In a petition for rulemaking, Schneiderman asked the agency to require all crude transported by rail in the United States to achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability, according to a press release issued by Schneiderman’s office.
In his petition, the attorney general argues that reducing crude oil vapor pressures is practical and necessary for minimizing the risk and severity of accidents involving tank cars.
Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures — including crude produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota — have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane and other highly volatile gases, Schneiderman noted.
While the vapor pressure of crude involved in train accidents is often undisclosed, the vapor pressure in such accidents in which the levels were disclosed have exceeded 9 psi, including the crude train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that caused 47 fatalities.
“Recent catastrophic rail accidents send a clear warning that we need to do whatever we can to reduce the dangers that crude oil shipments pose to communities across New York State,” Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. “In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability — which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents. … The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”
From Rep. Mike Thompson’s website
[Editor: Read the bill on Rep. McDermott’s website. Track the bill on GovTrac.us. Authenticated version of the bill is here. HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT: Sec. 4. Requires the Secretary of Transportation to immediately prohibit the shipment of oil in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars. Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service. Requires the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit, after 2 years, the shipment of ethanol in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars. Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service. – RS]
THOMPSON INTRODUCES CRUDE-BY-RAIL SAFETY ACT
Apr 15, 2015, Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) today co-authored and introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act which establishes comprehensive new safety and security standards for the transport of crude oil by rail. The legislation is designed to help protect communities along the nation’s railway networks. The legislation comes amid growing concerns that current standards do not address the threat posed by transporting crude oil by rail. Representatives Jim McDermott (WA-7), Doris Matsui (CA-6) and Ron Kind (WI-3), and Nita Lowey (NY-17) introduced the legislation with Thompson.
“Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” said Thompson. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”
In recent months, the large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to increased rail traffic and a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the US and Canada in under a month earlier this year underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.
The Crude-by-Rail Safety Act would establish new, commonsense federal safety standards for railcars transporting oil across the country. This legislation:
Establishes a maximum volatility standard for crude oil (propane, butane, methane, and ethane) transported by rail
Prohibits use of unsafe DOT-111 tank cars, including the removal of 37,700 unsafe cars off the rail network
Establishes the strongest tank car standards to-date
Requires comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies
Increases fines for violating volatility standards and hazmat transport standards
Requires disclosure of train movements through communities and emergency response plans
Requires railroads to implement a confidential close-call reporting systems
Congressman Mike Thompson is proud to represent California’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all or part of Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties. He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Thompson is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and chairs the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Wine Caucus.
A federal lawsuit filed by the Swinomish Indian tribe seeks to ban BNSF Railway from transporting Bakken crude oil across tribal lands. The line in question carries oil trains to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.
By Hal Bernton, April 7, 2015 at 8:37 pm, Updated April 8, 2015 at 12:10 pm
The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community on Tuesday went to federal court to block BNSF Railway from sending 100-car oil trains through reservation lands, claiming the company is violating an easement that sharply restricts rail traffic.
The easement signed by the railway’s predecessor company in 1991 permits only two trains a day of 25 cars or less from transiting the reservation. It also calls for the railroad company to get permission from the tribe to increase traffic.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle asks the court to permanently ban the railroad from shipping Bakken shale crude oil across tribal land, asserting that the railroad never sought permission for the oil trains.
“A deal is a deal,” said Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby in a statement released Tuesday. “Our signatures were on the agreement with BNSF, so were theirs. So was the United States. But despite all that, BNSF began running its Bakken oil trains across the reservation without asking, and without even telling us.”
The Swinomish rail line that traverses tribal land on Fidalgo Island enables trains to reach a Tesoro refinery in nearby Anacortes.
A BNSF spokesman, in a statement released Tuesday said, “We have received the complaint and are reviewing it.”
The tribal lawsuit is part of an intensifying backlash in Washington and elsewhere in North America against shipping Bakken shale crude from North Dakota and Montana. Production from those fields has surged with the development of new fracking techniques.
Since 2013, a series of train derailments resulted in fiery explosions of Bakken crude, with four of those accidents occurring since early February. Bakken crude has a higher volatility than many other crudes, due to elevated levels of gases such as ethane, propane and butane
At Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other officials joined U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to discuss threats posed by these accidents.
“In Canada nearly two years ago, a mile-long train derailed and the ensuing explosion cost 47 people their lives,” Cantwell said. “That blast leveled a half-mile radius. If that happened in Seattle, the effects would be catastrophic.”
“In Seattle, an incident of this type could impact tens of thousands of residents.”
Cantwell introduced legislation last month that would require the federal Transportation Department to regulate the volatility of crude oil shipped by trains.
The bill also would increase funding for first responders and require more disclosures from railroads about train routes. The railroads would also have to plan for worst-case derailment scenarios.
In Washington last year, up to 19 trains a week crossed parts of the state with crude oil that ends up at state or California refineries.
Some of those trains now cross Swinomish lands on the way to the Tesoro refinery. The number of those trains could rise if Shell gets approval for a rail facility at its refinery in Anacortes.
As the trains move through tribal lands, they pass close by a casino, a lodge and other development.
“Based on the demonstrated hazards” of Bakken shale crude, the tribe is “justifiably and gravely concerned” with the oil shipments, the lawsuit asserts.
The railroad’s 1991 easement across the reservation lands resulted from the settlement of an earlier tribal lawsuit that alleged that BNSF’s predecessor company was trespassing on their lands with its trains during most of the past century.
The settlement called for periodic railroad disclosures “as different products, or commodities, are added or deleted.” It also called on the tribe not to “arbitrarily withhold permission to increase the number of trains or cars when necessary to meet shipper needs.”
The crude-oil shipments across tribal lands began in late 2011, but tribal officials said they were never informed in advance, and have never authorized that train traffic.
“We told BNSF to stop, again and again,” Cladoosby said. “It’s unacceptable for BNSF to put our people and our way of life at risk without regard to the agreement we established in good faith.”
7 things you need to know about oil-by-rail safety
By Emily Kaiser, Feb 26, 2015
Last week’s oil train derailment in West Virginia launched a national conversation about the safety of shipping oil by rail. It’s a topic we’ve been hearing about over the past couple years, especially here in Minnesota, where Bakken oil crisscrosses the state’s rail lines in large volume.
It’s a complex topic combining federal policy with scientific questions. The Wall Street Journal’s Russell Gold has been following the issue closely and spoke to MPR News’ Tom Weber to explain what you need to know.
Here are 7 things you should know about oil transport by rail:
1. The most misunderstood part of crude oil transport by train: It’s very explosive.
“The kind of oil that’s being taken out of the ground in North Dakota and put into these tanker cars is a much lighter oil,” Gold said. “It is a very gassy oil; it has a lot of ethanes, and butanes and propanes dissolved in it. It really does explode and that’s really what’s causing the problems.”
When a set of tanker cars goes up in flames, it can cause 20-story-tall fireballs.
Footage from the West Virigina derailment last week:
2. The amount of crude oil carried by train has increased exponentially in less than a decade.
According to the American Association of Railroads, there were 9,500 rail cars carrying crude in 2008. Last year is was 400,000.
We’ve been moving small amounts of crude by rail for years, but it was one or two cars in long train, Gold said. Now we see 100 to 120 tanker cars all filled with crude oil. That’s 70,000 barrels of crude per train, he said.
3. Once the crude oil is extracted in North Dakota, it has to be transported to the country’s major refineries on the coasts.
Refineries are built to utilize the gases removed from the product. If it was stabilized near the extraction site, North Dakota would have to find a way to use or dispose of the ethane and propane gases that make the oil explosive.
4. Railroads have become “virtual pipelines” for oil.
While these virtual pipelines can be created in months, traditional pipelines have become increasingly difficult to install as environmental groups seek to block permits for new energy infrastructure.
“What we are seeing on rail is largely due to opposition to and uncertainty around building pipelines,” said Brigham McCown, who was the chief pipeline regulator under President George W. Bush . Pipelines, he adds, are far safer than trains.
5. Pipeline leaks and spills are environmental problems. Oil train derailments are public safety issues.
When you have a tank car that derails and starts losing it’s very gassy oil, it’s going to burst into fire rather than leak into waterways, Gold said.
6. If you live close to these rail lines, get in touch with local first responders.
Gold recommends checking with emergency responders nearby and ask if they are properly trained to handle a crude oil train derailment. Make sure your fire chief is in contact with the rail companies to know when major shipments come through your area. Push for decreasing train speed limits and increased track inspection.
7. Can we make the tanker cars safer? Gold gave us the latest:
MPR News Producer Brigitta Greene contributed to this report.