Tag Archives: Evacuation

Oil train safety concerns cast shadow over cross-border rail deal

Repost from McClatchyNews
[Editor:  Note the significant section on bridge safety – “In downtown Milwaukee, Canadian Pacific’s oil trains cross a 99-year-old steel bridge over South 1st Street that shows visible signs of deterioration. Some of beams supporting the structure are so badly corroded at the base that you can see right through them.  In Watertown, just west of the derailment site, the railroad crosses Main Street on a bridge with crumbling concrete supports embedded with its date of construction: 1906.”  – RS]

Oil train safety concerns cast shadow over cross-border rail deal

HIGHLIGHTS
• Merger would create largest railroad on continent
• Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern transport oil
• Derailments, bridges under scrutiny in Wisconsin

By Curtis Tate, November 25, 2015
Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific locomotives lead an empty oil train west at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 14, 2014. The Canadian railroad last week made public its offer to take over Norfolk Southern. The $28 billion deal, if approved by shareholders and regulators, would create the largest railroad in North America.
Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific locomotives lead an empty oil train west at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 14, 2014. The Canadian railroad last week made public its offer to take over Norfolk Southern. The $28 billion deal, if approved by shareholders and regulators, would create the largest railroad in North America. Curtis Tate McClatchy

WATERTOWN, WIS. – Concerns about the safety of crude oil trains loom over a proposed rail takeover that would create the largest rail system in North America.

Last week, Alberta-based Canadian Pacific made public its plan to acquire Virginia-based Norfolk Southern. The $28.4 billion deal would need to be approved by company shareholders and federal regulators, a process that could take at least 18 months.

The railroads are key players in the transportation of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to East Coast refineries. Currently, Canadian Pacific transfers the shipments to Norfolk Southern at Chicago. The combined company could offer a seamless path the entire distance to the East Coast.

Though both companies have so far escaped the most serious crude by rail incidents involving spills, fires and mass evacuations, they are likely to face fresh scrutiny of their safety practices and relationships with communities if they agree to a deal.

In Wisconsin, the railroad has clashed with environmental groups and elected officials over the condition of its aging bridges. And in spite of calls from members of Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration, the railroad refuses to share its bridge inspection documents with local officials, citing “security concerns.”

“I’ve reached out to (Canadian Pacific) personally to try to get them to be better neighbors,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. “The response hasn’t been that good.”

Two Canadian Pacific trains derailed earlier this month in Watertown, a city of 24,000 about an hour west of Milwaukee.

The first occurred on Nov. 8 when 13 cars of an eastbound oil train bound from North Dakota to Philadelphia derailed and spilled about 500 gallons. About 35 homes were evacuated for more than a day. Then on Nov. 11, a second train derailed at the same spot as the first. Though no one was injured, the back-to-back incidents shook residents.

“If safety was really important, you wouldn’t have two trains derail in one town in one week,” said Sarah Zarling, a mother of five who lives a few blocks from the track and has become an activist on the issue.

THE FEDERAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD, WHICH REVIEWS RAILROAD MERGERS, HAS BEEN SYMPATHETIC TO CONCERNS FROM THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE IMPACTS OF INDUSTRY CONSOLIDATION.

In a statement, Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings said the railroad was the safest in North America for 12 of the past 14 years.

“It is good business for us as a railroad to operate safely,” he said, “and the statistics clearly show we are doing that.”

In downtown Milwaukee, Canadian Pacific’s oil trains cross a 99-year-old steel bridge over South 1st Street that shows visible signs of deterioration. Some of beams supporting the structure are so badly corroded at the base that you can see right through them.

In Watertown, just west of the derailment site, the railroad crosses Main Street on a bridge with crumbling concrete supports embedded with its date of construction: 1906.

Cummings said both bridges are safe and that their appearance doesn’t indicate their ability to safely carry rail traffic. Still, he said the company is working on a website that would explain its bridge management plan and offer a way for the public to raise concerns.

“We do understand that we have an obligation to reassure the public when questions arise about our bridges,” he said.

Railroads carry out their own bridge inspections under the supervision of the Federal Railroad Administration. In September, Administrator Sarah Feinberg sent a letter to railroads urging them to be more open about their bridge inspections and conditions.

Addressing a rail safety advisory panel in early November, Feinberg said her phone was “ringing off the hook” with concerned calls from the public and lawmakers.

“They are frustrated, and frequently they are scared,” she said, “because the absence of information in this case leaves them imagining the worst.”

$340 Million – Amount of settlement for survivors of 2013 Quebec oil train disaster. Canadian Pacific was the only company that declined to contribute.

Much of the concern about the condition of rail infrastructure stems from series of derailments involving crude oil and ethanol. Including the Watertown derailment this month, there have been 10 derailments with spills or fires this year in North America.

In the worst example, an unattended train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled away and derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013. The subsequent fires and explosions leveled dozens of buildings and killed 47 people.

Canadian Pacific was the only company among roughly two dozen that declined to contribute to a $340 million settlement fund for the survivors. The railroad denies any responsibility in the disaster, though it transported the derailed train from North Dakota to Montreal, where a smaller carrier took control.

While the railroad last month dropped its opposition to the settlement, it could still be in court. A Chicago law firm has threatened to bring wrongful death lawsuits against the railroad in the next 18 months.

Cummings said the company “will continue to defend itself in any future lawsuits.”

While it’s not clear what issues will ultimately decide the fate of proposed merger, the federal Surface Transportation Board, which reviews such transactions, has been sympathetic to concerns from the public about the impacts of industry consolidation.

In 2000, the three-member panel rejected a similar cross-border bid by Canadian National and BNSF Railway to create what would have been the largest North American railroad at the time. The deal failed partly because a series of mergers in the 1990s had created a colossal rail service meltdown.

Because of those problems, and complaints from shippers and members of Congress, the Surface Transportation Board imposed a moratorium on new railroad mergers. There hasn’t been a major rail deal since.

In a cautious statement earlier this month acknowledging Canadian Pacific’s offer, Norfolk Southern responded that any consolidation of large railroads would face “significant regulatory hurdles.”

But speaking to a conference of transportation companies in Florida this month, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison sounded confident that shippers would not oppose the deal and that the decision to press forward was largely in the hands of shareholders.

“If the shareholders want it, it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”

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Templeton California retired fire chief: ‘Do not understate risk of oil trains’

Repost from the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Retired Templeton fire chief: Do not understate risk of oil trains

HIGHLIGHTS
• Despite training, emergency responders may not be able to prevent hundreds of fatalities in a derailment
• Highly flammable Canadian crude more dangerous than California crude
• Project should be denied if safety requirements can’t be enforced

By Greg O’Sullivan, October 23, 2015

Columnist John Peschong in his Aug. 23 column “Local responders are up to task” describes the extensive training and dedication of our emergency responders. This (in his opinion) means “emergency medical technicians and fire crews stand ready to protect us from any disaster,” including an oil train derailment and fire.

Greg O’Sullivan
Greg O’Sullivan, Retired Templeton Fire Chief

Having retired from the fire service after 38 years in the profession, as well as being a qualified hazmat technician and hazmat incident commander, I feel I can speak with greater authority about the ability of local responders to respond to an oil train derailment involving a fire and/or spill.

Mr. Peschong is correct when he states that many hours and dollars have been spent to train our emergency responders and they are capable of mitigating most emergencies. What he doesn’t explain is that an oil train derailment involving multicar fires in a highly populated area could result in hundreds of deaths, despite herculean efforts of first responders. For the incident commander of a hazmat incident, the team’s first responsibility is the safety of the public and our responders. In the case of a multiple car derailment involving fire, evacuation would be the highest priority.

If a life hazard exists, efforts focus on fire suppression to protect rescue operations. The area is isolated, and mutual aid as well as other authorities are notified to assist in the emergency. If evacuation has been successful and no further life hazard exists, then, and only then, could tactical decisions be made concerning whether or not fire suppression should be attempted, or whether the fire should be allowed to burn. It should be noted the closest Type 1 or 2 hazmat team is in Santa Barbara County.

Phillips 66 recently delivered beautifully designed surveys to some area residents expounding the virtues of its oil train project. But nowhere does it explain that approval of the project means five oil trains per week coming through San Luis Obispo County, each train pulling 80 tank cars filled with highly flammable Canadian crude oil. (That would be 500 million gallons per year.)

Al Fonzi in his Oct. 9 Viewpoint “Fear campaign against Phillips” declares that the tar sands crude oil (dilbit) Phillips 66 wants to transport from Canada is no more dangerous than the California crude from San Ardo that has been transported through the county by train for several decades. Mr. Fonzi bases this claim on the fact that the Canadian crude and San Ardo crude have similar vapor pressures.

Vapor pressure is only one measure of the hazard of a liquid. Fire professionals are far more familiar with flash point as the main determinant of flammability of a liquid. The flash point of California crude, like that found in San Ardo, ranges 199 to 232 degrees Fahrenheit (MSDS Product 94-0007-02). In contrast, the flashpoint of Canadian crude is reported to be minus 30 degrees (MSDS Heavy Crude/Diluent mix), comparable to gasoline at minus 42 degrees, both of which are considered highly flammable.

An oil train derailment involving multicar fires in a highly populated area could result in hundreds of deaths, despite herculean efforts of first responders.

Suppose a derailment involves only a spill. What would a single car rupture spilling 30,000 gallons of oil in the Salinas River do to the water supply of Atascadero, Templeton and Paso Robles? The train tracks parallel the Salinas. Mr. Fonzi says opponents of the oil trains are running a “cynical campaign to terrorize the public.”

It is unfair and inaccurate to label the many organizations and individuals who oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project as uninformed, fearful citizens. Opponents of the oil train project include such well-respected bodies as the League of Women Voters, National Education Association and 40 public bodies including city councils, school boards, fire chiefs’ organizations and elected officials, as well as the editorial board of The Tribune.

The final Environmental Impact Report is nearing completion, which will bring the project before the Planning Commission. Because of the serious local and regional safety issues of the project, I agree with and support the League of Women Voters that the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors must “insist upon full and enforceable mitigations” for all risks, and that if these safety requirements cannot be enforced by the county, the project should be denied.

As a retired fire service professional, I believe protecting the safety of communities along the rail corridor outweighs any perceived benefit of the project. Don’t be misled by PR firms (similar to the one John Peschong represents) who are paid to spin the topic for Phillips 66. Please take the time to get the facts for yourself.

Greg O’Sullivan spent 38 years in the fire service, including 12 years as Templeton fire chief. After retiring, he served four years on the Board of Directors of the Templeton Community Services District.
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Don’t lift ban on export of U.S. oil

Repost from the Asbury Park Press

MEHRHOFF: Don’t lift ban on export of U.S. oil

OPINION | Jessie Mehrhoff, November 12, 2015 11:21 a.m. EST
ThinkstockPhotos-495757792
(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It’s the fundamental connection between environmental degradation and human health that has me concerned about the prospect of Congress lifting the U.S. oil export ban, which will worsen climate change and threaten our communities with toxic spills.

The list of risks climate change poses to human health is long. Increased temperatures will spread tropical diseases to new latitudes. Heat waves will cause more deaths across the world. Warmer temperatures will lead to more health-threatening smog and decrease crop yields. Detailing these impacts and more in 2009, “The Lancet,” one of the world’s most respected medical journals, labeled climate change ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

These aren’t just future consequences, to be experienced on the other side of the globe. In New Jersey, we still face the impacts of superstorm Sandy three years later. Climate scientists at Rutgers University predict even more extreme weather if climate change goes unchecked.

In addition to these consequences, the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report card has given Monmouth County an “F” for the number of high-ozone level days, and finds more than 56,000 people in the county suffer from asthma. Climate change is only going to make numbers such as this climb as our air quality worsens.

To avoid global warming’s most devastating health impacts, we must end our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to pollution-free, renewable energy. Lifting our decades-old ban on the export of U.S.-produced oil represents the opposite course.

If the oil companies have a larger distribution market for oil produced in the U.S., they will drill more — upward of another 3.3 million barrels per day for the next 20 years, by some General Accounting Office estimates. Even if only a fraction of all this extra oil is burned, global warming pollution could still increase 22 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of five average-sized coal power plants.

In addition to worsening climate change, there’s the public health threat of transporting additional oil across the country. While most crude oil is shipped around the U.S. by pipeline, shipments by rail have been increasing. To keep up with increased demand, oil trains have grown larger and tow more tanker cars than ever before.

Currently, trains carrying highly flammable crude oil travel through 11 of the 21 counties in New Jersey —Mercer, Middlesex, Gloucester, Somerset, Hunterdon, Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Union and Warren — en route to refineries. These oil trains are an accident waiting to happen, and have spurred trainings across the state where firefighters, police and other emergency responders have prepared courses of action in an oil derailment emergency.

The fear of oil train accidents — where toxic crude oil is spilled into our communities — is not hyperbole. Accidents have been on the rise, with more oil accidentally dumped into our environment in 2013 alone than during the previous three decades combined.

In 2015, we’ve already seen three major oil train accidents. In Mount Carbon, West Virginia, a rail oil spill led to evacuations and a governor-declared state of emergency. In Galena, Illinois, a spill threatened to pollute the Mississippi River. A spill in Heimdal, North Dakota, forced the evacuation of a town.

If we are to prevent these accidents from taking place in the 11 New Jersey counties through which these trains travel, we must work to reduce the amount of oil these trains carry. Transporting the increased oil we would produce domestically if the oil export ban were lifted could require enough trains to span the country from Los Angeles to Boston seven times over.

Increasing our nation’s crude oil drilling and transportation by lifting our decades’ old ban on exports leads to more risk, not less. And the inconvenient truth of lifting the oil export ban means more drilling, more global warming pollution, and more threats to public health.

There is a way around lifting the oil export ban in the first place. President Obama is against lifting the ban, and the measure only narrowly cleared a Senate committee earlier in the month. That’s why we need Sen. Cory Booker to join Sen. Bob Menendez in standing strong against the oil industry and to vote to keep the ban in place — for the sake of the environment and public health.

Jessie Mehrhoff is lead organizer with Environment New Jersey, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.
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