Repost from The Press Republican, Plattsburgh, NY [Editor: the safety improvements showcased here are far from adequate, nevertheless, it’s a good update on conditions in New York. Sen. Schumer is absolutely right – the DOT-111 tank cars should be taken out of service immediately… and not just in New York. And Bakken crude should be stabilized before it is transported (not just conditioned) … just as it is in Texas. – RS]
Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer
Lohr McKinstry, December 6, 2014
LEWIS — New state regulations on crude-oil trains should help make them safer, Emergency Services officials from Essex and Clinton counties said recently.
State agencies have implemented 66 actions designed to strengthen standards, regulations and procedures to make the transport of crude oil by rail and water in New York safer and to improve spill preparedness and response.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a status report outlining the progress made by multiple state agencies after they were directed to evaluate the state’s capacity to prevent and address crude-oil accidents.
Local leaders have been concerned about the 100-car-plus oil trains moving through Clinton and Essex counties as the crude oil extracted in North Dakota arrives via Canadian Pacific Railway trains.
The oil is on its way to the Port of Albany, where it is stored for transport to various refineries.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said he sees the new procedures as a safety benefit to the North Country.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he told the Press-Republican. “We’re in a better position than we were a year ago.”
There’s been concern the trains could derail, and the oil burn or explode, as it has in other regions, and Jaquish praised Canadian Pacific for trying to make the tracks and tank cars safer.
“Upgrading the DOT-111 tank cars, rail replacement and maintenance, and specialized training are all beneficial to safety.
“Canadian Pacific has been helping us with training, hands-on-experience, that first responders need for these situations.”
The tank cars are not owned by Canadian Pacific but by oil companies and vendors, and as a federal common carrier, the railroad is required to transport them.
Both the railroad and federal regulators have pushed for upgrades to the DOT-111 single-shell cars or a switch to the stronger DOT-109 or 112 cars.
“In almost any situation we get, we will be doing evacuations,” Jaquish said. “We’ve been working with Clinton County on planning and implementation.”
Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said any improvements to the transport of oil cars are welcome.
“At the end of the day, what they’ve done is good, no question,” Day told the Press-Republican. “Any regulatory move to make the DOT-111 cars safer is a plus. It’s a long time coming.”
One problem is that there are thousands of DOT-111 tank cars still in service, he said.
“There are so many of them (DOT-111 cars) out there on the tracks. They’re not going to stop moving the oil before they fix the cars. The oil is not going to stop coming any time soon.”
Day said enhanced state regulations on oil shipments will be helpful.
“If there are changes that are pushed upon them (shippers), it can only make it safer. We’ve seen some of the benefits of the state’s work with regard to planning,” he said.
“We have guidance now on firefighting potential on dealing with these things. There are so many variables. Multiple cars of this crude oil on fire are a different animal.”
He said that, thanks to a donation, they now have the foam needed for such fires. The expensive product costs $30,000 for 1,000 gallons of foam but puts out crude-oil-based fires.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission has proposed draft regulations to remove the volatile gases from the oil before it is shipped, and Day said that provision is a good one.
“One of the things that makes the Bakken crude so volatile are the gases in the oil. The gas works its way out and is stuck in the head space of the car. If they breech, there’s flammable gas; cars that aren’t breeched and heat up, the gas could expand and be a problem.
“Removing that gas is a possibility before they put in the cars and ship it. If they could do that, it’s a big win.”
Cuomo called for the federal government to mandate tank-car upgrades or replacement.
“The federal government plays a vital role in regulating this industry, and Washington must step up in order to expedite the implementation of safer policies and rules for crude-oil transport,” he said in the release.
The governor said the oil-production industry has resisted stronger tank-car standards and regulations requiring companies to reduce the volatility of crude before shipment.
A new report from the Brattle Group for the Railroad Supply Institute, a trade group, showed that a proposed federal rule to upgrade rail-tank cars could cost $60 billion.
According to the report, the high price tag is largely due to the costs associated with potential modifications to tank cars, early retirement of existing tank cars, temporarily using trucks instead of rails for transport and lost service time for tank cars under modification or awaiting modification.
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has also come out against use of DOT-111 cars.
“These outmoded DOT-111 tank cars … are ticking time bombs that need to be upgraded ASAP,” the senator said in a news release.
“That is why for two years, since the tragedy at Lac-Megantic, I have pushed federal regulators to phase out and retrofit these cars.
“As a result of our efforts, the federal Department of Transportation has put a proposal on the table that could start taking these cars off the tracks within two years, as well as restrict the speeds at which these trains operate.”
On July 6, 2013, a 74-tank-car train carrying Bakken light crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and the tank cars exploded, killing 47 people, destroying 30 buildings and spilling 1.5 million gallons of heavy crude oil.
That disaster was followed by oil-train-explosion derailments in Alabama, North Dakota, Illinois and New Brunswick, Canada.
Gov’t Data Sharpens Focus on Crude-Oil Train Routes
A ProPublica analysis of federal government data adds new details to what’s known about the routes taken by trains carrying crude oil. Local governments are often unaware of the potential dangers they face.
By Isaiah Thompson, special to ProPublica, Nov. 25, 2014
The oil boom underway in North Dakota has delivered jobs to local economies and helped bring the United States to the brink of being a net energy exporter for the first time in generations.
But moving that oil to the few refineries with the capacity to process it is presenting a new danger to towns and cities nationwide — a danger many appear only dimly aware of and are ill-equipped to handle.
Much of North Dakota’s oil is being transported by rail, rather than through pipelines, which are the safest way to move crude. Tank carloads of crude are up 50 percent this year from last. Using rail networks has saved the oil and gas industry the time and capital it takes to build new pipelines, but the trade-off is greater risk: Researchers estimates that trains are three and a half times as likely as pipelines to suffer safety lapses.
Indeed, since 2012, when petroleum crude oil first began moving by rail in large quantities, there have been eight major accidents involving trains carrying crude in North America. In the worst of these incidents, in July, 2013, a train derailed at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec and exploded, killing 47 and burning down a quarter of the town. Six months later, another crude-bearing train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, prompting the evacuation of most of the town’s 2,300 residents.
In those and other cases, local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the conflagrations resulting from these accidents. Residents often had no idea that such a dangerous cargo, and in such volume, was being transported through their towns.
Out of the disasters came a scramble for information. News outlets around the country began reporting the history of problems associated with the DOT-111 railroad tank cars carrying virtually all of the crude.
Local officials, environmental groups, and concerned citizens began to ask what routes these trains were taking and whether the towns in their paths were ready should an accident occur.
In July, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation ordered railroads to disclose route information to state emergency management officials. Railroads had fought hard to keep this information private, citing security concerns. Even after federal regulators required more disclosure, railroads pressured many state governments to withhold their reports from the public. Some have come out, often as a result of public records requests by news organizations: The Associated Press has obtained disclosures in several states initially unwilling to release them.
Map: Where Do Trains Carry Crude Oil?
Our interactive map uses federal government data to show where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey, and where it was ultimately headed. Explore the app »
(Yue Qiu, Eric Sagara and Lena Groeger, ProPublica, and Isaiah Thompson, special to ProPublica)
Still, those disclosures offer scant detail, often consisting of little more than a list of counties through which crude oil is passing, without further specifics.
There have been attempts to fill in the blanks. KQED in Northern California, for example, combined the information disclosed in federal route reports with maps of the major railroads to show where trains carrying crude passed through California. The environmental group Oil Change International superimposed major refineries and other facilities that handle crude oil onto a national railroad map.
A ProPublica analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration adds new details by plotting out where trains carrying crude have experienced safety incidents, most of them minor. The data shows such incidents in more than 250 municipalities over the last four years. We’ve used the data to create an interactive map showing where safety incidents on trains were reported, where each train began its journey, and where it was ultimately headed.
The data also shows that factors that contributed to major, or even catastrophic, accidents have also been present in hundreds of minor ones: outdated tank car models; component failures; and missing, damaged and loose parts.
Bit by bit, a more realistic notion of where the dangers of crude-bearing trains are most substantial is emerging.
“Frankly, the [previous] disclosures weren’t of that much use,” says Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, one of the first state agencies to make those disclosures available for anyone on its website. When it comes to a detailed picture of where crude is moving, Huston says, “The expectation of the public is very far from the reality of what we’re actually getting.”
The hazardous materials data reviewed by ProPublica adds to that picture.
Only a handful of places around the country have the refinery capacity and infrastructure necessary to handle the massive amounts of oil being extracted from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale: Bakersfield, Carson, and Long Beach in California; St. James, Lake Charles, Lacassine in coastal Louisiana; Philadelphia, Paulsboro, New Jersey. Delaware City, Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic.
These cities have become the terminuses for “unit trains” carrying up to 100 tank cars, each containing as much as 30,000 gallons of crude oil. These endpoints also have shaped the paths along which crude-bearing trains now cross hundreds of communities, many of which have never seen such traffic. Tracks all but abandoned for years have sprung back to life on account of the oil boom.
The vulnerabilities of the DOT-111 tank cars in which much of the oil is moved are well known by now. For decades, federal officials have cited concerns over their relatively thin shells, which are prone to puncturing or rupturing in an accident and releasing the hazardous material inside. They also have other components prone to damage, including protruding fittings often left unprotected, and hinged lids held on by bolts that have a history of coming loose, especially if not properly tightened by the original shipper.
Firefighters douse blazes after the oil-train derailment in Lac-Megantic in Canada. (FranÁois Laplante-Delagrave/AFP/Getty Images)
When a tank car full of oil ruptures, the consequences can be dire. At a panel held by the National Transportation Safety Board in April, one technical expert with the agency described a “fireball release,” in which “the entire content of the tank car, up to 30,000 gallons, is instantly released, along with the potential for rocketing car parts.” When one tank car ignites, the heat can set off a chain reaction, causing other cars to explode as well.
In most cases, the tanks cars used to transport crude are supplied by railroad shipping companies, not railroads themselves. Railroads have typically pushed for more stringent safety requirements since they have to move the cars. Shipping companies and oil producers have pushed back against stricter proposals.
In 2011, as the crude-by-rail industry was ramping up and federal regulators were preparing to introduce new rules, industry groups adopted voluntary safety modifications to add thicker shells and other protections to new tank cars. But roughly 85 percent of the fleet currently carrying flammable liquids still consists of the older models. And while PHMSA is expected to issue rules requiring safer tank cars, railroads will have years to phase in the upgrades and it’s not yet clear to what extent they will be required to retrofit existing cars.
For most local fire departments, a blaze involving even a single tank car, let alone many, would be too much to handle, emergency response officials acknowledge.
“[Most] fire departments don’t have the capacity to deal with more than a standard gasoline tank [fire], which is about 9,000 or 10,000 gallons of fuel,” said Richard Edinger, vice chairman of the International Association of Fire Chief’s hazardous materials committee. “Well, one DOT-111 car holds about 30,000 gallons — that pretty much exceeds our capacity.”
Complicating matters, many towns don’t even know that trains carrying crude oil are passing through.
Along the journey south from North Dakota, for example, many trains now make a stop in the tiny town of El Dorado, Arkansas, population 18,500, bound for a refinery that recently added capacity to accommodate Bakken crude. The PHMSA hazmat data includes more than a dozen leaks found on trains headed for the town.
Yet Union County Emergency Management Services deputy director Bobby Braswell, a former Chief Deputy for the El Dorado Fire Department, was unaware of the new crude traffic and its potential risks.
“We’ve got a little old railroad here, but if they transport crude, I don’t know,” said Braswell in an interview. If state emergency management officials have a plan to respond to oil train derailments, they haven’t shared it with El Dorado yet: “I don’t remember anybody calling about crude,” Braswell said.
Along the trains’ route to the Mid-Atlantic, according to PHMSA’s hazmat data, is Mineral City, Ohio, where Tuscarawas county emergency services director Patty Levengood said she didn’t know whether fire departments in her jurisdiction had been trained or otherwise advised on the new oil traffic. Such planning was “pretty much left to the individual chiefs,” she said.
Other responders said they are acutely aware of the new risks facing their towns, and some expressed alarm. Asked whether his fire department had the capacity to handle a single tank car fire, Duane Hart, fire chief for Juniata County, Pennsylvania, answered with an emphatic “I know we don’t!” Crude trains now pass through Port Royal, a town of 925 in Juniata County for which Hart’s department provides services.
In many circumstances, all local responders would be able to do in the event of a large tank car fire is simply let it burn, experts say. At the recent NTSB rail safety panel, Gregory Noll, a chairperson for the hazardous materials committee of the National Fire Protection Association, summarized the situation bluntly.
“There’s very little that we as a responder are going to do,” he said, “other than… to isolate the area, remove people from the problem, and allow the incident to go its natural course until it essentially burns down to a level where we can extinguish it.”
But that approach would still involve tremendous damage in the many densely populated areas through which crude is now moving by rail, officials acknowledge.
“The standard evacuation is typically a half-mile,” said Jeff Simpson, a 30-year firefighter who lives in North Virginia and teaches a course called “Training for Railroad Emergencies.”
“But if you’re in the middle of a big city, the footprint is going to be much bigger.”
The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit news organization PublicSource reported in August that up to 40 percent of that city’s roughly 300,000 residents live within the potential evacuation zone of trains carrying crude through the city.
Another Pennsylvania metropolis, Philadelphia, has become one of the biggest destinations in the U.S. for Bakken crude thanks to newly retrofitted refineries and a brand new rail unloading facility opened just two years ago.
The city appears frequently in hazmat reports: In at least 65 cases over the last two years, tank cars bound for or arriving in Philadelphia were found to have loose, leaking or missing safety components. These parts are meant to prevent flammable contents from escaping in the event of an accident.
There was a more serious incident last January, when a train full of oil derailed a few miles from the city’s downtown. Luckily, no one was injured. The train was soon righted and the railroad made repairs, assuring city officials that the danger had passed.
But even after the derailment, Philadelphia “has not issued new plans, directives, or protocols in response to the increase of crude oil shipments,” wrote city director of Emergency Management Samantha Phillips in an email to ProPublica.
The Philadelphia County Local Emergency Planning Committee “has not been active on the transportation of Bakken crude oil,” Phillips added.
Repost from The Sacramento Bee [Editor: The SACOG letter can be viewed here. (Note that this download is in draft form, but the letter was approved as is.) Of interest also is this 10-page Union Pacific letter addressed TO the SACOG Board, encouraging no action. A recording of the Board meeting is available here. – RS]
Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.
Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.
“We are not taking a position on whether the project should proceed,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and SACOG member. “We are pointing out, as we have the responsibility to do, the public safety issues in our region. There are ways those issues can be identified and mitigated.”
Benicia officials have been collecting public comments and questions about their environmental review of the Valero project plans, and said they will respond to all comments after the comment period closes Sept. 15.
The SACOG group also is drafting a letter to federal regulators, encouraging them to make hazardous materials transport on rail safer, particularly shipments of volatile crude oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Crude oil train shipments have increased dramatically in recent years, leading to several derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town last year.
Railroad officials nationally say derailments are very infrequent. A study commissioned by Benicia determined that a derailment and spill would be a rare occurrence on the line between Roseville and Benicia. But Sacramento leaders contend Benicia has underplayed derailment possibilities, and has not adequately studied the consequences of a spill and fire.
“We think there are serious safety concerns that should be addressed by Benicia, not downplayed,” said Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn, chairman of the SACOG board.
The Benicia trains would travel on tracks just north of downtown, through the downtown Sacramento railyard, and over the I Street Bridge.
Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis was one of two SACOG members who voted to oppose sending the letter. “I thought it is a little outside our scope. It’s a slippery slope,” he said.
SACOG’s main role is to serve as the region’s transportation planning agency and to administer a portion of the region’s federal transportation funding allotment.
Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher also voted against sending the letter, saying many safety issues are in the federal government’s purview, not Benicia’s. He said he doesn’t want to discourage production of domestic oil that creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil.
Investigators are examining tracks, equipment and human performance factors to determine why two Union PacificCorp.UNP in Your ValueYour ChangeShort position trains collided head-on collided head-on in Arkansas early Sunday morning after it appears signals were functioning correctly, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crash, which occurred at about 2:30 a.m. in Hoxie, killed two train crew members and injured two others, according to authorities. One tank car, containing unrefined alcohol, caught fire and burned for hours.
The two trains collided at a location where two main tracks converge into one main track, said Mike Hiller, the NTSB’s investigator in charge of the probe. The plan was for the southbound train, which was on the double track, to stop and wait for the northbound train to take the other track.
“We know that this did not happen and a collision occurred right at that point,” said Mr. Hiller. “We are still trying to gather data to find out why that southbound train did not stop.”
In addition to examining equipment such as the brakes, investigators have requested medical documents and are scheduling interviews to look at the human performance factors. They’ve also shipped the trains’ black boxes to Washington, D.C., for examination.
Liquid natural gas and sulfuric acid were among the hazardous materials on board, Mr. Hiller said. Neither train contained any crude oil tank cars, and all hazardous material was loaded properly into the correct type of tank cars, he added.
The northbound train carried 92 cars, 11 of which contained flammable liquid class hazardous materials including the car with the alcohol, Mr. Hiller said. It originated in North Little Rock, Ark. The southbound train originated in St. Louis, Mo., with 86 cars, 20 of which were carrying hazardous materials.
About 500 residents were evacuated as a precaution in an approximately 1.5 mile area Sunday.