CSX Railroad files letter with STB in support of Valero Crude by Rail
On July 1, the City of Benicia received a copy of a letter from CSX` Railroad to the DOT’s Surface Transportation Board (STB). The letter, released to the public today, supports Valero Refinery’s request for an STB declaratory order which would address the permitting authority of local and state governments over projects on non-railroad properties when a project involves transport of goods by rail.
CSX is the 3rd largest railroad in North America, after Union Pacific and BNSF. The CSX letter exposes their vested interest in the matter:
The ICC Termination Act (“ICCTA”) was passed to “prevent a patchwork of local regulation from interfering with interstate commerce.”…But state and local governments are now testing the scope of ICCTA preemption with rules, permitting conditions, or other actions that indirectly affect railroads. While indirect, this practice still has the effect of creating a patchwork of inconsistent and disruptive regulation.
Valero is not a railroad, and its proposed crude oil offloading rack is on Valero property within the City of Benicia. Valero, Union Pacific, CSX, Tesoro, along with other rail and oil industry activists and their allies want to extend their power to limit local and state authority. This is unprecedented. The City of Benicia has every right – and responsibility – under its police and permitting powers to regulate land use on behalf of its citizens’ health and safety.
Note that in petitioning the STB, CSX, like Valero and the others, makes absolutely no reference to, nor shows any interest in the health and safety of California’s wildlands or communities. This is all about the freedom of big business to do as it likes in pursuit of profit.
By petitioning the STB, Valero has thrust the City of Benicia squarely into what will surely become a litigated test case, perhaps rising all the way to the US Supreme Court. Benicia’s staff and tax-supported finances will suffer years of time, effort and expense.
Benicia’s City Council can steer clear of this mess by denying the permit for Valero’s proposed project based on the many non-rail-related, local environmental impacts that have been brought to light in the last 3 years’ review.
Repost from The Times Union, Albany NY [Excellent month-by-month review of CBR developments in New York’s capital region, and an excellent group of 14 photos. – RS]
Albany’s Top 10 stories: Region a hub in oil train surge
Converging lines drove growth in shipment
By Brian Nearing, December 29, 2014
More oil trains kept a-rollin’ last year in Capital Region from the booming Bakken fields of North Dakota, where massive hydrofracking has helped drop national gasoline prices below $3 a gallon.
It was only two days into 2014 in the aftermath of a massive oil train derailment and fire in North Dakota when federal regulators warned that Bakken crude was more likely to catch fire than regular crude. And at year’s end, critics were warning that federal plans to phase out less-sturdy versions of the most common rail tankers during the next two years were too slow.
In between, massive trains pulling dozens of all-black tanker cars — carrying millions of gallons of crude and ominously called bomb trains by opponents — kept coming.
Because of its geographic location, with rail lines converging from all four directions and its access to the Hudson River, Albany has become a major oil shipping hub, which drew little public attention when the oil boom began taking shape some five years ago.
Some oil is unloaded at the port for shipment down the Hudson in barges or tankers, while other oil continues by rail either south along the Hudson River to coastal refineries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania or north along Lake Champlain to Canada.
And there are many more trains than just a couple years ago. For the first 10 months of 2014, more than 672,000 oil-filled tanker cars moved by rail in the U.S., an increase of more than 13 percent from the previous period of 2013, according to federal statistics. That was more than twice as many as the 300,000 rail oil tankers that moved for the same period in 2011.
But for part of the oil train story in Albany, 2014 will end the way it began, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation still weighing plans by an oil terminal operator at the port, Global Partners, to build a facility that heats crude oil to make it easier to pump in cold weather.
Bakken crude doesn’t have to be heated in the cold, leading many to conclude Global wants to begin accepting trains carrying Canadian tar sands oil, a thicker crude that must be heated to be pumped in the cold. Global has never said either way. DEC extended the comment period on the project eight times amid growing community opposition.
Global and another terminal operator, Houston-based Buckeye Partners, have DEC permission to ship 2.8 billion gallons of oil a year that is arriving by rail. By the end of January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had ordered a state review of safety and spill control plans while also pressing the Obama administration to act faster to toughen rules on the burgeoning energy network.
The governor did not wait for the report to act. By February, he was touting the first rail-safety inspections at the Port of Albany and elsewhere by state and federal regulators. By year’s end, eight such inspection “blitzes” had been done involving nearly 7,400 rail cars, including more than 5,300 oil tankers, and nearly 2,700 miles of track. A total of 840 defects have been uncovered.
In March, Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy slapped a county moratorium on Global’s crude heating project. By July, as many as 42 oil trains each week — each holding more than 100 million gallons of Bakken crude — were coming into Albany from North Dakota, according to figures released by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
This summer, two major rail companies — CSX and Canadian Pacific — revealed information about their shipments under an emergency federal order intended to help inform local emergency workers of potential risks. CSX transports oil through 17 counties on a line that runs upstate from Lake Erie and eastward roughly along the Thruway corridor, while CP runs oil through five counties in the Capital Region and the North Country on the way from Canada.
The region can expect to see trains for a long time. By October, a Canadian Pacific official predicted increased transport of tar sands crude oil from Alberta in coming years would account for about 60 percent of the railroad’s oil revenue. That same month, the DEC rejected oil train opponents’ claims that the state had the power to immediately ban the most common type of tanker cars — called DOT-111s — from entering the port loaded with flammable oil.
Also in October, Global quietly withdrew plans before the DEC for a new oil terminal facility on the Hudson River in New Windsor, Orange County, so that oil could be moved from massive crude oil tanker trains onto vessels to continue downriver to coastal refineries. The company also announced it had voluntarily stopped using the oldest, least sturdy models of DOT-111s.
By December, officials in North Dakota announced new safety rules on Bakken crude oil shipments aimed at reducing its potential explosiveness, but the limits would not affect about 80 percent of oil arriving daily in Albany, leading oil train opponents to criticize the rules as almost meaningless.
And it looks like the surge of oil trains will continue to grow. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, two refineries in Linden, N.J., and Philadelphia are adding crude-by-rail terminals to handle up to 8.8 million gallons a day of incoming shipments.
For oil trains from North Dakota and Canada to reach these refineries, the trip would have to pass through Albany.
Repost from the White Plains NY Journal News on LoHud.com [Editor: Significant quote: “At the CSX-owned Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, 106 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars were checked and three had found to have critical defects, including a cracked weld, a missing bolt and one inoperative brake assembly….Since the state began its “inspection blitz” last February, inspectors have examined 7,368 rail cars (including 5,360 DOT-111s) and 2,659 miles of track, uncovering 840 defects, and issuing 12 hazardous materials violations. The state recently hired five new rail inspectors.” – RS]
Inspectors find 100 defects on crude oil trains, tracks
By Khurram Saeed, December 15, 2014
A broken rail, defective train car wheels and missing bolts on the tracks were among some of the problems state and federal teams found during its most recent round of statewide inspections of oil trains and the rail lines they use.
They identified 100 defects, including eight safety defects that require immediate action, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said in a release.
Inspection teams from the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration on Dec. 9 examined 704 crude oil tank cars and about 95 miles of track as part of the state’s on-going response to a surge in rail shipments of Bakken crude across nearly 1,000 miles of New York.
But the inspection of 15 miles of CSX-owned mainline track near Albany found a critical switch gauge defect that required a speed reduction, the release said. They also discovered four non-critical defects, including loose bolts. They must be repaired within 30 days.
“We have sent inspection crews to check rail tracks and crude oil cars across New York and we continue to find critical safety defects that put New Yorkers at risk,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Crude oil tank cars, especially the older DOT-111 models are also in the spotlight because they have been involved in several accidents, including an derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013. Bakken crude is volatile and can catch fire should the tank rupture or derail.
At the CSX-owned Frontier Rail Yard in Buffalo, 106 DOT-111 crude oil tank cars were checked and three had found to have critical defects, including a cracked weld, a missing bolt and one inoperative brake assembly.
CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said in an email that the railroad “appreciates Governor Cuomo’s continued focus on making the safe transportation of energy products even safer,” adding that CSX is “committed to strong, ongoing and long-term coordination with state and local officials.”
Since the state began its “inspection blitz” last February, inspectors have examined 7,368 rail cars (including 5,360 DOT-111s) and 2,659 miles of track, uncovering 840 defects, and issuing 12 hazardous materials violations. The state recently hired five new rail inspectors.
Map shows 100 schools along crude oil train tracks
By: Mark Lungariello, December 01, 2014
On July 6, 2013, a train hauling more than 70 cars filled with volatile crude oil derailed in Quebec, Canada, after its engine caught fire and power to its air brakes was cut. Several DOT-111 oil tankers filled with crude mined from South Dakota’s Bakken Shale ignited, spilling oil and sending a fireball into the sky of the town of Lac-Mégantic that destroyed 30 buildings, according to reports.
Forty-seven people died. Several thousand more were evacuated while oil seeped into the soil and local waterways. The Quebec derailment and several other disasters have brought increased scrutiny on the transportation of crude oil by rail as the amount of oil mined domestically continues to multiply.
New maps from state environmental groups show there are more than 100 public and private K-12 schools within a mile of train lines used to transport crude oil through the region. Albany-based Healthy School Networks released the maps last month in partnership with a coalition of environmental and education activists.
“They are crossing from Buffalo through Rochester and from the upper reaches of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the Port of Albany, then down along the Hudson River,” Claire Barnett, executive director of Healthy Schools Network, said. “A catastrophic event, should it happen near an occupied school, could devastate a community for a generation or more.”
From 15 to 30 trains carrying crude out of South Dakota travel through the Hudson Valley region each week. Each train can haul dozens or as many as 100 oil cars, each that carry tens of thousands of gallons of the Bakken crude, which experts say is more volatile and unstable than other forms of oil. Oil is also transported by barge on waterways through the region and plans are in the gestation phase to begin transporting other types of crude through the area by rail as well.
The maps also included BOCES schools. Statewide, the maps identified 351 schools within one mile of train lines. In Monroe County alone, in the Rochester area, 63 schools were within the one-mile zone.
Environmental group Riverkeeper prepared an additional several maps depicting the potential impact area of local crude oil accidents based on the 300-yard blast radius and 1,100-yard evacuation zone from the Quebec derailment and a Casselton, N.D., derailment that spilled more than 400,000 gallons of crude.
“Based on the human consequences of these two accidents, it is clear that communities on both sides of the Hudson River could be impacted by a crude oil rail disaster,” said Kate Hudson, Riverkeeper’s Watershed Program director.
A CSX Corp. rail line runs from Albany to the state’s border with New Jersey. Land trust organization Scenic Hudson said that 47.7 miles of that track are within yards of the Hudson River. The group estimates the risk area in the event of a derailment would be more than 200,000 acres and include 100,000 households and six drinking water intakes.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Response Guidebook recommends a half-mile evacuation zone for accidents involving rail cars with flammable liquids and a mile zone around any rail car filled with those materials if they are on fire.
Environmental groups are calling for state and federal government reforms. These include asking government officials to provide emergency planning aid to schools, reduce speed limits for crude oil trains and impose stricter regulations and inspections for deteriorating DOT-111 tankers. The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering stricter regulations of the cars, but environmental groups have said the proposed laws don’t go far enough.
The state has increased its inspection of cars in response to recent derailments, but oil industry experts look to continue to expand their processing capacities as the amount of crude mined through hydraulic fracturing surges. The amount of Bakken moving through the U.S. has risen from 9,500 rail carloads in 2008 to 415,000 rail carloads in 2013, according to the Department of Transportation.