Tag Archives: American Petroleum Institute

Western Cities Magazine: A Growing Risk – Oil Trains Raise Safety and Environmental Concerns

Repost from Western City Magazine

A Growing Risk: Oil Trains Raise Safety and Environmental Concerns

By Cory Golden, in the February 2015 issue of Western City
George Spade/Shutterstock.com
George Spade/Shutterstock.com

More and more often, trains snake down through California from its northern borders, with locomotives leading long lines of tank cars brimming with volatile crude oil.

Rail remains among the safest modes of transport, but the growing volume of crude being hauled to California refineries — coupled with televised images of fiery oil train accidents elsewhere — have ratcheted up the safety and environmental concerns of city officials and the residents they serve.

Local and state lawmakers have found that their hands are largely tied by federal laws and court rulings pre-empting new state and local regulation of rail traffic.

Growing Volume and an Increasing Number of Accidents

Until recently, California’s refineries were served almost entirely through ports. An oil boom in North Dakota and Canada from the Bakken shale formation and a lack of pipeline infrastructure have led to a dramatic increase in oil-by-rail shipments nationwide.

Oil imports to California by rail shot up 506 percent to 6.3 million barrels in 2013 (one barrel equals 42 gallons). That number will climb to 150 million barrels by 2016, according to the California Energy Commission.

The surge represents an “unanticipated, unacceptable risk posed to California,” said Paul King, deputy director for the California Public Utilities Commission’s Office of Oil Rail Safety, during a Senate hearing last year.

As the volume of oil being transported by rail has swelled, derailments in the United States and Canada have also increased. Despite $5 billion in industry spending on infrastructure and safety measures — with half of that for maintenance — railroads spilled more crude in the United States during 2013 than in the previous four decades combined, according to an analysis of federal data by McClatchy DC News.

Railroads continue to boast a better than 99 percent safety record, and most spills have been small, but with each tank car holding more than 25,000 gallons of oil, the exceptions — including eight mishaps in 2013 and early 2014 — have been dramatic and devastating, none more so than an accident in July 2013. That’s when 63 cars from a runaway train exploded, leveling much of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killing 47 people.

So far, California has been spared a major crude oil accident, but the number of spills here is climbing: from 98 in 2010 to 182 in 2013, according to the California Office of Emergency Services (OES).

Trains carrying Bakken crude travel south through Northern California, turning from the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and rumbling through the hearts of cities large and small. The trains pass within blocks of the state Capitol, hospitals and schools and through sensitive ecological areas such as the Feather River Canyon and Suisun Marsh.

Lethal Accidents Spur a Push for Increased Safety Measures

The Lac-Mégantic accident and others that have followed have led to a push for change at the federal level. Two agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, shoulder responsibility for writing and enforcing railroad safety regulations.

In early 2014, the DOT and railroad industry announced a series of voluntary steps to increase safety. The DOT released a comprehensive rule-making proposal in July 2014, calling for structurally stronger tank cars, new operating requirements, speed restrictions, enhanced braking controls and route risk assessments, and a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids.

The DOT proposal calls for phasing out within two years older model tank cars, called DOT-111s, long known to be vulnerable to rupturing in a crash. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, first urged replacing or retrofitting them in 1991.

In September 2014, the American Petroleum Institute and Association of American Railroads jointly asked the DOT for more time — up to seven years to retrofit tank cars.

Another safety measure, called positive train control (PTC), makes use of global positioning systems. It is intended to prevent collisions, derailments due to high speeds and other movements that could cause accidents, like a train using track where maintenance is under way. PTC can alert train crews to danger and even stop a train remotely.

Following a 2008 Metrolink crash in Los Angeles that killed 25 people — caused when an engineer missed a stop signal and collided with a Union Pacific freight train — Congress mandated PTC implementation on 60,000 miles of track nationwide. Large railroads have spent $4.5 billion to implement the technology, but the industry says it cannot meet its 2015 deadline.

Among the members of California’s congressional delegation demanding stricter regulations are Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who have called for more information to be released to first responders on train movements.

Sen. Feinstein also wrote a letter that urged the DOT to include pneumatic brakes, which can greatly reduce stopping distances, in its planned review of tank car design, and to extend the PTC requirement to any route used by trains carrying flammable liquids near population centers or sensitive habitat.

Meanwhile, Industry Continues to Grow

The growth in domestic crude oil is reflected in projects that include seven proposed, completed or under-construction expansions that together would have a maximum oil-by-rail capacity of 561,000 barrels per day at Bakersfield, Benicia, Pittsburg, Santa Maria, Stockton and Desert Hot Springs (see “Increasing Refinery Capacity” below).

As of December 2014, the Kinder Morgan Inc. facility in Richmond was the only refinery that could receive unit trains, which are trains with 100 or more tank cars carrying a single commodity and bound for the same destination.

InterState Oil Co. had its permit to offload crude at McClellan Park, in Sacramento County, revoked in November 2014 by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. The district said it had issued the permit in error and that it required a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Refineries in Bakersfield, Vernon, Carson and Long Beach were receiving crude deliveries from manifest trains, which carry a mix of cargo.

Safety Efforts Focus on Planning, Preparedness and Response

The Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970 authorized the U.S. secretary of transportation to create uniform national safety regulations. States are allowed to adopt additional, compatible rules if they do not hinder interstate commerce and address a local safety hazard. Courts have consistently ruled against almost all attempts by states to use the local safety hazard exception, however.

Thus, unable to regulate train movements, California lawmakers and agencies have pursued three main courses of action: planning, preparedness and response.

In the Golden State, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) shares authority with the federal government to enforce federal safety requirements, and OES and local agencies lead emergency response. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown expanded the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response to include inland areas.

The Legislature approved a Senate Joint Resolution, SJR 27 (Padilla), urging the DOT to safeguard communities and habitat, strengthen the tank car fleet, mandate the earlier voluntary safety agreement with railroads and prioritize safety over cost effectiveness.

Recent legislation includes AB 380 (Dickinson, Chapter 533, Statutes of 2014), which calls for increased spill-response planning for state and local agencies and requires carriers to submit commodity flow data to OES, and SB 1064 (Hill, Chapter 557, Statutes of 2014), which seeks to improve accountability and transparency regarding CPUC’s responses to federal safety recommendations.

The FY 2014–15 state budget also allocated $10 million to the CPUC, which planned to add seven more track inspectors, and authorized the state oil spill prevention fund to be used for spills in inland areas. In addition, the budget expanded the 6.5 cent per-barrel fee to include all crude oil entering the state.

The 10 state agencies that have some hand in rail safety and accident response have formed the Interagency Rail Safety Working Group. It issued a report last June that called for, among other things, older tank cars to be removed from service, stronger cars, improved braking, PTC and better markings on cars so that firefighters know how to proceed in an accident.

Speaking to Richmond residents in December 2014, Gordon Schremp, senior fuels specialist for the California Energy Commission, welcomed the moves to increase safety at the federal level. All indications were that railroads were complying with new measures like lower speed limits, he said.

“Does it mean there will be zero derailments? No, but the goal is to get there,” said Schremp.

Local government officials face a daunting challenge when it comes to disaster response.

The Interagency Rail Safety Working Group also found that, as of June 2014, there were no hazardous materials response teams in rural areas of Northern California and units in other areas of the state lacked the training and equipment needed to take a lead role. Forty percent of the state’s firefighters are volunteers.

“Training is of the utmost importance,” said Deputy Chief Thomas Campbell, who oversees the Cal OES Hazardous Materials Programs. “We understand that local governments are limited in finances and that it’s difficult to get firefighters out of rural communities to train because they are volunteers.”

Some Local Communities Oppose Expansion

At the local level the proposed expansion of California refineries sometimes has run into heated opposition.

After news reports revealed that Bakken crude was being transported into the City of Richmond, City Manager Bill Lindsay wrote a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in November 2014 calling for it to revoke energy company Kinder Morgan’s permit to offload the crude there. That followed a lawsuit filed by environmental groups to revoke the permit — a suit tossed out by the judge because it was filed too late.

Elsewhere, a proposal by Valero Energy Corp. would bring 1.4 million gallons of crude daily to its Benicia refinery. The proposal has been met with letters questioning the city’s environmental and safety analysis from senders that have included the CPUC, Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and cities along the rail line, including Davis and Sacramento. The Union Pacific Railroad has responded by stressing federal pre-emption of rail traffic.

Even as those proposals played out, a pair of derailments in Northern California underscored the importance of the debate. While neither spill involved crude oil or hazardous materials, both served as a warning of the need for California to improve its emergency response capability. Eleven cars carrying freight derailed and spilled into the Feather River Canyon near Belden on Nov. 25, 2014. Three days later, one car tumbled off the tracks near Richmond. The cars were loaded with corn in the first instance and refrigerated pork in the second.

What’s Ahead

The League continues to closely monitor developments in oil by rail. In September 2014 the League made recommendations to the DOT on the federal rule-making governing rail safety. The recommendations included providing more information and training to first responders, mandating speed limits and stronger tank cars, and using all available data to assess the risks and consequences of crude oil transport. Two months later, the National League of Cities passed a resolution stressing many of the same safety measures.

League of California Cities staff conducted a series of webinars during fall 2014 to better acquaint members with the oil-by-rail issue, and its Public Safety and Transportation policy committees took up the subject in January 2015 meetings.


Increasing Refinery Capacity

The California Energy Commission is tracking the following projects, which would dramatically increase the oil-by-rail capacity of refineries:

  • Plains All American Pipeline LP in Bakersfield, which took its first delivery in November 2014, has a capacity of 65,000 barrels per day (bpd);
  • Alon USA Energy Inc. in Bakersfield, under construction, will be able to receive 150,000 bpd;
  • Valero Energy Corp. in Benicia, which is presently undergoing permit review, would have a 70,000 bpd capacity;
  • WesPac Energy-Pittsburg LLC in Pittsburg, undergoing permit review, could receive up 50,000 bpd by rail and 192,000 bpd through its marine terminal; and
  • Phillips 66 in Santa Maria, undergoing permit review, could accept 41,000 bpd.

In addition, Targa Resources Corp. at the Port of Stockton is planning an expansion that would enable it to receive 65,000 bpd. And Questar Gas Corp. is planning a project that could see it offload 120,000 bpd near Desert Hot Springs, then send it through a repurposed 96-mile pipeline to Los Angeles.


Photo credits: Ksb/Shutterstock.com; Steven Frame/Shutterstock.com.

 

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    Federal Railroad Admin: oil industry must do more to boost train safety

    Repost from Reuters

    Oil industry must join U.S. railroads to boost train safety – regulator

    By Patrick Rucker, Mar 13, 2015 6:06pm EDT

    WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) – Rail operators are going to great lengths to prevent oil train derailments but the energy sector must do more to prevent accidents from becoming fiery disasters, the leading U.S. rail regulator said on Friday.

    Oil train tankers have jumped the tracks in a string of mishaps in recent months that resulted in explosions and fires.

    Several of those shipments originated from North Dakota’s Bakken energy fields. Officials have warned that fuel from the region is particularly light and volatile.

    Sarah Feinberg, acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the energy industry must do more to control the volatility of its cargo.

    “(We) are running out of things that we can put on the railroads to do,” she said. “There have to be other industries that have skin in the game.”

    A national safety plan for oil trains, due to be finalized in May, would require trains to have toughened tankers, advanced braking and other safety improvements.

    The plan, however, would do nothing to mute the dangers of the fuel itself.

    As officials try to prevent mishaps, they will also highlight the energy companies that supplied crude oil involved in accidents, Feinberg said.

    Officials want to identify publicly “the owner of the product when we talk about these derailments,” she said.

    The American Petroleum Institute said it hoped to work with the rail industry and other stakeholders to prevent mishap.

    “Our safety goal, along with the railroads, is zero incidents,” said Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the trade group.

    While U.S. officials have warned for more than 12 months that Bakken fuel can be volatile, the verdict is mixed on whether that contributes to the intensity of accidents.

    In September, the FRA determined that Bakken crude oil may be no more explosion-prone than other fuels carried by rail.

    Ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, “poses a similar, if not greater, risk as (Bakken) crude oil when released from a tank car failing catastrophically and resulting in a large fireball type fire,” according to a study from the agency.

    On Friday, the FRA said that about 6,000 tankers had a top valve that allowed small amounts of oil to escape. The agency said it ordered the fitting to be replaced and said it would work with industry to identify and replace defective parts more quickly.

    That defect was not believed to have played a role in any mishaps, the FRA said.

    (Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Dan Grebler, Bernard Orr)
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      WALL STREET JOURNAL: In Recent Derailments, Newer Tougher Railcars Failed to Prevent Rupture

      Repost from The Wall Street Journal

      Wrecks Hit Tougher Oil Railcars

      Sturdier train cars built to carry crude oil have failed to prevent spills in recent derailments 

      By Russell Gold, March 8, 2015 9:36 p.m. ET
      Galena
      Fire continued Friday after a train carrying 103 railcars loaded with crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale derailed south of Galena, Ill. Photo: Associated Press

      In a string of recent oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada, new and sturdier railroad tanker cars being built to carry a rising tide of crude oil across the continent have failed to prevent ruptures.

      These tank cars, called CPC-1232s, are the new workhorses of the soaring crude-by-rail industry, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels a day across the two countries.

      But the four recent accidents are a sign that the new tanker cars are still prone to rupture in a derailment. The ruptures could increase momentum for rules aimed at further reducing the risk of shipping crude by rail.

      In the last month, there have been significant derailments of crude-carrying trains in West Virginia and Illinois, plus two in Ontario, including one Saturday in a remote part of the Canadian province.

      Each train was hauling the new tank cars, which weren’t able to prevent the crude from escaping, leaking into one river and exploding into several giant fireballs.

      “These new type of cars were supposed to be safer, but it’s obvious these cars are not good enough or safe enough,” said Claude Gravelle, a Canadian lawmaker who represents the northern Ontario area where two recent derailments occurred.

      On Sunday, emergency workers were still trying to extinguish fires in multiple tank cars after 30 cars of a 94-car Canadian National Railway Co. train laden with Alberta crude derailed Saturday near Gogoma, Ontario. Five cars landed in a waterway.

      The energy industry began using rail to transport oil in 2008 because it was a fast and inexpensive way to move growing volumes largely from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

      In addition, building new pipelines has been expensive and politically fraught. In February, President Barack Obama vetoed legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been under review by the Obama administration for more than six years.

      The robustness of tanker cars has become a major focus of efforts to improve the safety of shipping crude by rail. Such shipments have soared from about 21,200 barrels a day in 2009 to 1.04 million barrels a day by the end of 2014, according to government statistics.

      As the U.S. shale boom gathered speed, the safety of growing crude shipments by rail has attracted greater scrutiny in the U.S. and Canada, especially after a 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that claimed 47 lives.

      Speed limits have been adopted, and a new rule in North Dakota that will take effect next month requires crude from the state to be treated to make the crude less combustible.

      The cars involved in the two Ontario derailments and the incidents in West Virginia and Illinois all met the standards introduced by the rail industry in 2011 as a significant upgrade over older models, and were built with thicker shells and pressure-relief devices.

      Fiery_TracksThere are about 60,000 of the new CPC-1232 tanker cars in use hauling crude oil across North America, as well as about 100,000 of the older models, says the Association of American Railroads.

      Last year, the Transportation Department proposed additional new rules for tank cars carrying crude, presenting three main options. One would stick with the CPC-1232, but the other two would make new cars stronger and retrofit existing cars.

      The White House is now reviewing these options and is expected to issue recommendations in May.

      Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, said the railroad-industry trade group “wants all tank cars carrying crude oil, including the CPC-1232, to be upgraded by retrofitting or taken out of service. Railroads share the public’s deep concern regarding the safe movement of crude oil by rail.”

      The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s trade group, says it also supports upgrades to the tanker fleet to improve safety.

      Cynthia Quarterman, a former director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration who stepped down last October, said the recent incidents “confirm that the CPC-1232 just doesn’t cut it.”

      Tanker-car improvements alone won’t be enough to reduce overall risk, she added. “The crashworthiness of the tank cars does need to be raised, but that’s not enough. There needs to be a comprehensive solution, including better brakes to help minimize pileups.”

      The four recent crashes also highlight some of the other risks of carrying crude by rail that seem to be persistent.

      Two of the derailments involved Bakken crude from North Dakota, which contains a high level of gas, making it more volatile than other kinds of crude. In the Mount Carbon, W.Va., accident in February, nearly two dozen tankers full of crude derailed and were engulfed in flames, some exploding into fireballs that rose more than 100 feet in the air.

      Tests on the crude showed that its vapor pressure, a measure of volatility, exceeded a new regulatory standard that will go into effect next month.

      The recent derailments involved long trains that are essentially mobile pipelines as much as a mile long. The BNSF Railway Co. train that derailed and caught fire in Galena, Ill., 160 miles northwest of Chicago, was roughly a mile long and carrying 103 railcars loaded with crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. BNSF is a unit of  Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

      “We certainly believe that a stronger tank car is necessary and appropriate,” said Mike Treviño, a BNSF spokesman. A Canadian National spokesman said the company is in favor of stronger tank-car design standards.

      The train in the Canadian National accident in Ontario over the weekend was 94 cars long, while the West Virginia train had 109 tankers full of North Dakota crude oil.

      Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt referred to “very long” unit trains last month when she proposed a new tax on crude shipments by rail aimed at building an insurance fund. “With that increased length of car, there’s an increased risk associated with it,” she said.

      The number of derailments on long-haul tracks in the U.S. has declined 21% since 2009, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. But the number of train accidents related to “fire” or “violent rupture” climbed to 38 last year from 20 in 2009.

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        Obama admin to give companies more time to upgrade DOT-111 & C-1232 tank cars

        Repost from Bloomberg Business News

        Revised Oil-Train Safety Rule Said to Delay Upgrade Deadline

        by Jim Snyder, February 12, 2015

        (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration revised its proposal to prevent oil trains from catching fire in derailments, giving companies more time to upgrade their fleets but sticking with a requirement that new tank cars have thicker walls and better brakes.

        The changes, described by three people familiar with the proposal who asked not to be identified because the plan has not been made public, are in proposed regulations the U.S. Transportation Department sent to the White House last week for review prior to being released.

        The administration is revising safety standards after a series of oil-train accidents, including a 2013 disaster in Canada that killed 47 people when a runaway train derailed and blew up. Earlier this month a train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire outside of Dubuque, Iowa. No one was hurt.

        Companies that own tank cars opposed the aggressive schedule for modifying cars in the DOT’s July draft, saying it would have cost billions of dollars and could slow oil production. That plan gave companies two years to retrofit cars hauling the most volatile crude oil, including from North Dakota’s booming Bakken field.

        Railroads and oil companies fought the brake requirement and proposed a standard for the steel walls that was thinner than suggested by the agency.

        ‘Too Long’
        Karen Darch, the mayor of the Chicago suburb of Barrington, Illinois, and an advocate for safer cars, said she was encouraged that the rules included stronger tank cars and upgraded brakes. She disagreed with adding years to the retrofit deadline.

        “Taking more time on something that’s already taken too long is problematic,” Darch said Thursday in a phone interview.

        Officials in the President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget could change the proposal before the final version is released, probably in May. Darius Kirkwood, a spokesman at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Transportation Department unit that wrote the rule, said he couldn’t comment on a proposed rule.

        “The department has and will continue to put a premium on getting this critical rule done as quickly as possible, but we’ve always committed ourselves to getting it done right,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said this month in a statement about the timing of the safety rule.

        Rolling Deadlines
        The current proposal would require companies to first upgrade tank cars known as DOT-111s, which safety investigators have said are prone to puncture in rail accidents, according to one of the people. Cars with an extra jacket of protection would remain in use longer before undergoing modifications, according to one of the people.

        A newer model known as the CPC-1232, which the industry in 2011 voluntarily agreed to build in response to safety concerns, would have a later deadline than the DOT-111s for modification or replacement, three people said.

        The CPC-1232s have more protection at the ends of the cars and than the DOT-111s and a reinforced top fitting.

        The draft rule also would require that new tank cars be built with steel shells that are 9/16th of an inch thick, the people said. The walls of the current cars, both DOT-111s and CPC-1232s, are 7/16th of an inch thick.

        A joint proposal from the American Petroleum Institute and the Association of American Railroads argued to set the tank-car shell thickness at half an inch, or 8/16ths.

        Company Lobbying
        Railroads and oil companies also lobbied against a proposal that the trains have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, which are designed to stop all rolling cars at a same time.

        The Association of American Railroads in June told Transportation Department officials that the electronic brakes would cost as much as $15,000 for each car and have only a minimal safety impact.

        Trains often haul 100 or more tank cars filled with crude. These trains have increasingly been used to haul crude as oil production has boomed in places, like North Dakota, that don’t have enough pipelines.

        Rail shipments of oil surged to 408,000 car loads last year from 11,000 in 2009.

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