Tag Archives: Crude-By-Rail Safety Act

Vallejo Times-Herald: Thompson introduces act addressing crude by rail

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor:  See also coverage in McClatchyDC News.  – RS]

Thompson introduces act addressing crude by rail

By Irma Widjojo, 04/15/15, 8:06 PM PDT

Another bill concerning the transportation of crude oil by rail was introduced Wednesday, following at least two others in the past month. With a pending Valero Refinery crude-by-rail project in the works, concerned Benicians and activists said though they acknowledge the effort in the bill, they’d like to see more.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, coauthored the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act, which would “establish new, common sense federal safety standards for railcars transporting oil across the country,” according to a release from Thompson’s office.

The act would take on a number of factors, including maximum volatility standard for crude oil transported by rail, higher fines for violating volatility standards and hazmat transport standards. The act will also seek to remove 37,700 unsafe cars off the rail network and recommend other measures to increase the safety of crude by rail.

“Public safety is priority No. 1 when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said in the release.

There have been four derailments of trains carrying crude oil in the United States and Canada in under a month earlier this year — in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Ontario.

Thompson said he has been working on the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act for about a year. The proposed legislation was also authored by Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Nita Lowey, D-NY.

“Folks in the district had concerns,” he said. “Explosions have people worried.”

The bill will still have to go through its due process before it could get signed into law, and that could take some time.

Activists said these procedures won’t come in time before another possible disaster strikes.

Marilyn Bardet, a Benicia resident and environmental activist, said that even if the policy was put in place, it wouldn’t be done before the pending Valero’s Crude-by-Rail project is underway.

“That is a huge concern,” Bardet said. “Valero talks about their safety record, but they are talking about the safety of the refinery. This is really the project of the railroad.”

Benicia is currently processing the use permit and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project. The Recirculated Draft EIR is anticipated to be released for public comment June 30. It will have a 45-day comment period. After the comment period closes, the city will complete the final version, which will include responses to all comments.

Bardet said she’s glad to see an effort from congress to address the Department of Transportation and the issue, but said from her initial perusing of the act she found that there were missing components to it.

A few of her concerns that are not mentioned in the proposed act are speed reduction, plans on dealing with explosions and derailment in remote areas and the safety of bridges.

“There are derailments on a regular basis, and historically they have not been shipping oil in hundreds and hundreds of (train) cars across the country,” Bardet said. “They are doing this at the risk of people’s safety and the environment.”

A spokesman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, an advocate group against the crude-by-rail project, agreed with Bardet’s sentiment.

“In general we’re glad to see our federal representatives are paying attention to the critical issue that impact communities around the country,” Andrés Soto said.

However, Soto is doubting the passage of the bill.

“I think that there’s going to be a major challenge to get this legislation passed,” he said, adding that he would like to see more transparency from the refineries and railroad companies.

Thompson said he doesn’t know if he’s going to be met with pushbacks on the proposed bill.

“I’m trying to do what’s right, and not what’s easy,” he said.

Soto said the only way to ensure the community’s safety before a policy is set is by having a national moratorium on the transportation of these crude oils, especially of more volatile kinds like Bakken shale oil.

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, an outspoken advocate of rail safety, calls the bill “a good start” and is “a comprehensive way to address rail safety.”

Speaking in a general context of the issue, Patterson said she is glad to see that “the dots have been connected between the issue of volatility of some of the products and transportation.”

She shared some of the few questions that the activists had, including waiting for a set of standards.

“What’s the rush?” Patterson said. “Why not take some time out and get our house in order in terms of federal regulations, and the response to accidents?”

She also said she would like to see funding in place for the response to accidents and training for local governments and public safety personnel.

“The response equipment doesn’t exist in most routes,” Patterson said. “The funding needs to be there.”

Paterson acknowledged that the bill is still in its early stages.

“I imagine there would be a lot of comments,” she said. “It’s a good first start, I wouldn’t want to see anything less. It shows that (Thompson) has been listening to the public, and he’s responded.”

To read the proposed act, visit mcdermott.house.gov/images/pdf/crudebyrailsafetyct.pdf.

A similar senate bill was also introduced last month by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, also authored a legislation, H.R. 1679, in March, which would prohibit the transport of crude-by-rail unless authorities have reduced the volatile gases in the oil prior to transportation.

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    Benicia Herald: Rep. pens crude-by-rail safety bill

    Repost from The Benicia Herald

    Rep. pens crude-by-rail safety bill

    ■ Mike Thompson: Recent accidents show need for ‘robust’ action

    By Donna Beth Weilenman, April 15, 2015 
    MIKE THOMPSON. File photo
    MIKE THOMPSON. File photo

    U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, the Napa Democrat who represents Benicia in the House, has introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act he co-authored to establish comprehensive safety security standards for transporting crude oil by train.

    The act, presented to the House on Wednesday, is a response to concerns that current safety standards don’t address hazards such transports pose, Thompson said.

    Joining him in co-authoring the proposed legislation were Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Ron Kind, D-Wis. and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

    The Crude-By-Rail Safety Act would put in place safety measures Thompson said would assure that communities through which oil is transported by train are secure, that rail cars are as strong as possible and that first responders are prepared to handle emergencies.

    While many opponents of crude by rail cite the July 6, 2013, Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 in the town in Quebec, Canada, Thompson said several more accidents involving trains hauling crude already have taken place this year in Canada and the United States.

    A CSX train in West Virginia on its way to Yorktown, Va., was pulling CPC 1232 tanker cars, designed to be less vulnerable and stronger than the earlier-model D-111s [sic] that exploded in the Lac-Megantic crash. But the oil train derailed Feb. 16 near Mount Carbon, W.Va., and fire and leaking North Dakota oil could be seen a day later. Two towns had to be evacuated, one house was destroyed, at least one derailed car entered the Kanawha River and a nearby water treatment plant was closed.

    A March 10 derailment three miles outside of Galena, Ill., involved 21 cars of a 105-car Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train hauling Bakken crude. Three days later, a 94-car Canadian National Railway crude oil train derailed three miles away from Gogama, Northern Ontario, and destroyed a bridge. That derailment was just 23 miles from the site of a Feb. 14 derailment involving a 100-car Canadian National Railways train traveling from Alberta.

    Those accidents, Thompson said, “underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.”

    He said the act would establish a maximum volatility standard for crude oil, propane, butane, methane and ethane that is transported by rail. It would forbid using DOT-111 tank cars and would remove 37,700 of those cars from the rail network.

    He said the legislation would establish the strongest tank car standards to date.

    Railroads would be required to disclose train movements through communities and to establish confidential close-call reporting systems. Another requirement would be the creation of emergency response plans, he said.

    The legislation calls for comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies and would increase fines for violating volatility standards and hazardous materials transport standards.

    This is not the first time Thompson has addressed rail safety.

    In December 2014, he wrote legislation improving rail and refinery security and requiring an intelligence assessment of the security of domestic oil refineries and the railroads that serve them.

    A quarter-century earlier, when he was a state senator, Thompson was alarmed by the July 14, 1991 Southern Pacific derailment and resulting toxic spill at Dunsmuir, a small resort town on the Upper Sacramento River.

    The derailment sent 19,000 gallons of soil fumigant into the river, killing more than a million fish, millions of other types of animals and hundreds of thousands of trees.

    The fumigant sent a 41-mile plume along the river to Shasta Lake, an incident that still ranks as one of California’s largest hazardous chemical spills, from which some species have never recovered.

    The incident occurred in what was Thompson’s state senatorial district. In response he drafted a bill that became Chapter 766 of the California State Statutes of 1991.

    His bill founded the Railroad Accident Prevention and Immediate Deployment (RAPID) Force, which cooperates with other agencies to respond to large-scale releases of toxic materials spilled during surface transportation accidents; ordered the California Environmental Protection Agency to develop a statewide program to address such emergencies; and for a time raised money to supply emergency responders with equipment they would need for spill cleanups.

    “Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” Thompson said Wednesday.

    “Rail cars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed.”

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      Why more pipelines won’t solve the problem of oil-train explosions

      Repost from Grist

      Why more pipelines won’t solve the problem of oil-train explosions

      By Ben Adler on 6 Apr 2015
      Shutterstock | Shutterstock
      In the last few years, the grassroots environmental movement has energetically opposed constructing big new oil pipelines in North America. Their opposition is understandable, since, on a global level, fossil fuel infrastructure encourages fossil fuel consumption, contributing to climate change, and, on a local level, oil pipelines leak and explode. But conservatives have been delighted to argue that greens are endangering the public and being short-sighted. Oil that comes out of the ground has to get to market somehow, and currently a huge amount of it is being shipped on freight trains. The result? An epidemic of oil train derailments, causing spills and even deadly explosions.

      Is it fair to blame activists for this? Should climate hawks throw in the towel and accept Keystone XL as the lesser evil?

      No and no — and I’ll explain two key reasons why.

      First: Much of the oil criss-crossing the U.S. on trains is coming from North Dakota and traveling out along east/west routes where there aren’t even any proposals for big new pipelines. You can’t blame activists for that. Keystone would connect the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, but wouldn’t do anything to help move North Dakota’s fracked bounty. Right now rail is the main option for that. “Keystone XL would enable tar-sands expansion projects, but is unlikely to reduce crude-by-rail,” says Anthony Swift, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. But don’t just take his word for it. Oil-loving, Keystone-supporting North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) makes the same point: “I am not someone who has ever said that the Keystone pipeline will take crude off the rails. It won’t,” Heitkamp said in November. “Our markets are east and west and it would be extraordinarily difficult to build pipelines east and west.”

      Second: Climate activists are supporting something that actually would go a long way toward solving the problem of dangerous oil trains: strict regulation of those trains.

      In the long term, of course, climate hawks want to keep the oil in the soil, and they are pushing for structural changes — like an end to federal leases for oil drilling offshore and on federal land — that would reduce the amount of oil we produce in the U.S. But in the short term, they’re not just being unrealistic and saying “no” to all oil transport — they’re pushing to make that transport safer.

      The Department of Transportation has the authority to impose rules on oil trains’ design and speed, which would reduce the risk of them leaking and exploding when they derail or crash. DOT made an initial proposal in July of last year and is expected to finalize it in May. Green groups have been disappointed by the proposal, though — both the weakness of the rules and the slowness of the timetable. If all goes according to plan, the rules would be implemented later this year, but their requirements would still take years to phase in.

      Fortunately there’s now a stronger proposal that climate hawks can get behind: a new Senate bill that would impose stiffer requirements than those being proposed by the Obama administration. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Crude-By-Rail Safety Act late last month, along with three Democratic cosponsors: Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Patty Murray (Wash.), and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.). It got immediate backing from big green groups.

      Here are four critical things that need to be done to make oil trains safer, three of which are included in Cantwell’s bill:

      1. Stop the transport of oil in an old model of rail car, called the DOT-111, that was designed back in the ‘60s. DOT-111s “have a number of manufacturing defects that make them much more likely to rupture in a derailment,” says Swift. So environmentalists want to get 111s off the rails immediately. That’s exactly what Cantwell’s Senate bill would do. DOT, in contrast, proposes to delay that transition. “DOT only slowly phases out 111s by 2017 and the rest of fleet by 2020, and we think the industry is pushing to move the phaseout to 2025,” says Devorah Ancel, an attorney at the Sierra Club. “It’s very concerning.”
      2. Require steel jackets around vulnerable rail cars that carry oil. DOT would require freight companies to transition to a newer, sturdier model of car called the CPC-1232, but even those cars aren’t sturdy enough — they have already been involved some fiery accidents, including one in West Virginia in February and one in Illinois in March. Cantwell’s bill would go further, requiring CPC-1232s to be jacketed, and then calling for “new tank car design standards that include 9/16th inch shells, thermal protection, pressure relief valves and electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes.”
      3. Clamp down on the amount of flammable gases permitted in the oil on train cars. Oil fracked in North Dakota’s Bakken shale carries more volatile gases with it than your average crude, making explosions more common. DOT’s proposed rules do nothing to curb that. Cantwell et al would limit the volatility of the oil being transported and increase fines for violations.
      4. Reduce train speeds. Currently, the speed limit for crude-by-rail is 50 mph, and that’s voluntary. DOT would make a speed limit mandatory, but would only lower it to 40 mph, and even that may only apply in “high threat urban areas” with more than 100,000 people. “The question of speed limits is crucial,” says Swift. “You need to dramatically reduce the speed at which these trains are moving.” Swift notes that CPC-1232s may puncture when going above 18 mph, but environmental groups stop short of explicitly calling for that speed limit. NRDC says, “Crude oil unit trains must adhere to speed limits that significantly reduce the possibility of an explosion in the event of a derailment.” That would presumably fall somewhere between 18 mph and 40 mph. Stricter speed limits is the one major needed reform that the Senate bill doesn’t address.

      Cantwell’s bill also doesn’t compensate communities when accidents happen (the DOT proposal doesn’t either). But the bill’s sponsors intend to introduce future legislation to establish an oil spill liability trust fund paid for by fees from the companies moving crude oil. “Taxpayers should not be on the hook to bail out communities after a disaster caused by private companies,” said Cantwell.

      It’s hard to imagine this bill passing both houses of an intensely pro-business, pro–fossil fuel Republican Congress. But Senate Democrats hope that by raising the issue they can build public awareness and support for stronger rules.

      The bill could put pressure on the Obama administration to adopt the strongest possible version of its proposal. During the public comment period on DOT’s draft rules, the oil and rail industries argued for the weakest rules under consideration. Now the plans are being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which tends to scale rules back in order to reduce their cost to business. Representatives from the oil and rail industries have been meeting with OMB to lobby for weaker rules.

      Late last month, Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), who will take over as Senate Democratic leader after Harry Reid (Nev.) retires next year, announced that he and six colleagues — including Baldwin and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) — had sent a letter to OMB Director Shaun Donovan asking him to ensure “the rule is strong and comprehensive and that it is finalized as quickly as possible.” If nothing else, Schumer’s push and Cantwell’s bill will set up a countervailing force to the industry voices that the Obama administration is listening to.

      The administration should protect public safety without being pushed by fellow Democrats — in this case, it has the power to do so without congressional approval. There is definitely a clear alternative to the false choice between pipelines and dangerous oil trains.

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