Tag Archives: Culbertson MT

Buckled tracks: heat caused 2 Montana oil train derailments

Repost from the Billings Gazette
[Editor:  Note the industry terminology: “BNSF attributes the July 16 incident…to ‘thermal misalignment,’ also known as sun kink, which occurs when rail tracks expand when heated and buckle.”  …Will we see more of this with global warming?  – RS]

Heat caused Montana train derailments, BNSF says

By Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Nov 4, 2015
Culbertson derailment
Derailed tanker cars lie off track near Culbertson on July 17. The tank cars were hauling fuel from North Dakota and derailed Thursday in rural northeastern Montana, authorities said. Associated Press

CULBERTSON — Two July train derailments in Eastern Montana, including one that spilled 35,000 gallons of Bakken crude, were caused by tracks that buckled in the heat, according to BNSF Railway.

BNSF attributes the July 16 incident that caused 22 oil tankers to derail east of Culbertson to “thermal misalignment,” also known as sun kink, which occurs when rail tracks expand when heated and buckle.

The company also attributes the same cause to the July 14 train derailment about 10 miles west of Culbertson, said BNSF spokesman Matthew Jones.

The Federal Railroad Administration said Tuesday the agency’s investigation into the derailments is still ongoing.

BNSF reported to the FRA that the two derailments caused $3.2 million in damage, including nearly $2 million in equipment damage and more than $1.2 million in track damage.

In the July 16 incident, a westbound train containing 106 crude oil tankers that had been loaded in Trenton, N.D., derailed about five miles east of Culbertson. Twenty-two tankers derailed, with five cars releasing oil, according to information submitted to the FRA.

BNSF and contractors recovered the spilled oil and removed and replaced about 3,900 cubic yards of contaminated soil, Jones said.

On July 14, nine cars on an eastbound mixed merchandise train derailed west of Culbertson, but the cars remained upright and did not cause a spill.

BNSF inspects tracks and bridges more frequently than required by the FRA, including visual inspections and inspections using rail cars equipped with advanced technology, Jones said.

Meanwhile, a legislative audit released last week highlights weaknesses in Montana’s oversight of rail safety, calling attention to a lack of emergency response resources in northeast Montana.

The report by the Montana Legislative Audit Division said the state’s rail safety inspection program is not adequate and first-responders are not adequately trained and equipped to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials.

Northeast Montana does not have a regional hazmat team, primarily due to a lack of hazmat trained and equipped firefighters and the lack of a full-time, salaried fire department, the report said. The closest hazmat team is in Billings, 300 miles from Culbertson.

When a new oil transloading facility in East Fairview, N.D., is at full capacity, Montana may see as many as 40 oil trains each week, the report said.

Montana’s Public Service Commission, which discussed the audit during a meeting Tuesday, would need statutory authority and resources from the state Legislature to expand its oversight of rail safety, said Eric Sell, a spokesman for the agency. Sell noted that the Federal Railroad Administration has primary oversight of rail safety.

BNSF train derailments that were caused by the tracks occurred at a rate of 0.38 incidents per million train miles last year, Jones said, noting the rate is 50 percent better than 10 years ago.

Another recent train derailment involving Bakken crude near Heimdal, N.D., remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Six oil tankers derailed and four caught fire in May.

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    Investment Analyst: Oil Train Derailments Pose Huge Risks

    Repost from Energy & Capital

    Oil Train Derailments Pose Huge Risks

    New Regulations Haven’t Done Enough

    By Keith Kohl, August 7, 2015

    About 40 miles west of Williston, North Dakota — the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation — sits a tiny rural town that was recently rocked by a strange occurrence.

    Culbertson, Montana, a town of less than 1,000 people just north of the Missouri River, saw a massive train derailment in July.

    A 106-car BNSF Railway train was carrying oil from the Bakken to a BP refinery in Washington State, but when it reached Culbertson, 22 of the cars derailed and five began leaking crude.

    When the cars derailed, a nearby power line was knocked over — a sure sign of imminent catastrophe.

    Of course, train derailments and explosions are not strange occurrences these days. Such derailments have become an all-too-common consequence of North America’s shale oil boom.

    In 2013, as I have discussed many times, a train derailed and exploded in the center of a small town in Canada, destroying several buildings and killing 47 people.

    There was also a crash and explosion earlier this year in West Virginia that threatened residents and nearby water resources.

    But this derailment in Montana was different…

    You see, despite the five breached tankers, the more than 1,000 barrels of oil that leaked, and the downed power lines, there was no explosion.

    CulbertsonCrash

    There was no fire to speak of, either — just leaked oil and the torn metal of the train cars scattered near the tracks.

    Many began to question exactly how an explosion was avoided and if such conditions could be replicated on all future oil rail shipments.

    Unfortunately, as of yet, there are no definitive answers…

    Air + Gas + Sparks = Explosion

    A local sheriff’s deputy said of the spill: “You could smell it from over a mile away.”

    As a precaution, some residents were evacuated, but BNSF crews quickly contained the leaked oil, and the debris and the tracks were soon restored to order.

    Some have said that the reason the oil didn’t ignite was because the vapor pressure of the oil was in compliance with new regulations…

    After a report released last year by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said that crude oil from the Bakken is more dangerous because of its higher-than-normal gas content, regulators in North Dakota required that any oil shipped from the Bakken be heated to 110 degrees to lower the gas content in the oil to below 13.7 psi.

    According to Statoil, the owner of the crude in the train, the oil was below the 13.7-psi mark, and many commentators leaped to the conclusion that this prevented fires and explosions.

    Of course, this is a bit disingenuous because, as I discussed in a column a few months ago, an oil train in compliance with the same standards crashed outside of Heimdal, North Dakota and burst into flames, forcing the evacuation of the small town.

    heimdaltrain

    Even though the oil was treated, it still caught fire, so it would seem that the lack of explosion or fire in the Culbertson crash had everything to do with luck and very little to do with science or regulation.

    I’ll reiterate: It was very lucky indeed.

    Usually a fire starts in a train derailment because the sparks caused by the friction of a train wreck meet the leaking oil and oxygen present in the air and combust.

    Once oil and air meet fire, as you know, explosions happen — typically large ones.

    Since the incident caused a power line to go down, it’s practically miraculous that there were no explosions or fires.

    Still, can we really rely on luck to prevent the dangerous explosions caused by most derailments?

    Pipelines are Coming

    Despite all of the industry standards and new rules announced by the Department of Transportation, there’s still no definitive solution to stopping these crude oil derailments other than to cull the amount of oil shipped by rail.

    Even with oil production in a tenuous position because of low prices, large amounts of crude are still shipped via rail.

    And if rail shipments of oil were forcibly halted, the effects could be devastating on the companies drilling in the Bakken that need secure revenue streams now more than ever.

    Instead, the solution to cutting traffic has to benefit producers and be market-based. The only way to do this is by pipeline.

    As the amount oil traffic — and accidents — on rails has increased, so too has the call for construction of more pipelines.

    Within a few years, the pipeline capacity in the U.S. is set to double, and when it does, there will hopefully be a reduction in railroad traffic and accidents.

    Until next time,

    Keith Kohl
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      Feds warn railroads to comply with oil train notification requirement

      Repost from McClatchyDC
      [Editor:  Significant quote: “Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania told McClatchy last month that they had received no updated oil train reports from CSX since June 2014.”  See also the Federal Railroad Administration press release AND letter.  – RS]

      Feds warn railroads to comply with oil train notification requirement

      By Curtis Tate, July 22,2015
      This Feb. 17, 2015, photo made available by the Office of the Governor of West Virginia shows a derailed train in Mount Carbon, W.Va. U.S. transportation officials predict many more catastrophic wrecks involving flammable fuels in coming years absent new regulations.
      This Feb. 17, 2015, photo made available by the Office of the Governor of West Virginia shows a derailed train in Mount Carbon, W.Va. U.S. transportation officials predict many more catastrophic wrecks involving flammable fuels in coming years absent new regulations. | Steven Wayne Rotsch AP

      The U.S. Department of Transportation warned railroads that they must continue to notify states of large crude oil shipments after several states reported not getting updated information for as long as a year.

      The department imposed the requirement in May 2014 following a series of fiery oil train derailments, and it was designed to help state and local emergency officials assess their risk and training needs.

      In spite of increased public concern about the derailments, railroads have opposed the public release of the oil train information by numerous states, and two companies sued Maryland last July to prevent the state from releasing the oil train data to McClatchy.

      The rail industry fought to have the requirement dropped, and it appeared that they got their wish three months ago in the department’s new oil train rule.

      We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible. Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator, Federal Railroad Administration

      But facing backlash from lawmakers, firefighters and some states, the department announced it would continue to enforce the notification requirement indefinitely and take new steps make it permanent.

      There have been six major oil train derailments in North America this year, the most recent last week near Culbertson, Mont. While that derailment only resulted in a spill, others in Ontario, West Virginia, Illinois and North Dakota involved fires, explosions and evacuations.

      In a letter to the companies Wednesday, Sarah Feinberg, the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, told them that the notifications were “crucial” to first responders and state and local officials in developing emergency plans.

      “We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible,” she wrote. “And we understand the public’s interest in knowing what is traveling through their communities.”

      The letter was written after lawyers for Norfolk Southern and CSX used the new federal oil train rules to support their position in the Maryland court case that public release of the information creates security risks and exposes the companies to competitive harm.

      Feinberg added that the notifications must be updated “in a timely manner.”

      States such as California, Washington and Illinois have received updated reports regularly from BNSF Railway, the nation’s leading hauler of crude oil in trains. Most of it is light, sweet crude from North Dakota’s Bakken region and is produced by hydraulic fracturing of shale rock.

      But to get to refineries on the east coast, BNSF must hand off the trains to connecting railroads in Chicago or other points. Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania told McClatchy last month that they had received no updated oil train reports from CSX since June 2014.

      The emergency order requires the railroads to report the weekly frequency of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude, the routes they use and the counties through which they pass. The railroads must update the reports when the volume increases or decreases by 25 percent.

      Railroads found to be in violation of the requirement face a maximum penalty of $175,000 a day for each incident. The Federal Railroad Administration periodically audits railroads for compliance.

      6 – Number of major oil train derailments in North America in 2015.

      Though publicly available data on the exact volume of crude oil moved by railroads is difficult to come by, in an April earnings call, Norfolk Southern, the principal rival of CSX, reported that its crude oil volumes increased 34 percent from the first quarter of 2014 to the first quarter of 2015.

      That’s not a reliable indicator of the increase in Bakken crude oil on any one route, but Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania did say they received updated oil train reports from Norfolk Southern in the past year.

      Of the states on the CSX crude oil network McClatchy asked, only Virginia reported receiving an update in the year between June 2014 and June 2015, and that was a week after a CSX oil train derailed and caught fire in February near Mount Carbon, W.Va.

      Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for CSX, said the railroad continues to be “in full compliance” with the emergency order. He added that the railroad “recently” sent new notifications to the affected states, “regardless of whether there was any material change in the number of trains transported.”

      Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/economy/article28078114.html#storylink=cp

       

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