Tag Archives: Casselton ND

Oil in North Dakota derailment was “Conditioned” but not “Stabilized”

Repost rom ABC News
[Editor:  Note that the oil was CONDITIONED according to North Dakota regulations, but it was not STABILIZED which is a stricter standard currently used elsewhere.  (See The difference between oil “conditioning” and oil “stabilization”.)  The vapor pressure of oil on this train was measured at 10.8 psi. Compare this with DeSmogBlog: “…regular crude oil has a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of 5-7 psi and Bakken crude has an RVP between 8-16 psi. To put that in perspective, gasoline typically has a RVP of 9 psi.”  Note also: “The North Dakota train was traveling 24 miles an hour…much slower than the 50 mph limit imposed by federal regulators.”  – RS]

Oil in North Dakota Derailment Was Treated to Cut Volatility

By Matthew Brown and Blake Nicholson, Associated Press, May 7, 2015, 7:09 PM ET

BISMARCK, N.D. — A shipment of oil involved in an explosive train derailment in North Dakota had been treated to reduce its volatility — a move that state officials suggested could have reduced the severity of the accident but won’t prevent others from occurring.

Hess Corporation spokesman John Roper said the oil complied with a state order requiring propane, butane and other volatile gases to be stripped out of crude before it’s transported. That conditioning process lowers the vapor pressure of the oil, reducing the chances of an explosive ignition during a crash.

Despite the treatment of the crude in Wednesday’s accident, six cars carrying a combined 180,000 gallons of oil caught fire in the derailment 2 miles from the town of small Heimdal in central North Dakota. The town was evacuated but no one was hurt.

Investigators on Thursday recovered wheel fragments from the scene. Those will be sent to a government laboratory for analysis, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway. A defective tank car wheel is suspected to have played a role in another oil train accident, in Galena, Illinois, on March 10.

The North Dakota train was traveling 24 miles an hour, Holloway said, much slower than the 50 mph limit imposed by federal regulators.

The state volatility standard went into effect last month. It came in response to a string of fiery oil train accidents, including a 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec that killed 47 people and a derailment and fire near Casselton, North Dakota last year.

Members of Congress have called for a stricter, national volatility standard for crude moved by rail.

Roper said the Hess shipment was “fully in compliant with North Dakota’s crude conditioning order.” It was tested immediately prior to loading onto a BNSF Railway train in Tioga and had a vapor pressure of 10.8 pounds per square inch — compared to the 13.7 pounds per square inch maximum under the state standard.

Reducing the explosiveness of crude moved by rail was not supposed to be a cure-all. Federal regulators last week announced a new rule that calls for stronger tank cars better able to withstand a derailment and more advanced braking systems to help keep fuel-carrying cars on the tracks.

“Our oil conditioning order in no way will prevent an accident,” said Alison Ritter with the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which set the vapor pressure standard. “Oil is still going to burn. That’s why the oil was produced. But it’s not as explosive.”

The first witness on the scene Wednesday, 68-year-old Heimdal resident Curt Benson, said he heard and felt an explosion in his house and then witnessed three or four more explosions when he got to the scene. He said it was nowhere near the magnitude of the Casselton explosions, which he saw on television footage.

“I would say that ours was somewhat minor compared to theirs,” Benson said.

Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean said the disaster outside of that city appeared much worse than the Heimdal incident, but there were other factors to consider than just the volatility of the oil. The Casselton derailment involved more than twice the amount of crude and different kinds of tanker cars, he said. Another freight train, carrying soybeans, also was involved in Casselton and provided more fuel for the fire.

Democrats in Congress contend more needs to be done to reduce the danger of oil shipments by rail that pass through more than 400 counties including major metropolitan areas such as Seattle, Chicago and Philadelphia. Most of that oil comes from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and Canada.

“Why do we let trains with this volatility pass through every day? Why are we letting these guys get away with that?” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat, said in an interview last week after federal regulators unveiled the braking and tank car rule.

BNSF vice president Mike Trevino did not immediately know how much of the oil in Heimdal burned, how much spilled and how much was left in the cars after the fire was extinguished.

The railway was working to remove the derailed cars and repair the track Thursday. It planned to re-open the line Friday afternoon, Trevino said.

The line runs next to an intermittent waterway known as the Big Slough, which drains into the James River about 15 miles downstream. Oil got into the slough, but it was contained and was being recovered, state Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong said early Thursday.

The tank cars that burst into flames were a model slated to be phased out or retrofitted by 2020 under a federal rule announced last week. It’s the fifth fiery accident since February involving that type of tank car, and industry critics called for them to be taken off the tracks immediately to prevent further fires.

For residents of Heimdal and surrounding Wells County, which oil trains cross daily, the disaster was the realization of something they always feared might happen, County Commission Chairman Mark Schmitz said.

“It’s definitely been in the back of everybody’s minds,” he said.

———

Brown reported from Billings, Montana.
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    Oil Train Explosions: A Timeline in Pictures

    Repost from Sightline
    [Editor:  An excellent summary that promises to be kept current.  This will replace the now outdated Bomb Trains facebook page.  Bookmark it!  (I hope someone will offer to edit this adding a few salient facts about each derailment/explosion.)  – RS]

    Oil Train Explosions: A Timeline in Pictures

    Ten explosions in two years, and no end in sight.
    By Eric de Place and Keiko Budech, May 6, 2015 10:51 am

    At 7:15 this morning, yet another crude oil train erupted into an inferno, this time near a small town in central North Dakota.  As these wildly dangerous trains continue to explode—at least 10 in the last two years—it’s become challenging to keep track of them all. So, for the record, we’ve assembled here a pictorial timeline of North America’s bomb trains.

    Last week, the Obama administration adopted new regulations that will phase out many of the most hazardous tank cars over the next five to six years. The regulations also substantially reduce public oversight of train movements and industry behavior.

    We will update this post as new explosions occur.

    Heimdal, North Dakota: May 6, 2015

    Heimdal ND 2015-05-06
    Train derailment and tanker fire by Heimdal, ND, 2015-05-06. Pic courtesy of Jennifer Willis.

    Gogama, Ontario: March 7, 2015

    05_07_2015OntarioDerailment

    Galena, Illinois: March 6, 2015

    Galena_OilTrain_Derailment

    Mount Carbon, West Virginia: February 16, 2015

    20150217_Crude Oil train Derailment_0090_1_2

    Timmins, Ontario: February 14, 2015

    Timmins, ONT, derailment

    Lynchburg, Virginia: April 30, 2014

    James River, oil train derailment,oil trains

    Plaster Rock, New Brunswick: January 8, 2014

    NewBrunswickDerailment2

    Casselton, North Dakota: December 30, 2013

    North Dakota Oil Train Derailment

    Aliceville, Alabama: November 8, 2013

    Oil train derailment and river contamination, Aliceville, AL (2). Photo by John L. Wathen, used with permission.

     Lac-Mégantic, Quebec: July 6, 2013

    Train derailment

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      Derailed oil train’s crew told investigators they had seconds to escape

      Repost from McClatchy Washington Bureau

      Derailed oil train’s crew told investigators they had seconds to escape

      By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 27, 2015

      The engineer and conductor on a BNSF oil train that derailed in North Dakota in December 2013 had seconds to escape their locomotive before it was engulfed by fire, according to interview transcripts made available Monday by federal accident investigators.

      The interviews, conducted in January 2014 by the National Transportation Safety Board, show the occupational risks railroad workers face, especially with trains carrying hazardous materials. The train’s engineer is suing BNSF, and says the wreck left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

      They also show that emergency responders did not initially understand the severity of the situation they faced when two trains derailed near Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30, 2013. One of them was carrying grain, and the other, crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

      The train’s engineer, Bryan Thompson, told investigators that he had only seconds to react before the oil train, traveling 43 mph, hit a derailed grain car in its path.

      He activated the emergency braking system, but he knew from nine years of experience that virtually nothing could stop the 13,335 tons of train behind him from going off the track. He told his conductor to hit the floor and brace for impact.

      “I knew what was coming,” he told investigators, “and I honestly said a prayer. It was really quick.”

      Thompson and the conductor, Pete Riepl, were not injured when the locomotive came to rest. But almost immediately, they noticed that the train was on fire, and they needed to get away. They couldn’t exit through the front of the locomotive: The impact with the overturned grain car had jammed the door.

      Their only choice was to exit through the back of the locomotive, which forced them to go toward the rapidly encroaching fire.

      “That’s the last place you want to go,” Thompson said, “ but it was our only escape.”

      Riepl told investigators that the pair got about 200 yards away before they looked back and saw that their locomotive was engulfed in flames.

      He also said that several minutes after the derailment, tank cars began exploding, in succession, one about every 10 minutes.

      Thompson left his belongings in the locomotive cab, save for his coat _ it was about 20 degrees below zero that day _ and cellphone. He called 911. The dispatcher asked him if she needed to call the local fire department.

      “I said, ‘you need to call every fire department,’” Thompson said he told the dispatcher.

      The 911 dispatcher instructed Thompson to report to the incident command center established at a local high school. Once there, Thompson said he could hear over radio chatter that people were watching the train burn. In similar situations, authorities usually recommend a half-mile evacuation radius.

      “I don’t think you understand what’s going on here,” he said he told a deputy sheriff. “You need to get those people away from there.”

      Thompson asked the deputy if he knew about the deadly oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people in July 2013. He told the deputy that his train was carrying the same kind of cargo: Bakken crude.

      “And his eyes got big, you know,” Thompson said, “then he said ‘Code Red’ on his radio.”

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        Washington State bill: Report volume, contents of oil trains

        Repost from SeattlePI.com

        State House bill: Report volume, contents of oil trains

        By Joel Connelly, April 14, 2015

        A bill that would require “comprehensive reporting” of the volume and specific contents of oil trains crossing Washington was passed on a bipartisan vote by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

        Oil tanker cars derailed under the Magnolia Bridge.  No harm done, but not the case elsewhere.
        Oil tanker cars derailed under the Magnolia Bridge. No harm done, but not the case elsewhere.

        The legislation goes to the Republican-run state Senate, where key committee chairs enjoy much closer relationships with railroads and oil refiners.

        “The House has passed these urgently needed policies with bipartisan support, twice. Delay on the part of the Senate is unacceptable,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters.

        (Washington Conservation Voters tried in 2014 to defeat several oil industry allies in the Senate, but lost every high-profile race.)

        The legislation, passed on a 58-40 vote, requires that shippers and receivers give cargo data to first responders, but goes further and establishes a website for members of the public to access the information.

        Washington Fire Chiefs, in letters sent last month to railroads, asked BNSF, Union Pacific and Canadian National to supply “Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans” and “Worst Case Scenarios” on an oil train accident.

        BNSF has responded by offering the chiefs a meeting.

        If there is such a response plan or plans, “I haven’t seen it,” new Seattle Fire Chief Harold Skoggins told a news conference with Sen. Maria Cantwell and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray last week.

        “It would be nice were there a system created where we would be notified when this material is traveling through our city,” Skoggins added.

        The railroads have been reticent about releasing cargo information, citing national security concerns and privately voicing fear of protests.

        A fire burns Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Steve Keenan)
        A fire burns Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Steve Keenan)

        BNSF has, however, released information on the upgrading of tracks and investment in newer, safer oil tanker cars.

        The House legislation goes further, directing rule making for such measures as tug escorts when hazardous cargoes are transported by water.  It directs the state to inspect rail crossings and push for repairs.

        And it would require oil companies to pay for increased oil spill prevention, preparedness and response.

        Just two and a half years have passed since the first oil train, carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota, passed through Seattle en route to refineries in northern Puget Sound.

        The state now sees about 19 oil trains a week.  At least a dozen pass along the Seattle waterfront, through a mile-long tunnel, and past the stadium homes of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners and Seattle Sounders.

        The BNSF has trained Seattle firefighters on oil tanker cars brought to a site in Interbay.  But any serious fire would require a major response from numerous fire departments.

        The legislation in Olympia has been inspired, in part, by the long delay in getting new oil train safety rules — such as getting old, unsafe tanker cars off the tracks — out of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

        The U.S. and Canada have seen a series of oil train fires in recent months.  A runaway train wiped out the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.  A train blew up near New Casselton, North Dakota, luckily in an unpopulated area.  In February, there were major accidents and fires in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.

        Sen. Cantwell is sponsoring federal legislation that would require railroads and oil companies to disclose routes and vapor content of trains to first responders.

        Eventually, the senator warned last week, Puget Sound population centers could see up to 16 trains a day.

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