Tag Archives: Canadian regulation

Adirondack rail line marketed for long-term storage of obsolete oil tankers

Repost from the Times Union, Albany NY

Adirondack rail line marketed for long-term storage of obsolete oil tankers

Environmentalists see Adirondacks ”graveyard”

By Brian Nearing, August 7, 2015 Updated 6:33 am
Oil train cars in the Port of Albany on Wednesday April 22, 2015 in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union) Photo: Michael P. Farrell
Oil train cars in the Port of Albany on Wednesday April 22, 2015 in Albany, N.Y. (Michael P. Farrell/Times Union) Photo: Michael P. Farrell

TAHAWUS — To the dismay of environmental groups, a railway company potentially is going to store hundreds of emptied-out crude oil tankers on its rail line in the Adirondacks.

The Saratoga and North Creek Railroad initially planned to use its tracks to haul rock from a mine in the High Peaks, but that has not panned out. Now, the owners see a new source of cash from storage of aging oil tankers that don’t meet current Canadian and proposed new U.S. safety standards, and will await either retrofitting or scrapping.

Parent company Iowa Pacific Holdings has already begun to market its line for tanker storage, but questions remain over whether state permits will be required. On Thursday, spokesmen for both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency said the situation was being “researched” and declined further comment.

Last month, Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis told a panel of Warren County lawmakers that his company believes it needs no outside permission to begin storing the tankers along the Essex County portion of the line and was informing the county merely as a courtesy.

The 30-mile line, which runs from North Creek to near Tahawus in the High Peaks, is owned by Warren County in Warren and Saratoga counties, and leased by the railroad since 2010. The tracks in Essex County are owned by the railroad.

Ellis told county lawmakers that his company could store hundreds of tanker cars on a section of track in Essex County called the Sanford Lake line that runs along the Hudson and Boreas rivers.

He said the tankers would contain only oil residue and pose a “virtually non-existent” risk of explosion or fire. “We have been storing tanker cars on our line in Colorado for nine years without a problem,” Ellis said.

“This opens up a lot of profound questions,” said Roger Downs, conservation director of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, which in 2012 had unsuccessfully opposed a federal ruling to reopen the line, which had been closed since 1989, to freight traffic.

“We would hope that the Adirondack Park Agency and local authorities have some local control. We are completely opposed to this plan,” said Downs. Some 13 miles of track run through the forever-wild state Forest Preserve.

Peter Bauer, executive director of the conservation group Protect the Adirondacks, said jurisdiction over potential mass tanker storage was complex. “And no one can say how long those tankers might be there,” he added. “It could potentially be a railroad graveyard.”

Bauer also said the rail line runs through newly acquired state land that once belonged to the Finch Pruyn paper company. “Was this kind of use what the governor had in mind when he supported that purchase?” Bauer asked.

A call to Ellis’ office for comment was not returned. Last week, he said new and proposed regulations could shelve much of an 80,000-car tanker fleet and require that the tankers be stored for years while they await either retrofitting to meet tougher standards or are scrapped.

Canada just required tank cars must have double hulls to reduce the risk of explosions and fires in derailments. U.S. rules were also recently announced.

In addition to its Adirondack line, Iowa Pacific Holdings is also offering other rail lines in California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon and Texas for tanker storage, according to the company website.

In 2012, Iowa Pacific purchased the rail line from NL Industries, which had stopped mining at Tahawus in the 1980s. Since then, the company has spent millions to replace rails and ties, rehabilitate track sidings and add rock ballast.

Iowa Pacific is a privately held, Chicago-based operator of nine U.S. railroads, manages two rail lines in the United Kingdom and runs other rail-related businesses.

Ellis told county lawmakers that the tanker car storage revenue in the Adirondacks could eventually be worth “seven figures” a year to the railroad.

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    Canada aims for 30 per cent emissions cuts; unlikely with continued tar sands exploitation

    Repost from Business Green

    Canada aims for 30 per cent emissions cuts

    Environmentalists say Harper administration has little chance of meeting the 2030 goal while tar sands expansion continues
    By Will Nichols, 19 May 2015
    Tar sands in Canada
    Tar sands in Canada

    Canada has pledged to tackle its rising carbon emissions, but environmentalists have claimed the goal is unattainable while the country continues to exploit its tar sands oil reserves.

    Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced late last week Canada would aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, as part of the country’s contribution to a global carbon reduction deal that is set to be signed at the UN climate conference in Paris later this year.

    The commitment falls short of the US pledge to cut emissions up to 28 per cent against 2005 levels by 2025 and the EU goal of 40 per cent emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2030.

    However, the country’s government insisted the pledge was “in line” with other major industrialised countries.

    “This target is fair and ambitious, an ambitious commitment based on our national circumstances, which includes a growing population, a diversified growing economy and Canada’s position as a world leader in clean electricity generation,” Aglukkaq said.

    “Achieving this ambitious goal will require actions from all levels of government and we will continue to work together, cooperatively with the provinces and the territories’ goals.”

    Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen steadily since 2009, when it joined the US in pledging 17 per cent reductions by 2020, mainly due to growth in tar sands oil production in the province of Alberta. Currently, Canada is only expected to get halfway to the 17 per cent goal, with Alberta alone expected to account for 40 per cent of the country’s carbon pollution by the end of the decade.

    Environmentalists said that without scaling back its long-standing plans to expand tar sands production it is difficult to see how Canada will meet the new emissions goal, even given that provinces such as Ontario have announced targets far in excess of the Federal goal.

    “The Harper government has not only ignored its existing reduction target, but the pro-tar sands policies it has adopted are taking us in the opposite direction,” said Keith Stewart, climate campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. “Until today’s announcement is backed by a commitment to enacting policies that can actually achieve this new target, it isn’t worth the paper it is written on.”

    Canada follows the US, EU, Russia, Mexico, Switzerland, Norway, Gabon, Liechtenstein, and Andorra in officially submitting its climate action plan, or Intended National Determined Contributions in the UN parlance, to the body’s climate change secretariat in readiness for December’s Paris Summit.

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      Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

      Repost from The Missoulian
      [Editor:  Pay attention to Alberta!  Changes there will send ripples all along the rails in the U.S., from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast.  Congratulations to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party!  – RS]

      Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

      By Rob Chaney, May 09, 2015 5:30 pm
      Rachel Notley
      Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley speaks on stage Tuesday night in Edmonton after being elected Alberta’s new premier. The NDP won a majority in the provincial Legislative Assembly by toppling the Progressive Conservative colossus that has dominated the province for more than four decades. Photo: NATHAN DENETTE, Canadian Press

      Montana’s political seismograph didn’t rattle much last Tuesday when its neighbor to the north underwent a governmental earthquake.

      But that could change in the coming weeks, as the citizens of Alberta absorb the magnitude of their replacement of Canada’s longest-standing political party rulers with a left-wing opposition pledged to look hard at its energy economy.

      “The Progressive Conservative Party has been in power two years longer than I’ve been alive,” said University of Montana biology professor Mark Hebblewhite, a 42-year-old Alberta native. “I think this is a real response to the ongoing mismanagement of Alberta’s bounty. One thing that hit the nail on the head was how the province went from being overrun with money to crashing in another bust. People get really tired of it.”

      The New Democratic Party took 53 seats in the Alberta Parliament in Tuesday’s election. Another traditional minority group, the Wildrose Party, surprisingly found itself in second place with 21 seats. The Progressive Conservatives held onto just 10 seats.

      NDP party leader Rachel Notley was credited for a remarkable political ground game that unseated Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice – a man widely considered a future leader of all Canada. Prentice resigned from his post on election night and said he was at least temporarily leaving politics.

      Alberta’s entire United States border runs along Montana, from the western edge of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park to the 110th Meridian north of Havre. The province and state share the spine of the Rocky Mountains and the beginnings of the great mid-continental prairies.

      They also share a relatively recent surge in energy development. Over the past decade while Montana has exploited its Bakken oil and gas fields along the border with North Dakota, Alberta has been opening massive production in tar sands petroleum near Fort McMurray.

      Oil from the tar sands has become both a political and social controversy.

      New Democratic Party officials have questioned the need for the Keystone XL pipeline that would run south from Alberta, through a corner of Montana and down to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The Obama administration has stalled permitting of the international border crossing, while Montana’s bipartisan congressional delegation has supported it.

      “If the Keystone XL doesn’t happen, the amount of rail traffic leaving Alberta would be impacted significantly from that decision,” said Bentek Energy senior analyst Jenna Delaney. “Currently, taking the Keystone XL out would increase petroleum unit trains by five a day out of Alberta. And Transport Canada officials say residents in Canada are very concerned with rail traveling through their communities.”

      Moving petroleum by rail has become an issue in both Canada and the United States, signposted most recently by last week’s explosion of a group of oil tank cars near Heimdal, North Dakota.

      Caryn Miske of the Flathead Basin Commission said the prospect of moving more oil trains along the southern border of Glacier National Park is under close scrutiny.

      “We’re already seeing impacts from the amount of oil that’s moving around,” Miske said. “The number of trains and cars carrying oil has increased, and that’s really concerning, considering how many near-misses we’ve had.”

      Burlington Northern Santa Fe has a freight line that runs out of Alberta into Montana at Sweet Grass, although there’s not much cross-border oil traffic there yet.

      ***

      Delaney said another factor of the government change could be the NDP’s campaign pledge to revamp the province’s tax structure on energy development.

      “They’re looking at increasing income taxes and royalty rates to corporations, which the oil companies aren’t happy about,” Delaney said. “The last time I was in Calgary, the atmosphere was already a little bleak. If taxes are raised on corporations, I don’t know how they might respond. Companies with offices in other places might shift people away from Calgary.”

      Much of the province’s energy economy has extremely expensive initial start-up costs. Energy analysts have already been forecasting a drop in Albertan oil production as new projects slip below their break-even points with falling oil prices.

      Delaney said that could have an impact on Montana’s economy, as the demand for megaloads of oil field equipment transported across the state stalls.

      Longtime conservation activist Stephen Legault said the provincial government’s failure to manage its oil wealth led to great voter frustration.

      “We’re drilling 20,000 wells a year in Alberta, and we’re $7 billion in the hole economically,” Legault said. “That’s largely because when oil goes below $75 a barrel, provincial coffers take a massive hit.”

      The result has been a government unable to fix damage from the floods that ravaged Calgary in 2013, or even to send land management officials to cross-border conferences in Montana.

      While the new government has majority control of Alberta’s Parliament, its influence over the provincial agencies could be a murkier matter. Those departments have had decades of one-party control appointing their directors and staffs.

      “If I was south of the border looking north, I wouldn’t expect to see anything dramatic right away,” Legault said. “We’ve had five changes of government since 1905. The bureaucracy is so deeply entrenched after 45 years of one-party rule, it’s going to take years for a new government to put in place the people it wants to create change.”

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        ForestEthics: Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow

        Repost from ForestEthics (Also appearing in the Huffington Post)

        Oil Trains Too Fast, New Safety Rules Too Slow

        By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, May 1, 2015
        New Oil Train Rules (Photo/NOAA)
        New Oil Train Rules (Photo/NOAA)

        In the first three months of 2015 four oil train accidents sent emergency responders scrambling, crude oil spilling into drinking water supplies, and fireballs blasting into the sky. The string of accidents in February and March demonstrate the severe threat from Bakken crude and Alberta tar sands moving on mile-long oil trains. These derailments and explosions set a bar we can use to measure the new oil train standards announced today by the US and Canadian governments.

        Would the new rules have prevented any of the 2015 accidents and, ultimately, will they reduce the threat of oil train catastrophes like the 2013 Lac Megantic, Quebec, explosion that killed 47 people? The answer is no, and the reason is speed: the regulations move too slow and the trains continue to move too fast.

        The rules announced at a joint press conference today by US and Canadian officials arrive decades late and with the sticky fingerprints of the oil and rail industry all over them. The administration has slowed down and narrowed the scope of the rules so the most dangerous tank cars stay on the rails for at least two and a half years. Other unsafe tank cars have five or seven years before they must meet new higher standards.

        Not that the new standards will help much: All four 2015 accidents involved CPC-1232 cars, the newer tank cars that are supposedly safer than the dangerous DOT-111s. But to be clear, neither the upgraded cars or new cars built to the new standard will prevent an explosion if the train is moving at normal speeds.

        So we can begin to look for new and upgraded cars (like the ones that exploded in recent months) in the years to come, but those living along the tracks can still expect to see the worst cars continue to roll by their homes for a very long time. The administration effectively allows rail companies to keep antiquated tank cars on the rails in trains with fewer than 35 crude oil tank cars (or 20 in a row.) That means oil trains hauling up to a million gallons of explosive crude oil in the most dangerous tank cars will keep rolling through a downtown near you FOREVER.

        The administration trumpets new electronically controlled pneumatic brakes for oil trains. While it’s good news that oil and rail companies will use state-of-the-art technology, the administration is giving them until 2021 to install the new better brakes. That’s six years too long to require what should be a basic minimum safety requirement.

        And while these upgrades to the tank car fleet creep slowly into place, the trains will continue flying down the tracks at reckless speeds. The new rule allows oil trains to travel at more than twice the rated “puncture velocity” of even the new tank cars that they will (in some cases) eventually require. That means that oil trains carrying three million gallons of explosive crude will continue to travel at 50 mph across North America, except in a small number of “high threat” urban areas where they must go 40. The new speed limits offer little comfort because three of the four of the explosive accidents in 2015 occurred at speeds below 35 mph. (The accident in Gogama, ON, occurred at 43 mph, just three mph over the “high-priority” speed limit.) The Galena, Illinois, derailment occurred at only 23 mph, proving that the speed limits in the rule are inadequate to protect anyone.

        In the final insult to injury, the administration walked too quickly away from notification standards in an earlier draft of the rule, leaving citizens and emergency responders in the dark about where these trains are running and when.

        The Obama Administration took its time developing new rules for hazardous materials on trains that run through the heart of America: they looked at the threat of exploding oil trains, but heavy industry lobbying made them flinch. The administration failed to learn the lessons of Lac Megantic or the four explosive oil train accidents we’ve seen so far in 2015 alone. They have given public safety the cold shoulder, instead embracing the oil and rail industry lobbyists peddling this dangerous cargo.

        We were fortunate that none of the 2015 accidents caused fatalities. ForestEthics and our many partners will continue pushing the administration to do a lot better and hope that our luck holds while we stop these dangerous trains from crisscrossing North America.  But it shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Secretary Foxx and President Obama have chosen to roll the dice instead of writing strong rules that protect the 25 million of us living in the blast zone.


        More by Todd Paglia:
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