Repost from HudsonRiverAtRisk.com [Editor: Another excellent regional video about the potential for horrific environmental impacts due to crude by rail. We are doing our best to guarantee that the marshlands, valleys, cities and towns of Northern California don’t become the next Hudson River Valley, transporting billions of gallons of Bakken Crude every year. – RS]
BOMB TRAINS ON THE HUDSON – BAKKEN SHALE COMES TO THE RIVER
By Jon Bowermaster, July 13, 2015
The sight of long trains made up of one hundred-plus black, cylindrical cars, rolling slowly through cities and towns across North America – often within yards of office buildings, hospitals and schools — has become commonplace.
Few who see them know that these sinister-looking cars carry a highly flammable mixture of gas and oil from the shale fields of North Dakota. At thirty thousand gallons per car, each of these trains carries more than three million gallons of highly flammable and toxic fuel, earning them the nickname “bomb trains.”
I see them on a daily basis in the Hudson Valley, whether stacked up four-deep alongside the thruway in Albany, crossing an aging trestle bridge in Kingston, rolling behind strip malls and health care facilities in Ulster, paralleling the very edge of the Hudson River. Several of the long, ominous-looking trains snake south from Albany to refineries in Philadelphia every day, crossing New Jersey, paralleling Manhattan.
And this oil/gas combo is not just moving by rail: Last year three billion gallons of crude that arrived in Albany by train from the North Dakota were offloaded to tanks and then barges to be shipped downriver. The very first tanker carrying crude oil ran aground, a dozen miles south of the Port of Albany; thankfully its interior hull was not breached.
The boom in this train traffic – in 2009 there were 9,000 of the black rail cars, today there are more than 500,000 – correlates directly with the boom in fracking of gas and oil across the U.S. Record amounts of both are being pulled out of the ground in the Dakotas, Colorado, Texas and thirty other states and needs to be delivered to refineries. Pipelines take time to build and often run into community resistance; since there are railways already leading in every direction the oil and gas industry has taken them over. In 2010, 55,000 barrels of crude oil were shipped by rail each day in the U.S.; today it is more than 1 million barrels … per day.
During the same period there’s been another corollary, a boom in horrific railway accidents resulting in derailments, spills, fires and explosions. Sometimes they occur near fragile wetlands (Aliceville, AL, November 2013); sometimes in neighborhoods where hundreds must be evacuated (Casselton, ND, December 2013); and sometimes in the middle of a town (Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 2013, where 47 people were killed in a midnight derailment).
Since February 14 a half-dozen of these “bomb trains” have derailed and spilled or exploded, in Illinois, Ontario and West Virginia, leaving widespread destruction and environmental damage in their wake. A half-mile on either side of the tracks is considered within the “blast zone” when these fuel-laden trains crash. Increasingly they are mentioned as potential terrorist weapons.
Efforts to regulate this explosion of shipping by rail has proven difficult. It seems that no one wants to accept the responsibility (or costs) of improving the safety of the cars, the tracks, the infrastructure they run over or the volatile fuel. On May 2 the Department of Transportation issued some new rules and regulations regarding the speed trains can travel at through communities, required updated and safer rail cars and more, but most of the proposed changes don’t take effect for many years. Environmental advocates are not hopeful for much quick change given the powerful lobbying efforts of the gas, oil and rail industries.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has previously said there was little the state could do to slow the traffic, but even he is concerned about the possibility of accident; last month the governor’s office issued a complaint after investigating train cars coming into Albany and citing 84 “defects.”
Opposition to new safety rules comes despite that the D.O.T. estimates that if this pace of shipping continues there will be fifteen major accidents every year and one of the enormity of Lac-Megantic (47 people killed) every two years.
“Even if new measures are adopted,” says Roger Downs, an Albany-based attorney with the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, “it still feels like a half-baked plan to address a wholly inappropriate way to move oil.”
With little ado, the Putnam County Legislature last Wednesday (April 8) opposed two train-transit practices, one involving freight traffic — the unsafe shipping of incendiary crude oil along the Hudson River; and the other involving commuter lines — the levying of taxes to support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose trains carry numerous county residents to work every day.
By 8-0 votes (with one member absent), the legislature urged New York State to revoke permits that allow volatile oil to travel on the Hudson and to reverse its finding that expanding an Albany oil transportation terminal raises no “significant” concerns. It likewise sought the repeal of the MTA taxes on payrolls and vehicles.
In other business at its formal monthly meeting, the legislature unanimously opted to legalize limited use of sparklers, popular Fourth of July “pyrotechnic” devices.
Barges and ‘bomb’ trains
In addressing the so-called “bomb” train question, the all-Republican legislature added its voice to a growing, bipartisan chorus of local governments in the Hudson Valley opposing the use of rail lines along the river, as well as barges, to move highly explosive oil without adequate safeguards. The legislature devoted much of a committee meeting in February to a background discussion of the issue. (See County Committee to Draft Call for Action on Bomb Trains.)
Its resolution, to be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state legislative officials, refers to use of “unacceptably dangerous” rail cars to move Bakken shale oil and heavy tar-sands oil, which originate in North Dakota and Alberta, Canada, and are more hazardous than other forms of fuel. The resolution says that daily two to three oil trains, each with 3 million gallons, travel down the western side of the Hudson, opposite Putnam. It points out that recent oil-train derailments in the United States and Canada caused “loss of property and significant environmental and economic damage” as well as, in one case, 47 deaths.
The resolution notes that one oil company, Global Partners LP, proposes to expand its oil terminals in Newburgh and New Windsor, across the Hudson from Putnam County, which could “double the number of trains and marine vessels” carrying such dangerous fuel along the Hudson, despite the presence of designated Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats in the Hudson Highlands, Fishkill Creek and elsewhere. A similar expansion is proposed for an Albany facility, the legislature stated.
The resolution also declares that:
Under present laws, “no collaboration must take place between the railroads and the towns through which these rail cars [go].”
“There have been no spill-response drills in Putnam County waters.”
“Putnam County’s shorelines include private residences and businesses, public parks, and critical public infrastructure at significant risk in the case of a crude-oil spill” and that “tourism based on a clean environment is an important part of Putnam County’s economy.”
The legislature asked the state “to immediately revoke permits … allowing for the transport of up to 2.8 billion gallons per year of crude oil on the Hudson River [and] order full environmental impact studies, including the potential impacts of a crude oil spill in the Hudson River affecting Putnam County shoreline property, environmental resources, and drinking water.”
It similarly urged the state to rescind a “negative declaration of significance” on expansion of Albany oil operations and “order a full, integrated environmental impact study of the proposed expansion” of oil terminals in New Windsor and Newburgh, as well as Albany. Under present laws, “no collaboration must take place between the railroads and the towns through which these rail cars [go].”
“It’s not understood” how much risk the transport of volatile oil brings, said Carl Albano, the legislature’s chairman. “It’s a major, major issue in our backyard.”
Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown, observed that the “bomb” trains run along the Hudson “over crumbling bridges and through towns and villages,” compounding the potential for devastation.
“There are really no safeguards in place and it’s scary. If we were to have an explosion, it would be catastrophic,” Legislator Dini LoBue added.
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.
Repost from The Poughkeepsie Journal [Editor: Commentary received in an email from Dr. Fred Millar – “Reporter John Ferro in Poughkeepsie has relentlessly dug up the almost always hidden ‘after action’ documents from agencies which participate in emergency drills. The reports are supposed to show gaps in preparedness revealed by the drills, but are usually whitewashed, scrubbed all together to get an official version of what happened that makes no one look too bad, with overall aim re ‘public perception’, as Ferro indicates, of reassuring the public. ¶ Unlike oil-loaded ships and storage facilities [under the Oil Pollution Act mandates], crude oil-shipping railroads have offloaded all the responsibility for ER capabilities and planning onto local and state officials.” – RS]
‘Flawed’ oil spill drill offers lessons to state, feds
Poughkeepsie Journal investigation offers the first detailed account of largest multi-agency drill along the Hudson River in at least a decade.
John Ferro, September 15, 2014
In the aftermath of a high-profile, multi-agency oil spill drill in New Windsor last year, officials were pleased by the mostly positive news coverage.
“Thank goodness,” wrote one official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an email.
“It was basically lucky that things turned out as well as it did for the public perception,” said a follow-up report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
But beyond the relief, there were concerns about how the drill came together, communication during it, as well as other issues, a Poughkeepsie Journal investigation has found.
At a time when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has repeatedly sought to reassure the public about the state’s handling of the sudden rise in crude oil transport, the Journal’s report offers the first detailed account of the most comprehensive oil spill drill on the Hudson River in at least a decade.
“The drill was flawed, no question about that,” said Charles Rowe, a spokesman for the local Coast Guard sector. “The areas where it was flawed were planning and communication. However, it was flawed for all the right reasons.”
Indeed, experts and officials say drills are successful when they identify areas of improvement, as this one did. And no glaring deficiency in the local response capacity was identified, they said.
The drill was held Nov. 12 and involved railroad and in-river simulations, as well as a tabletop exercise. It was co-sponsored by the DEC and Global Companies, the private company that owns the New Windsor terminal.
“In our experience, drills do not turn out well by luck, but rather are based on sound preparation and planning,” DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said. “DEC believes that this drill provided an effective test of response activities.”
Still, the lessons learned from that test have gone largely unreported even as the public is being asked to comment on an update of the local area contingency plan. In fact, the DEC released its final report on the drill on Saturday, 10 months after the drill and nearly eight months after the Journal first requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.
Area contingency plans were mandated by federal legislation passed in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez accident. They define roles, responsibilities, resources and procedures necessary to respond to spills and are updated every three years. The deadline for public comment on the local plan is Oct. 10.
Drill grew larger
The emails, reports and interviews paint a picture of a drill that began as a small exercise and grew into something much larger.
Owners of oil terminals such as Global Companies must conduct drills every year. They can range from tabletop exercises to much larger drills involving role-played scenarios.
The New Windsor drill came about a year after crude oil began moving down the Hudson River in large quantities by rail and vessel. And it followed an accident involving the very first oil tanker to leave Albany.
The Stena Primorsk ran aground about 6 miles south of Albany on Dec. 20, 2012. Though the ship’s outer hull was gashed open, the inner hull kept any of its 11.7 million gallons of crude from leaking.
In 2013, the DEC and the Coast Guard approached Global to request an expanded drill. The original drill called for a simulated leak of crude oil. It was changed to a catastrophic failure of a 50,000-gallon heating oil tank that leaked into the river.
DEC officials then added a train derailment to the scenario.
More participants added
The initial planning included representatives of the Coast Guard, DEC, the New Windsor Fire Department, Global Companies and oil-spill recovery organizations contracted by Global and DEC.
But in the end, more than 20 public and private entities either observed or took part in at least one of the simulations, including emergency response officials from Dutchess, Ulster and Orange counties.
The additions created some headaches for drill planners. A DEC memo obtained by the Journal described the planning phase as being “pieced together in a Frankenstein-ish manner.”
“The increased level of participation led to last-minute changes in the scenario and to ad-hoc planning,” Rowe, the Coast Guard spokesman, said. “This complicated the exercise, but is good news for the Hudson River. It shows that agencies recognize the potential for an incident and that those agencies are willing to commit resources and assets to preparation and training.”
Constantakes, the DEC spokesman, said the decision to use fuel oil instead of Bakken crude was made because the New Windsor facility did not store Bakken crude in any of its tanks. The tank used in the drill was the largest in the Global facility, and stores fuel oil most of the time, he said.
“The physical properties of Bakken crude oil and diesel oil are similar, so this change did not significantly alter the simulated response actions,” he said.
Problems with hardware
Participants were hampered by a lack of simple hardware such as enough electric outlets, consistent Internet access and computer printers, the documents say. And a sudden overnight drop in temperatures caught some by surprise.
Experts say that these snafus can be a blessing in disguise, however, since they can mirror real-world situations.
“I thought that was a really interesting comment, that folks were cold,” said Brian House, chief executive officer of Moran Environmental Recovery LLC in Randolph, Massachusetts. “If this had been a real event, folks would have been a lot colder.”
House is a past-president of the Spill Control Association of America and was the spill-recovery industry’s representative on a federal review of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Neither he nor his company was involved in the drill.
At the Journal’s request, House reviewed a detailed, bullet-point summary, called a “hot wash,” that was sent by a DEC’s regional spills engineer to about 15 private and public entities a few days after the drill. The military term has been adopted by first responders to describe a post-event debriefing. It is derived from the practice of soldiers who used hot water to clean weapons of dirt and residue.
“Nothing jumped out at me as being a catastrophic flaw,” House said. “I think any time you have a drill with a mix of public and private sector resources, it is a learning experience. I think the issues, for the most part, revolved around ways to enhance communication.”
Communication between commanders and the teams at the rail car was initially hampered because of the use of different radio frequencies, the hot wash summary said. The problems were quickly resolved.
The hot wash summary also highlighted concerns over whether private railroad officials from CSX were moving out of sync with the incident command system, or ICS. An ICS is a standardized, uniform response structure that allows people or departments to respond to incidents regardless of size.
“That can be as simple as five guys in a tent, or on large events, it can be hundreds of people,” House said.
‘Chaos’ within command system
The DEC memo indicated there was a “good deal of chaos” within the ICS.
“Emergency response events and drills are by their very nature chaotic and cannot be perfectly organized,” Constantakes said. “These situations are somewhat similar to hospital emergency rooms.”
Constantakes said that in the agency’s view, ICS staffing came together quickly, with people assigned to each of the units necessary to perform their assigned tasks.
Within an ICS are sections, or departments, such as planning, logistics and operations. At New Windsor, communication issues arose between the sections. In one instance, the planning section lacked information on what equipment had been deployed, making it difficult to plan the next operational phase.
There were smaller issues, such as responders not having the right tools when they performed an initial reconnaissance entry to the train.
Participants also expressed frustration that too many media representatives and other observers distracted them from doing their jobs.
Under a section headlined “Positives,” the hot wash summary indicated that public perception was good; the initial confusion took a while to clear but started to work at the end; and that there was a great deal of coordination between multiple agencies.
But the summary also indicated that some felt the drill may have been too big.
The DEC says all of those lessons, as well as others, will be incorporated into future drills. One lesson: Seek help when planning a comparatively complex event.
“The overall review of the drill indicated that the use of both a professional planner and professional facilitator would have been helpful for a drill of this magnitude,” Constantakes said.
Rowe said the drill was “not perfect by any means,” primarily because the total number of agencies that participated was considerably larger than was initially planned.
But, the Coast Guard spokesman said it revealed that the Hudson River has a larger response capability than initially had been thought, that responders “are serious” about the potential for oil and hazardous materials spills and that all participants understand the necessity of working together under an organized command structure.
“Obviously, there is work to be done,” Rowe said, “but there are many willing hands to do that work.”