Tag Archives: Ban oil trains

New Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Repost from Center for Biological Diversity

CenterForBiolDiv_logoNew Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Long Phase-out of Hazardous Cars, Inadequate Speed Limits Leave Communities at Risk of Explosive Derailments

For Immediate Release, December 7, 2015
Contact: Jared Margolis, (802) 310-4054

WASHINGTON— A new transportation bill signed by President Obama includes provisions intended to improve the safety of oil trains, but leaves puncture-prone tank cars in service for years and fails to address the speed, length and weight of trains that experts point to as the leading causes of explosive derailments. The bill upgrades safety features on oil train tank cars and requires railroads to provide emergency responders with real-time information about when and where dangerous oil cargoes are being transported but doesn’t do enough to prevent oil train accidents, which have risen sharply in recent years.

“While these regulations improve our ability to prepare for oil train disasters they do virtually nothing to prevent them from ever occurring in the first place,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Until we dramatically reduce the speed and length of these bomb trains it’s only a matter of time before the next explosive derailment sends fireballs rolling through one of our communities.”

The new regulations will require all oil train tank cars to include fire-resistant ceramic coatings and protections for protruding top fittings. The final rule issued by federal regulators in May only required oil trains with 35 loaded oil tank cars or 20-car blocks of oil tank cars to implement the new standards, and would not have required the ceramic blankets or top fitting protections for all retrofitted cars.

But experts say even the protective measures included in the new transportation regulations signed into law on Friday will do little to prevent a spill if a train derails at speeds faster than 18 mph, and oil trains are permitted to travel at 40 mph to 50 mph. And the new regulations do not require the phase-out of dangerous puncture-prone tank cars to begin until 2018, and allows them to remain in service until 2029.

“It’s irresponsible to continue to allow these bomb trains to roll through the middle of our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes,” said Margolis. “We need to quit pretending we can make these dangerous trains safe and simply ban them altogether.”

Congress has directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue requiring notifications to states of train routes and frequencies so communities can better prepare to respond to train derailments, explosions and oil spills. However, the new regulations do nothing to remedy the track infrastructure problems, or the excessive length and weight of oil trains, cited as leading causes of derailments. Further, it remains unclear whether the public will have access to information about these hazards.

“Keeping information on oil trains from public scrutiny is outrageous, and only serves to protect the corporate interests that care little about the risk to the homes, schools and wild areas that these trains threaten,” said Margolis. “We need to keep these trains off the tracks and keep these dangerous fossil fuels in the ground, rather than keeping the public in the dark.”

Background 

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that current tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. But federal regulators have ignored the safety board’s official recommendation to stop shipping crude oil in the hazardous tank cars. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that even the newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, often puncturing at low speeds.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, has led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail since 2005, primarily in trains with as many as 120 oil cars that are more than 1.5 miles long. The result has been oil spills, destructive fires, and explosions when oil trains have derailed. More oil spilled in train accidents just in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

    Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fire Rages

    Repost from The Huffington Post

    Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fire Rages

    By Todd Paglia, ForestEthics, 03/19/2015 1:59 pm EDT
    DERAILMENT
    DERAILMENT Marvin Beatty via Getty Images

    On Friday, March 6, while an oil train explosion in Illinois was still sending flames and black smoke into the air, railroad agents were in Washington, DC lobbying to weaken new train safety standards. Safer brakes are “extremely costly…” they told White House officials, and explained in great detail why speed limits are impractical. Like the auto industry resisting seatbelts, the rail industry is on the wrong track when it comes to safety.

    In the last month, there have been six derailments of crude oil trains in the U.S. and Canada — three of them ignited, sending flames and mushroom clouds hundreds of feet into the air. Luckily, these were in relatively remote locations and no one was killed.

    These disasters are not an aberration — oil train traffic is skyrocketing, which means more derailments and more explosions. The oil and rail industries hope to increase further the amount of crude oil barreling down the tracks in the coming years. Before that happens, ForestEthics has some questions we’d like to see the Obama administration ask the army of lobbyists who are trying to push the bar on safety even lower than it already is:

    When did trains start exploding?
    Rail transportation of crude oil is growing rapidly and dangerously — from fewer than 10,000 carloads in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014 — for two reasons: Bakken oil from North Dakota and Canadian tar sands. The North American boom means oil companies are trying to tails and mine more of this extreme oil, crude that is high in carbon, difficult and expensive to produce, and dangerous to transport.

    Are cities and towns with rail lines safe?
    With the exception of Capitol Hill (the rail industry seems to be sparing Washington, DC) most routing is done specifically throughout cities and towns. No, the oil and rail industries are probably not purposely targeting us, it’s just that the rails in populated places tend to be better maintained and rated for heavier cargoes. The sane thing to do would be to stop hauling crude oil if it can’t be transported safely. A far distant next best is to make these trains as safe as possible and require rerouting around cities and water supplies.

    What is the government doing?
    Not nearly enough. While 100-plus car trains full of an explosive crude roll through our towns, the U.S. government is barely moving, bogged down by nearly 100 of Washington’s most expensive K-Street lobbyists. In fall 2014, ForestEthics, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club sued the Department of Transportation to speed up new safety standards on oil trains. We called the trains an imminent danger to public safety. The federal government responded by once again delaying their decision on new rules that have been in the works for years.

    What is the slowest speed at which an oil explosion could happen?
    An oil tank car can catch fire and explode in an accident at zero miles per hour. Assuming a slightly raised rail bed, an oil car that tips over while standing still (this can and has happened on poorly maintained rails) will strike the ground going approximately 16 miles per hour — more than fast enough to breach the tank, spark, and ignite if it hits a rock, a curb, any hard protrusion.

    Do firefighters know when and where oil trains are moving?
    First responders do not know when, where, how much oil, and what kind is coming through their town. The US Department of Transportation ordered that railroads and oil companies make this information public. But only for trains carrying more than a million gallons of Bakken crude, and even this information is not being made public on a consistent basis.

    How do you extinguish oil train fire?
    You don’t put out an oil train fire; nobody does. Oil fires require specialized foam, which fire departments do not have in nearly sufficient supply to fight the fire from even a single 30,000 gallon tank car. All firefighters can do is evacuate those in danger, move outside the one mile blast zone and let the fire burn out, which can take days. In Illinois, firefighters unloaded their equipment to fight an oil train fire, realized the danger and left behind $10,000 in equipment getting out of harm’s way. You can prevent these fires by banning oil trains — but you can’t fight these fires once they happen.

    The older oil cars are definitely unsafe, what about the newer ones?
    The antiquated DOT-111 tank cars make up 80 percent of the fleet in the U.S. — U.S. rail safety officials first called them “inadequate” to haul crude oil more than 20 years ago. The jury is now in on the newer CPC-1232 tank cars and they are not much safer. The derailments and explosions in West Virginia and Illinois were 1232s traveling at or below the speed limit. In fact, the former head of the federal rail safety agency said in a radio interview that the recent derailments and fires were “the last nail in the coffin” for the CPC-1232 as an alternative to DOT-111 for oil transport.

    We know that Bakken crude explodes; does tar sands explode?
    Ordinarily it might not, but to move tar sands by rail (or pipeline for that matter) you have to mix in highly flammable, toxic diluents (light petroleum products like propane.) So if it’s on a train or in a pipeline the flashpoint for tar sands crude is lower than for Bakken oil. The oil train explosion on February 16, 2015 in Ontario, Canada occurred in -40 degrees F weather — proving that this stuff can ignite even in arctic cold. So not only is tar sands the dirtiest oil on Earth, but also it may well be the most dangerous too.

    Do I live in the Blast Zone?
    ForestEthics used oil rail routes from industry, Google maps, and census data to calculate that 25 million Americans live in the oil train blast zone — the dangerous evacuation zone in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. You can use the map to see if your home, office, school, or favorite natural area, landmark or sports stadium is in danger. Visit www.blast-zone.org.

    What’s the solution?
    The solution is to ban oil trains. If you can’t do something safely, you shouldn’t do it at all. This cargo is too dangerous to our families, our cities, our drinking water, our wildlife and our climate. The extreme crude carried on trains is only a tiny fraction of the oil we use each day as a nation. So while we transition our economy to clean energy and get beyond all oil, we should leave this extreme oil from Alberta and North Dakota in the ground.

    See original post on ForestEthics.org and share your concern with President Obama on rail safety here.