make it difficult to predict when trains will pass through.

But regulators retreated from a provision that would have forced railroads to notify communities of any oil train traffic. Instead, railroads will need to have only a “point of contact” for information related to the routing of hazardous materials.

Several members of Congress, particularly those representing states like Washington, Oregon, North Dakota and New York that have seen a surge in train traffic, said the rules did not go far enough and signaled that legislation might be needed.

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon said they were disappointed that transportation officials had not expanded public information about oil train routes.

“Instead of providing first responders more details about oil shipments, railroads will simply be required to give our firefighters a phone number,” they said.

Railroads said they welcomed the new regulations but objected to a provision that would require tank cars to have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021. The Department of Transportation said the new brakes, known as E.C.P., are more effective than air brakes or dynamic brakes that are currently being used.

“The D.O.T. couldn’t make a safety case for E.C.P. but forged ahead anyway,” Edward R. Hamberger, the president and chief executive of the Association of American Railroads, said in a statement. “I have a hard time believing the determination to impose E.C.P. brakes is anything but a rash rush to judgment.”

The railroad association has estimated in comments filed to the Transportation Department last year that installing the new brakes would cost $9,665 per tank car. The Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car makers, also pushed against the use of those brakes, saying their effectiveness was not proved and would not provide a significant safety advantage.

Transportation officials said the new type of brakes was already in use by some railroads for other types of commodities. Their use would decrease the chances of a catastrophic pileup, reduce the number of punctured cars in an accident, or allow train operators to stop faster if there was an obstacle on the tracks.

Sarah Feinberg, the acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said: “The mission of the F.R.A. is safety and not focusing on what is convenient or inexpensive or provides the most cost savings for the rail industry. When I focus on safety, I land on E.C.P. It’s a very black-and-white issue for me.”

There have been five explosions and spills this year alone, four in the United States and one in Canada. In July 2013, 47 people died in Canada after a runaway train derailed and exploded in the city of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

“I am hopeful the rail industry will accept this rule, and will follow this rule,” Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, said at a news conference in Washington. He appeared with Canada’s transport minister, Lisa Raitt, who said Canadian and American regulations would be aligned.

A central question before the administration was to determine what level of protection the new generation of cars should have and how quickly to roll them out.

The new rules create a new standard, “high-hazard flammable trains,” defined as “a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.”

By 2018, the rule would phase out older tank cars, DOT-111s, long known to be ill suited for transporting flammable material. A newer generation of cars, known as CPC-1232, would have to be retired or refitted to meet the new standard, DOT-117, by 2020.

All cars built under the DOT-117 standard after Oct. 1, 2015, will have a thicker nine-sixteenths-inch tank shell, a one-half-inch shield running the full height of the front and back of a tank car, thermal protection and improved pressure-relief valves and bottom outlet valves.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Friday’s announcement gave railroads too much time to remove older cars from service. Mr. Schumer was one of seven senators who unveiled a bill that would seek to impose a fee of $175 per shipment on older cars to speed up their removal from service.

“The good news is that the standards are predictable, but the bad news is that the phaseout time is too lenient,” Mr. Schumer said.

Senator Marie Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, was more forceful, saying that the new regulations also failed to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude, which is more likely to catch fire and explode than other forms of crude.

“It does nothing to address explosive volatility, very little to reduce the threat of rail car punctures, and is too slow on the removal of the most dangerous cars,” she said. “It’s more of a status quo rule.”

Oil companies, though, said the mandate to build new tank cars to replace older models starting in 2018 would stretch the industry’s manufacturing ability and lead to shortages.

Placing blame on the railroads, Jack Gerard, the chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, said regulators should focus instead on preventing derailments and enhancing track inspection and maintenance.

The spectacular growth of oil production from the Bakken region, negligible only a few years ago and now exceeding a million barrels a day, has transformed the domestic energy industry. It has placed the United States back on a path to oil self-sufficiency, and profoundly disrupted international energy markets.

Please share!

Wall Street Journal: Federal Worst Case Urban Disaster Planning for Oil Trains

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Disaster Plans for Oil Trains

Federal officials devise scenario involving a train explosion to prepare officials for the worst

By Russell Gold,  April 13, 2015 7:54 p.m. ET

Oil trains traverse Jersey City, N.J., where officials are concerned about the potential for a spill. Photo: Joe Jackson/The Wall Street Journal

Imagine a mile-long train transporting crude oil derailing on an elevated track in Jersey City, N.J., across the street from senior citizen housing and 2 miles from the mouth of the Holland Tunnel to Manhattan.

The oil ignites, creating an intense explosion and a 300-foot fireball. The blast kills 87 people right away, and sends 500 more to the hospital with serious injuries. More than a dozen buildings are destroyed. A plume of thick black smoke spreads north to New York’s Westchester County.

This fictional—but, experts say, plausible—scenario was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in one of the first efforts by the U.S. government to map out what an oil-train accident might look like in an urban area. Agency officials unveiled it as part of an exercise last month to help local firefighters and emergency workers prepare for the kind of crude-by-rail accident that until now has occurred mostly in rural locations.

“Our job is to design scenarios that push us to the limit, and very often push us to the point of failure so that we can identify where we need to improve,” said FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre. He said a second planning exercise is scheduled in June in a suburban area of Wisconsin.

WSJ-Widespread_Damage

Jersey City’s mayor, Steven Fulop, said the drill showed participants that they need to improve regional communication to cope with an oil-train accident.

“It would be a catastrophic situation for any urban area and Jersey City is one of the most densely populated areas in the entire country,” he said.

Railroad records show that about 20 oil trains a week pass through the county that contains Jersey City, and Mr. Fulop said the trains use the elevated track studied in the FEMA exercise. Even more trains hauling crude pass through other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis.

Rail shipments of oil have expanded to almost 374 million barrels last year from 20 million barrels in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Although low crude prices and safety issues have recently led to small declines in such traffic, trains carrying volatile oil from North Dakota and the Rocky Mountains continue to rumble toward refiners on the East, West and Gulf Coasts.

Edgardo Correa, of Jersey City, N.J., beneath railroad tracks that pass by his home. Photo: Joe Jackson/The Wall Street Journal

Several oil-train derailments have produced huge fireballs, including two in March in rural Illinois and Ontario. In 2013, a train carrying North Dakota crude derailed late at night in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Regulators worry more about a serious accident in a densely populated area. “The derailment scenario FEMA developed is a very real possibility and a very real concern,” said Susan Lagana, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation. She said her agency was considering emergency orders to address such risks.

Firefighters at the FEMA workshop in Jersey City discussed the difficulty of battling a crude-oil fire, which can be explosive and hard to extinguish. One problem: limited supplies of the special foam required to smother the flames.

Jordan Zaretsky, a fire battalion chief in nearby Teaneck, N.J., who attended the presentation, said the scale of such an accident was sobering. “This isn’t a structural fire that we can knock down in an hour or two,” he said. “This is something we’d be dealing with for days.”

Ideas discussed at the workshop included devising a system to allow local officials to know when an oil train was passing through, developing public-service messages to tell residents what to do in case of a derailment and providing more firefighters with specialized training.

There have been many calls for changes to how crude oil is handled on the railroads, including new speed limits for trains and requirements to treat the crude oil to make it less volatile.

Earlier this month, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board urged the rail industry and federal regulators to move more swiftly to replace existing tank cars with ones that would better resist rupturing and fire.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for oil producers, said the companies are committed to “greater efforts to prevent derailments through track maintenance and repair, upgrades to the tank car fleet, and giving first responders the knowledge and tools they need.”

The Association of American Railroads recognizes that “more has to be done to further advance the safe movement of this product,” a spokesman said.

FEMA chose for the location of the derailment scenario a stretch of track adjacent to the New Jersey Turnpike and about a mile from downtown Jersey City. One side of the track is industrial and includes an electric substation. The other side is residential.

Edgardo Correa, a 59-year-old retired sanitation worker, lives in a house close to the tracks in Jersey City. He said he was aware that trains full of crude pass by his home. “It’s an alarming thing,” he said.

—Joe Jackson contributed to this article.
Please share!

New vapor pressure rule in North Dakota fails to account for additional explosion risks

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  Reference below is to an important new Energy Department study on the volatility of Bakken crude.  – RS]

North Dakota’s new oil train safety checks seen missing risks

By Patrick Rucker, Mar 31, 2015 4:14pm EDT

WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) – New regulations to cap vapor pressure of North Dakota crude fail to account for how it behaves in transit, according to industry experts, raising doubts about whether the state’s much-anticipated rules will make oil train shipments safer.

High vapor pressure has been identified as a possible factor in the fireball explosions witnessed after oil train derailments in Illinois and West Virginia in recent weeks.

For over a year, federal officials have warned that crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale oilfields contains a cocktail of explosive gas – known in the industry as ‘light ends.’

The new rules, which take effect on April 1, aim to contain dangers by spot-checking the vapor pressure of crude before loading and capping it at 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi) – about normal atmospheric conditions.

The plan relies on a widely-used test for measuring pressure at the wellhead, but safety experts say gas levels can climb inside the nearly-full tankers, so the checks are a poor indicator of explosion risks for rail shipments.

It is “well-understood, basic physics” that crude oil will exert more pressure in a full container than in the test conditions North Dakota will use, said Dennis Sutton, executive director of the Crude Oil Quality Association, which studies how to safely handle fossil fuels.

Ametek Inc, a leading manufacturer of testing equipment, has detected vapor pressure climbing from about 9 psi to over 30 psi – more than twice the new limit – while an oil tank is filled to near-capacity.

About 70 percent of the roughly 1.2 million barrels of oil produced in North Dakota every day moves by rail to distant refineries and passes through hundreds of cities and towns along the way.

The state controls matter to those communities because there is no federal standard to curb explosive gases in oil trains.

North Dakota officials point out that the pressure limit is more stringent than the industry-accepted definition of “stable” crude oil. They also say that they lack jurisdiction over tank cars leaving the state and that the pressure tests are just one of the measures to make oil trains safer.

“We’re trying to achieve a set of operating practices that generates a safe, reliable crude oil,” Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, has said. Helms has also said that test readings for near-full containers were less reliable.

However, given different testing and transport conditions, industry officials say the pressure threshold may need to be lowered to reduce the risks.

Limiting vapor pressure to 13.7 psi in transit would require an operator to bring it to “something well below that” at the loading point, Sutton said.

The uncertainty about regulatory reach and safety has spurred calls for the White House to develop national standards to control explosive gas pressure.

“Let me be really clear,” Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state told reporters last week. “They should set a standard on volatility.”

The National Transportation Safety Board, an independent safety agency, has already encouraged a federal standard for “setting vapor pressure thresholds” for oil trains citing Canadian findings linking such pressure and the size of explosions in train accidents.

Meanwhile, a leading voice for the oil industry is lobbying Congress to resist federal vapor pressure benchmarks.

Last week, the American Petroleum Institute urged lawmakers to oppose “a national volatility standard” and pointed to an Energy Department study that the severity of an oil train mishap may have more to do with the circumstances of the crash than the volatility of the cargo.

That same report said much more study was needed to understand volatility of crude oil from the Bakken. (For a link to the study: tinyurl.com/nvjqmxt)

The oil industry has said that wringing ‘light ends’ out of Bakken crude may keep a share of valuable fuel from reaching refineries.

Reuters reported early this month that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx took his concerns about Bakken oil volatility to the White House last summer and sought advice on what to do about the danger of explosive gases.

The administration decided that rather than assert federal authority it would allow the North Dakota rules to take root, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder in North Dakota; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Bernard Orr)
Please share!