Tag Archives: Bismarck ND

BNSF: if you live in a city of 100,000 or more, you might be just a TINY BIT safer – others, not so lucky

Repost from WDAZ TV, Grand Forks ND
[Editor:  By announcing these measures, BNSF is trying to put a happy face on continuing potential for train catastrophes.  These measures won’t help much, and notice they still are expecting an oil industry  “phase-out” of DOT-111 cars rather than an immediate ban.  – RS]

BNSF trains slow down: Railway announces plans to improve safety measures for oil shipments

By April Baumgarten / Forum News Service, Mar 29, 2015 at 11:32 a.m.
WDAZvideo2
Click to visit WDAZ for 30-second news clip

Bismarck, ND (Forum News Service) – One of the top rail companies in the U.S. has announced steps to improve rail safety in North Dakota.

BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose outlined plans recently with Gov. Jack Dalrymple to implement additional measures throughout the company’s national rail system. BNSF also informed its customers on Friday about the safety measures, according to a news release.

“Railroad operations, equipment and maintenance are critical elements in our overall goal to improve rail safety, and I commend BNSF for taking these significant steps,” Dalrymple wrote in the release. “At the same time, we must move forward on other important aspects of rail safety including the need for new federal tank car standards and greater pipeline capacity.”

BNSF began a move Wednesday to have all of its oil trains reduce speeds to 35 mph through all municipalities with 100,000 or more residents. The speed reduction is temporarily in place until its customers phase out DOT-111 tanks cars from service, BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino said Saturday. Phasing out of the older cars, which will be replaced by CPC-1232 railcars to meet federal safety standards, is expected to begin in May, and BNSF hopes to complete the process by the end of the year. When that happens, BNSF will reconsider the speeds.

The shipping companies, not BNSF, own the cars, so the railway company has to wait on its customers to make the transition to the newer cars. The move was a voluntary part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Trevino said.

“What we want to do is do what we can to improve the safety of our operation,” he said. “What we can do is slow those trains down in larger communities.”

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said it was good to see BNSF taking proactive action to address railroad and safety weaknesses, though there are other measures he would like to see rail companies consider.

“I think many of our rural communities would also argue that their lives are no less at risk,” he said.

The only city in North Dakota that would fall under the reduced-speed measure is Fargo. The state’s largest city had an estimated population of about 113,700 people in 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Bismarck, the second largest city, had 67,000. Grand Forks, which is a collector for train traffic at its switch station, was home to about 55,000 residents.

“That doesn’t do a whole lot to secure our other communities,” Mock said.

Slowing the trains down in all communities would reduce the amount of product BNSF could ship and would burn up time, Trevino said. It would also impact trains hauling other commodities, such as grain or anhydrous ammonia. He added the measures go beyond the federal standard.

“If you slow those trains all around the network, then that (network) becomes as fast as that train,” he said.

Residents in Grand Forks feel uneasy when they see the “iconic-black, cylindrical tanks,” Mock said. Fortunately, Grand Forks has a train junction for switching lines, and many trains are coming through at a slow speed, meaning risk of a derailment is greater in cities where trains are traveling at higher speeds.

Still, residents are still curious and ask, “what if.”

“When a person sees a train rolling through town that has those iconic-black tanks running a mile long, there is a little apprehension,” he said.

Rep. Andrew Maragos, R-Minot, said he was pleased when progress is made, adding he is comfortable with the governor’s response.

“If he feels the railroads are taking positive steps, that’s always good,” Maragos said.

Trevino said BNSF has also increased rail detection testing frequencies 2 ½ times federal standards, which tests the quality of the rail. It has also reduced tolerance for removing a car from a train for a potential defect, meaning the bar is set higher for a car’s quality and safety features.

For example, if a wheel is defective, it may be removed from the train immediately.

Previous derailments

Both North Dakota and rail companies have come under fire after several oil trains have derailed across Northern America, the most infamous being the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, derailment in July 2013. A runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train carrying Bakken crude went off the tracks and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying the center of the city.

Closer to home, a BNSF train carrying crude hit a derailed grain train in December 2013 near Casselton, forcing it off the tracks and resulting in a fiery explosion. No injuries or deaths were reported, though a temporary evacuation was put into place. It was the fifth derailment near the city in 10 years, and another BNSF train with lumber and empty crude cars derailed in November.

Both trains used DOT-111 cars.

More recently, a CSX Corp. train derailed Feb. 16 near Mount Carbon, W. Va. Two Canadian National Railway Co. trains derailed in Ontario between February and March.

As a result, both Canada and the U.S. have looked into implementing measures to prevent disasters. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued orders to phase out the DOT-111 cars. While that is not expected to occur until May, Dalrymple urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a recent phone call to issue the new tank standards “as soon as possible,” according to the release. Dalrymple also told Foxx that pipelines offer the safest mode of transporting crude oil to market.

Action in North Dakota

North Dakota has also attempted to tame the flames. The state Industrial Commission unanimously approved a requirement for all oil producers to install and utilize oil-conditioning equipment to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude. The order would bring the vapor pressure of every barrel of oil produced in North Dakota under 13.7 pound per square inch before it is shipped. Crude producers must comply starting Wednesday.

Dalrymple and the Public Service Commission have also proposed a state-run railroad safety program and pipeline integrity program “that would complement federal oversight in North Dakota,” according to the release. The proposal would cost North Dakota $1.4 million for three position to inspect railroad tracks. Another three state employees would inspect pipelines that transport oil and other liquids to market.

Dalrymple’s release also comes the same week the North Dakota House voted down legislation requiring the state Department of Transportation to report on rail safety issues to a legislative committee. Senate Bill 2293, sponsored by Sen. George B. Sinner, D-Fargo, proposed spending $6 million every two years to carry out committee recommendations, but was criticized by Republicans because was “an unnecessary, duplicative requirement” since DOT already conducts studies, Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, told Forum News Service this week.

The House voted down the bill 34-55 on Monday. Mock was disappointed with the bill’s failure, stating it was “incredibly shortsighted for the Legislature to fail that measure.”

“The legislators owe it to the people back home to get these reports on a more timely basis — find out what companies, like BNSF, are doing and make sure we are updated on the progress of railroad safety enhancements.” he said.

Sinner said the release is likely a response to the press coverage of SB 2293’s failure, and voting the bill down was political. While North Dakota has started to address the issues, Sinner said the state needs to do more.

He pointed out that all the legislators that voted against the bill were Republican.

“(The Republicans) have not offered one bill on rail safety this Legislature,” he said. “We need to have a bipartisan effort on this issue. This issue is too important.”

Maragos, who also supported the bill, said the state is addressing safety issues as they come to light. While it was hard for him to say if what leaders are doing is enough, he feels the state is doing everything it can to prevent accidents.

“For some people, it is never enough,” he said. “For others, it’s pushing too hard.”

He added: “When we see that isn’t enough, we’ll just move in to improve or strengthen the policies.”

Making rail safety a priority

BNSF plans to invest more than $335 million in track maintenance and capital improvement projects in North Dakota this year, including in Dickinson, Jamestown, Devils Lake and Hillsboro.

There are many products that are shipped from the state across the continent, Mock said, and other states are looking to North Dakota for assurance that cargo is packaged correctly.

He pointed to a derailment in Minot, where a Canadian Pacific train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed on Jan. 18, 2002. The incident released approximately 146,700 gallons of anhydrous, and a poisonous gas cloud hovered over the city, causing the death of at least one person and injuring more than 322 people, according to the National Transportation Safety Board report. The disaster also prompted an evacuation and caused more than $10 million in damages and environmental remediation.

Mock said had he not been allowed to leave work an hour early due to a slow night, he would have been caught in the fumes.

“Railroad safety is not just a Bakken crude issue,” he said. “The one state that should be taking railroad safety the most seriously is North Dakota, because our reputation is on the line.”

Like residents across the state, Mock would like to see more done. Railroad safety is a comprehensive issue that requires realistic standards, he said.

About 90 percent of North Dakota’s exports go out on rail, Sinner said. If a train carrying cargo from the state has an accident that could have been prevented, North Dakota’s industries will be affected, he added.

“The economic security of this state relies on the rail industry,” he said.

Maragos said the railroad companies are doing what they can to improve safety.

“With the amount of rail traffic and understanding that mechanical things break, even (BNSF), which is moving most of the oil, I think they are very sensitive to it, and I think they’re the best job they can in addressing safety concerns,” he said.

Trevino concurred, stating BNSF is doing everything it can to keep communities and its employees safe.

“We understand how to run our railroad,” he said. “We understand better than anyone the kinds of steps that can be taken to prevent loss, to mitigate potential loss, should an event occur, and respond to an event.”

Though Sinner is not sure to what extent, he said he plans to follow the issue closely and find ways to improve railroad safety.

“We need to do something with the increase in rail traffic and trains traveling around our state,” he said. “We need to make sure rail safety is a real priority.”

The Press was unable to contact Dalrymple on Saturday.

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    New Death Count Projections for Bakken Oil Train Disasters?

    Repost from The Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization

    New Death Count Projections for Bakken Oil Train Disasters?

    By Ron Schalow, January 13, 2015
    The Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization
    Facebook: The Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization

    Firefighters, Emergency Personnel, Lawmakers, and Media:

    Last June (2014), North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple called disaster agencies and emergency personnel together for a “tabletop exercise” to practice a response to a possible Bakken oil train derailment, and the subsequent explosions. They estimated there would be more than 60 deaths if such an incident occurred in Bismarck, ND (65,000 pop.) or Fargo, ND (110,000 pop.).
    http://www.prairiebizmag.com/event/article/id/19629/
    http://news.prairiepublic.org/…/inside-energy-making-bakken…

    I don’t know the times, locations, or other variables, in the exercise calculations, but I can envision places in Bismarck and Fargo where the death count might be zero at certain times of the day. I could also think of cases, especially in downtown Fargo, when thousands would be in the blast zone.

    There were 47 deaths in Lac-Megantic (6,000 pop.) after a Bakken oil train derailed on July 6, 2013. Dozens of downtown buildings were incinerated, but due to the late hour, most of the people who died were assembled at one place of business.
    http://www.bing.com/videos/search…

    Then, on December 9th, 2014, all three North Dakota Industrial Commission members signed Order No. 25417.
    http://www.nd.gov/ndic/ic-press/dmr-order25417.pdf

    “This order will bring every barrel of Bakken crude within standards to improve the safety of oil for transport,” said Governor Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, in a joint statement.

    Considering the improved safety, North Dakota officials should have updated projections of fatalities for Fargo and Bismarck. They would know the June variables and the change in composition of the contents of the tanker cars, due to the new Order. You could extrapolate the information to predict the deaths and damage for your community.

    What’s the new number for casualties? These people should know…

    North Dakota Industrial Commission
    701-328-3722
    ndicinfo@nd.gov

    Governor Dalrymple’s Chief of Staff
    Ron Rauschenberger
    701-328-2222
    rrausche@nd.gov

    Governor Dalrymple’s Director and Policy Advisor
    Jeff Zent
    701-328-2424
    jlzent@nd.gov

    Lynn D. Helms, Director
    Department of Mineral Resources
    701-328-8020
    lhelms@nd.gov

    Oil and Gas Division
    701-328-8020
    oilandgasinfo@nd.gov

    North Dakota Department of Emergency Services
    701-328-8100
    nddes@nd.gov

    Cass County (Fargo) Emergency Management
    Dave Rogness
    701-476-4065
    rognessd@casscountynd.gov

    Fargo Fire Department
    Steve Dirksen Fire Chief
    701-241-1540
    sdirksen@cityoffargo.com

    Burleigh County (Bismarck) Emergency Management and Homeland Security
    Mary H. Senger Emergency Manager
    701-222-6727
    msenger@nd.gov

    Bismarck Emergency Management Division
    Gary Stockert Emergency Manager
    701-221-6804
    gstockert@bismarcknd.gov

    Bismarck Fire Department
    Joel Boespflug Chief
    jboespfl@bismarcknd.gov

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      North Dakota man relentless in push for safer oil by rail shipping

      Repost from the Billings Gazette
      [Editor: This is not a fluffy human interest story, but an important offering on the oil industry and regulators in North Dakota. Significant quote: “‘If you want to fix a problem, you go to the source of the problem,’ he said.  ‘You don’t prepare for something that doesn’t have to happen.’”  Another good quote: “Pressure to make North Dakota crude oil safe for interstate shipment is mounting on several fronts.”– RS]

      North Dakota man relentless in push for safer oil by rail shipping

      November 02, 2014, by Patrick Springer, Forum News Service
      Ron Schalow of Fargo
      Ron Schalow of Fargo has been an outspoken advocate of stabilizing Bakken oil to remove volatile gases before it is shipped by rail. | David Samson / Forum News Service

      FARGO, N.D. — Ron Schalow isn’t bashful about expressing his caustic opinions. He once wrote a book scolding President George W. Bush for failing to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

      Part of the title can’t be printed here, but the subtitle read, “The 9/11 Leadership Myth.”

      More recently, the Fargo man, a frequent writer of letters to the editor, has focused his attention on explosive Bakken crude oil and rail safety – an issue that has drawn national attention after a series of fiery train derailments, including an accident that killed 47 people in Canada and one late last year near Casselton.

      Schalow launched a petition drive originally called the “Bomb Train Buck Stops in North Dakota,” which he renamed the “Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization,” a reference to the process for removing volatile gases.

      Improbable activist

      Schalow’s background makes him an improbable activist. His early career was spent managing restaurants and bars, with a stint as a minor league baseball manager.

      More recently, he worked for software companies including Microsoft in Fargo, but said he grew weary of corporate culture and office politics and turned to freelance work.

      He has assembled a loose network of people concerned about the crude oil stabilization issue, including local officials in Minnesota and other states, but laments he has found little support for his crusade in North Dakota.

      Still, North Dakota leaders have been under pressure from the federal government and other states, including Minnesota, to treat crude oil before shipping it around the country by rail to refineries.

      The North Dakota Industrial Commission is preparing new standards, likely to take effect Jan. 1, to “condition” crude oil before transport to address safety concerns. Separately, federal officials are drafting more stringent safety standards for tanker cars.

      “I think we have to take some responsibility over what’s going over the tracks into Minnesota and the rest of the country,” Schalow said. “It has a lot to do with this is a product that’s coming out of my state.”

      By his own admission, 59-year-old Schalow is not a consensus builder. A freelance writer for marketing clients, he isn’t a joiner by nature. Bespectacled, with a goatee, he is soft-spoken but adamant in expressing his views.

      He has peppered North Dakota officials, including petroleum regulators and the three-member Industrial Commission, with emails calling for action and asking who is in charge of what he sees as a vital issue of public safety.

      “I’ve badgered them relentlessly,” he said.

      He is dismayed by what he regards as a sluggish state response, even after an official “tabletop exercise” last June that estimated 60 or more casualties if an oil train derailed and exploded in Fargo or Bismarck.

      The exercise simulated a disaster similar to the blast that killed 47 and destroyed much of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013.

      For Schalow, the key to ensuring the oil is safe is to remove the volatile gases before shipping. Anything else, in his view, is passing along a potentially deadly problem for others to face.

      “If you want to fix a problem, you go to the source of the problem,” he said. “You don’t prepare for something that doesn’t have to happen.”

      Derailments costly

      Dealing with an explosive derailment can be costly. New York officials estimated, for example, it would take $40,000 in foam to extinguish one tanker car.

      In the rail accident near Casselton last December, 20 tanker cars derailed, 18 of which were breached, unleashing a series of explosions and an enormous fireball. Intense heat kept the firefighters far from the flames, which they had to allow to burn out.

      No one was seriously injured or killed in the crash.

      “They can’t be prepared for combat explosions,” Schalow said, referring to the explosive fires that Bakken crude derailments have produced. “What would they do?”

      North Dakota officials in the governor’s office and Department of Mineral Resources declined to talk about Schalow’s advocacy, but said the state is moving ahead to improve the safety of crude oil transportation.

      “Gov. (Jack) Dalrymple takes rail transportation safety very seriously and he believes it’s important to have the public weigh in on this important issue,” said Jeff Zent, a spokesman and policy aide for the governor, the highest-ranking member of the Industrial Commission.

      “That’s why the Industrial Commission will announce further regulations aimed at improving the safety of oil rail transportation,” he added.

      “Our goal has always been to make crude oil as safe as possible for transport, within our jurisdiction,” said Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, which regulates oil and gas production.

      The department is also working with “the appropriate federal agencies to better communicate our role to make crude oil as safe as possible for transport,” Ritter said.

      In contrast to North Dakota, most crude oil in Texas is stabilized before shipment. Pipeline companies routinely require stabilization before accepting shale oil.

      “How hard is it to stand up and say I’m against trains blowing up in my town?” Schalow asked, referring to public officials’ initial reluctance to impose tougher standards.

      A recent Forum Communications poll found that 60 percent of respondents were concerned about the safety of shipping crude oil by rail, but there has been no real clamor from residents, Schalow said.

      “It’d be nice if someone stood up and defended me once or twice,” he said. As for holding a meeting of supporters, well, “Who would I call and who would dare show up? There’s no political will in this state except for that anonymous 60 percent.”

      In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton has urged North Dakota to stabilize oil before loading crude onto trains. An estimated 50 North Dakota oil trains roll through Minnesota each week, many with 100 tanker cars.

      Pressure to make North Dakota crude oil safe for interstate shipment is mounting on several fronts.

      Other states, including New York and California, where refineries take Bakken crude, are considering safety requirements.

      “There’s a lot more angst across the country than there is here,” Schalow said, adding that most of his contacts are from other states, including New York, California and Washington state.

      “I think he’s a pretty straight shooter,” said Tim Meehl, mayor of Perham, Minn., who is concerned about oil trains traveling through his town. “I think everything he says has a lot of merit to it.”

      Meehl has not met Schalow, but saw him at a meeting in Moorhead earlier this fall attended by Dayton and local officials, and has exchanged emails with Schalow.

      “They don’t want to step on toes out there,” Meehl, a native of Oakes, N.D., said of North Dakota officials’ deference to oil interests. “We need the oil. We just need to do it in a safer way.”

      In North Dakota, residents and politicians seem reluctant to do anything that risks discouraging energy production, a powerful economic engine, Schalow said.

      ‘Quiet acceptance’

      “You can’t say anything that might impact business, no matter what,” he said, describing what he regards as North Dakota’s curious culture of quiet acceptance.

      Regulators aren’t alone in singling out oil tanker cars. BNSF announced last week that it will charge a $1,000 fee for each older crude oil tank car, more prone to puncture than newer models. By one estimate, that would add about $1.50 a barrel to the transportation cost.

      In Texas, energy companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make crude safer to handle. The cost of stabilizing crude oil could trim potential revenue by perhaps 2 percent, according to the estimate of an unidentified industry executive interviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

      Schalow has been an outspoken critic of the Bush presidency and North Dakota leadership, but said he really has no allies in either political party.

      A conservative blogger once described him as a “truther” for his criticisms of Bush, whom he castigated for failing to take pre-emptive action against al-Qaida despite warning signs of their terrorist ambitions. Schalow dismisses the “truther” label as unfair, saying he offered no conspiracy theories in his book.

      He said the paperback sold 4,000 or 5,000 copies after it came out in 2006. No book is forthcoming on the issue of Bakken crude safety, but Schalow is unlikely to stop writing his letters, emails and Facebook posts.

      “I don’t think it’s a political issue,” he said. “I think it’s a public safety issue.”

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