Tag Archives: Bellingham Herald

Told to fix leaky oil train cars in 2 months, owners sought 3 years

Repost from McClatchyDC
[Editor:  Significant quote: “This year is already the second worst for oil spilled from trains since the federal government began collecting data 40 years ago….trains spilled about 1 million gallons in 2013 alone, vs. 800,000 in all the prior years combined….More than 600,000 gallons of oil has spilled from trains so far this year….”  – RS]

Told to fix leaky oil train cars in 2 months, owners sought 3 years

By Curtis Tate and Samantha Wohlfeil, September 2, 2015 

HIGHLIGHTS
• Washington state spills led to March order from federal agency
• Industry group asked for three-year extension
• Regulators gave owners until end of 2015

The wreckage of an oil train derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va., still smolders 48 hours after the crash, on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015.

WASHINGTON  |  Railroad tank cars equipped with defective valves still will be allowed to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials through the end of the year, despite a March directive from federal regulators requiring their replacement within 60 days.

The Federal Railroad Administration order followed a Bellingham (Wash.) Herald story about a leaking oil train reported in Washington state in January. The Railway Supply Institute, trade group representing tank-car owners, wrote the agency in April asking for a three-year extension to replace the faulty valves on tank cars that carry hazardous materials.

About 6,000 tank cars were affected by the recall, issued on March 13. On May 12, the day of the original deadline, regulators wrote back to the trade group that the agency found no basis to give tank car owners until 2018 to comply, but nonetheless gave them until Dec. 31, an extension of more than six months.

Officials from the Railway Supply Institute couldn’t be reached to comment.

60   Number of days tank car owners had to comply
with March directive.

The federal order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking from their top fittings while hauling crude oil through Washington state.

In mid-January, a 100-car train loaded with Bakken crude had 16 leaking cars removed at four different stops between northern Idaho and the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

As the train traveled west along the Columbia River, leaking cars were pulled as they were discovered; at each stop, the entire train was inspected before continuing on to the next location.

BNSF Railway, the train’s operator, said a total of 26 gallons of oil from 14 of the leaking cars was found only on the tops and sides of the cars, and no oil was found on the ground, in a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration fined the owner of a North Dakota oil loading terminal $10,000 for a spill from a tank car that was discovered in November in Washington state. When the car arrived at a refinery for unloading, inspectors found it coated in oil and measured about 1,600 gallons missing.

State officials first learned of the spill a month after it happened, and no local officials were notified. In March, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission recommended $700,000 in fines against BNSF for failure to report 14 hazardous materials spills within the 30 minutes required by state law.

BNSF has disputed the state regulator’s findings. A hearing is scheduled for January.

Six major oil train derailments this year across North America have demonstrated the continued risks of large volumes of crude oil moving by rail.

Four of those derailments occurred in just four weeks in February and March: two in Ontario, one in West Virginia and another in Illinois. All involved large spills, fires and explosions, but no serious injuries.

Two less serious oil train derailments have occurred since, in North Dakota in May and Montana in July.

600,000   Number of gallons of oil spilled from trains
so far this year.

The rail industry and its regulators have been under pressure from lawmakers and the public to fix tank car vulnerabilities and take more steps to prevent derailments from happening.

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued its final rule on tank car standards for trains carrying oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids on May 1.

The new rule requires a tougher design for the tank cars, including thicker shells, more puncture resistance and thermal insulation to protect against prolonged exposure to fire.

It also requires existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet the new standards, depending on the level of hazard, within two to 10 years. Industry groups have challenged the new rule in court, saying it doesn’t give them enough time to complete the retrofit. Environmental groups have sued as well, saying it gives the industry too much time.

This year is already the second worst for oil spilled from trains since the federal government began collecting data 40 years ago.  A McClatchy analysis of the data last year found that trains spilled about 1 million gallons in 2013 alone, vs. 800,000 in all the prior years combined.

More than 600,000 gallons of oil has spilled from trains so far this year, according to a new analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Wohlfeil writes for the Bellingham Herald and reported from Bellingham, Wash.
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    McClatchy investigative reports result in enforcement actions

    Repost from McClatchy DC and The Bellingham Herald
    [Editor:  McClatchy News investigative reports have alerted Washington State and federal officials, and resulted in fines and enforcement actions.  For background, see Washington state officials unaware at first of November oil spill (1/26); Officials say oil train leaked as it crossed Washington state (2/6); and Oil-loading facility sanctioned in Washington rail car spill (3/12).  Don’t miss the excellent video near the end of this story.  – RS]

    More oil-train fixes: Feds order defective valves replaced on leaking cars

    By Samantha Wohlfeil and Curtis Tate, March 13, 2015 
    APTOPIX Train Derailment
    Derailed oil tanker train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. A CSX train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm, sending a fireball into the sky and threatening the water supply of nearby residents, authorities and residents said Tuesday. MARCUS CONSTANTINO — AP

    WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration on Friday ordered rail tank car owners to replace defective valves never approved for installation on thousands of tank cars, causing oil to spill from moving trains.

    The directive applies to a 3-inch valve installed on roughly 6,000 tank cars, and their owners have 60 days to replace them. Within 90 days, tank car owners must also replace 37,000 1-inch and 2-inch valves manufactured by the same company. While the smaller valves were not found to be defective like the larger ones, they were not approved for the tank cars.

    The affected cars can be used in the interim, but none can be loaded with hazardous materials if they are still equipped with those valves after the deadlines.

    The enforcement action comes after a story last month in McClatchy’s Bellingham Herald about 14 tank cars that were discovered leaking en route from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

    Friday’s enforcement action is the second to follow an investigation launched after McClatchy reported on leaking cars in Washington.

    On Thursday, the agency said it had sanctioned the operator of a North Dakota loading facility for not properly closing a valve on another oil car after McClatchy reported in January that the car arrived at the BP Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington state with 1,600 gallons missing.

    That spill was discovered in early November but wasn’t reported to state officials until early December. Local emergency officials were never notified, according to a report sent by BNSF Railway to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

    The 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch valves were all manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining, a company in Tennessee. The Bellingham Herald could not immediately reach anyone at McKenzie, but left messages with the company Friday.

    The Federal Railroad Administration also announced Friday that it was launching a full audit of the approval process for tank car components to determine why the unapproved valves were installed.

    Under federal regulations, tank car valve designs must be approved by the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee.

    The Federal Railroad Administration said it would begin working immediately with the association, which is the rail industry’s principal trade group in the nation’s capital.

    Sarah Feinberg, the FRA’s acting chief, said Friday that removal of the valves will help reduce the number of non-derailment releases of hazardous materials.

    “Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” she said in a statement.

    Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the railroad association, said Friday that it supported the order. Railroads don’t own most of the tank cars used to transport oil.

    “Officials from our association will be working closely with the administration in reviewing the tank car valve approval process to ensure the agency is fully satisfied with the current approval requirements that are in place,” he said in a statement.

    The Federal Railroad Administration’s order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking oil from their top fittings on a handful of trains hauling different types of crude oil through Washington state.

    In mid-January, a train loaded with Bakken crude needed to have more than a dozen leaking cars removed at three separate stops as it traveled through Idaho and crossed Washington state.

    The train was headed from Tioga, N.D., to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

    In a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, BNSF reported a total of 26 gallons of oil leaking from 14 cars. Tesoro reported two more leaking cars. The oil was found only on the tops and sides of tank cars, and no oil was found on the ground.

    Crews had first noticed oil on the side of a tank car while the train was in northern Idaho, and after checking the rest of the train, removed that car, which had leaked about two gallons, according to BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace.

    After the train had crossed through the state, following the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., crews found that crude oil had leaked onto the top of seven more cars, which were removed from the train on Jan. 12. BNSF reported the incident to the state Department of Ecology on Jan. 23.

    BNSF also reported that about 10 gallons total had leaked from six more cars removed in Auburn on Jan. 13.

    Wallace said the railroad would work with customers and shippers to take the required actions.

    “Although BNSF does not own the tank cars, nothing is more important to us than safely operating through the communities that we serve,” she said in a statement.


    The state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the FRA investigated the cars that were pulled from the train in Vancouver, which led to the discovery that closure plugs on the valves caused damage to the valve’s seal, and when tightened, would press down on and damage the ball.

    The cars involved were CPC-1232 model cars built after 2011, which some oil companies have started using after several fiery derailments caused concerns about older DOT-111 rail cars, which have been found more likely to puncture or burst.

    However, newer CPC-1232-standard cars that lack features that reduce damage from punctures and fire exposure have performed no better in four recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.

    The White House Office of Management and budget is reviewing a new tank car standard proposed by the Department of Transportation. It is scheduled for publication on May 12.

    Wohlfeil, of The Bellingham Herald, reported from Washington state. Tate reported from Washington, D.C.
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