Repost from The Bangor Daily News
[Quote: “Railroads that transport crude or refined oil into the state are required to pay a monthly 3-cent per barrel fee into the state oil spill cleanup fund.” Editor: Seems to me that California – and each county along the rails, and the City of Benicia and other refinery towns – should seriously consider adopting such a fee. – RS]
New US rail safety rules will not apply to all trains carrying explosive
By Marina Villeneuve, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
May 15, 2014
AUGUSTA, Maine — Just as the state has revealed that crude oil shipments by rail have resumed along the state’s rail lines, Maine emergency officials say new federal rules about shipping hazardous materials such as crude by rail don’t go far enough.
For example, the new rules do not apply to trains carrying less than a million gallons of crude or other material, yet such trains can cause explosions such as the recent one in Lynchburg, Virginia.
On Wednesday, officials at the Department of Environmental Protection said they have official reports of trains carrying crude resuming in March, after a four-month lull while crude was shipped by other means, mostly by sea or pipeline.
According to last Wednesday’s federal order on rail safety, carriers must tell state emergency response commissions the routes on which they will transport at least a million gallons of crude oil from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota. Carriers also must estimate how many trains will travel, per week, through each county.
“It doesn’t help us with a mixed train, if it’s a train with other hazardous materials on it or if there’s a train that doesn’t meet that million gallon threshold of 35 cars,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, Maine Emergency Management Agency director. He called the order “a start.”
Each state has such commissions as part of the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, which requires federal, state and local emergency-planning and industry reports on how hazardous chemicals are stored, used and released. Fitzgerald heads Maine’s commission, which began in 1987.
Since a crude-oil train disaster left 47 people dead in a Quebec village last July, trains carrying the crude oil have derailed and ignited in Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and New Brunswick.
The order, said Fitzgerald and other officials charged with coordinating emergency response in Maine, fails to answer practical questions about railroad accidents involving hazardous materials, such as who will provide the needed equipment and manpower.
Though it encourages railroads to invest in training and resources for first responders such as firefighters, “there’s no requirement there,” said Mark Hyland, the emergency agency’s director of operations and response.
Robert Gardner, technological hazards coordinator for MEMA, said that by not addressing such issues, this burden remains with state, county and local officials. Safety officials’ best guess at what types of, and how much, hazardous materials are coming through Maine is reading the placard on a stopped train that indicates what it’s carrying.
“If a facility stores a certain amount of chemicals … we’d find out on annual reports if it’s in Maine,” said Gardner. “If a rail car or tractor-trailer is going to Quebec from Massachusetts or from New Brunswick to New York, and they’re not stopping in Maine, we have no idea what those products are. Do they add to the problems that exist already? Or are they different chemicals that we don’t normally see in Maine?”
Gardner noted that when a train operated by Canadian National Railway derailed 16 miles from Maine’s border in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, this January, five tank cars carrying crude oil and four carrying propane derailed and generated a four-day long fire and huge clouds of orange smoke.
“Trains carrying a smaller quantity wouldn’t fall under this executive order,” he said. A tank car typically carries 30,000 gallons of crude oil.
In March, Pan Am Railways carried 15,545 barrels — or 652,890 gallons — of crude oil into Maine, according to Department of Environmental Protection records. This is down from 385,566 barrels — or 16.2 million gallons — last March, and 70,484 barrels — 3 million gallons — reported last October, the last time Pan Am Railways reported carrying crude into Maine.
The federal emergency order states that “a pattern of releases and fires involving petroleum crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken and being transported by rail constitute an imminent hazard” as defined under federal code.
Chemicals that come through Maine include sulfuric acid and nitrous acid, according to Gardner.
Hyland said more notification of hazardous materials shipped by rail and better communications with railroads would help Maine emergency response officials better prepare for accidents.
“The communications part is something we’ve had a hard time with,” he said.
On Feb. 7, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Pan Am Railways asking for a list of the top 25 most hazardous materials it shipped through Maine in 2013.
In an email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, Fitzgerald said he spoke with a Pan Am Railways representative last week.
“They are reluctant to share information with us due to Freedom of Access laws in Maine,” said Fitzgerald, forwarding an August 2013 letter from the Department of Environmental Protection to Pan Am Railways. The letter addresses the company’s request to keep its oil transport records confidential for “security and competition” concerns.
“Our next step is to meet with the railroad in person to discuss our options for how they will share information with MEMA so that we can inform first responders,” said Fitzgerald, who said he hopes to have the meeting scheduled as soon as possible.
Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president at Pan Am Railways — one of the two railroads that have transported crude oil into Maine — did not respond to a request for comment.
Last August, the Association of American Railroads encouraged railroads to provide such information to emergency response agencies upon request, with the condition that officials do not share the list with the public.
Hyland said two emergency drills held in Lincoln this month and in Aroostook County last fall, where railroads helped supply tank cars and locomotives, are examples of “the kind of collaboration we want, training and exercises.”
Pan Am Railways helped provide equipment at the drill in Lincoln, and New Brunswick Southern Railway, Eastern Maine Railway and Maine Northern Railway took part in the Aroostook County drill.
“We want to continue to work with the railroad and be collaborative with them, instead of it being another regulation or a requirement that’s put on them,” said Fitzgerald, adding that if not for the federal government’s order, “we wouldn’t be getting this information.”
The Department of Transportation also issued an advisory urging oil shippers to use tank cars with the “highest level of integrity available” to transport Bakken crude.
MEMA officials said they support phasing out the tank cars most often used to transport crude oil. The cars, known as DOT-111s, have faced criticism since the 1990s for being too prone to puncture.
Peter Nielsen, Maine Municipal Association president, has come out strongly against the federal advisory, saying it sidesteps “20 years of investigations and fact-finding about the rail cars.
“We can follow our Canadian counterparts in banning unsafe DOT-111 tank cars and others known for years to be unsafe in crash situations,” Nielsen said in a press release. “That we lag our Canadian counterparts is embarrassing. Previous [U.S. and Canadian] efforts were made to move forward in concert in improving rail safety, but the U.S.’ weak-kneed measures to date will allow unsafe, rolling stock to remain in service.”
Retrofitting the existing 300,000 DOT-111 tank cars in use could cost up to $1 billion and take years, according to industry estimates.
“It’s time for a thorough review of the U.S. tank car fleet that moves flammable liquids, particularly considering the recent increase in crude oil traffic,” Edward Hamberger, the Association of American Railroads president and CEO said last November, calling for the shippers and rolling-stock leasing companies who own the tank cars to phase out and retrofit their fleets.
Irving Oil Ltd. announced in February that by the end of last month, it would convert its fleet to meet U.S. federal standards for tank cars built after October of 2011.
Since last fall, lawmakers and safety advocates have been urging the federal agency responsible for setting such standards to pass new and higher standards. On April 30, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration filed a notice of proposed rule-making, the next step in the often drawn-out process.
This story is part of the Center’s series “Lessons From Lac-Megantic.” The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service based in Hallowell. Email: email@example.com. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org.
Sun, 2014-04-27 07:00Justin Mikulka Just as you aren’t supposed to try to put out an oil fire in your kitchen with water, you aren’t supposed to try to put out a crude oil fire with water either. But in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that is all firefighters…
Plans are finally taking shape for financial compensation of derailment victims
By Monique Beaudin, Gazette environment reporter April 20, 2014
Nine months after a runaway oil train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and destroying a large chunk of the town, a plan for financially compensating disaster victims is taking shape.
Judges in Quebec and Maine have approved a joint cross-border process for victims of the accident to file claims against Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway and its Canadian operations, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Canada. The two companies have been under bankruptcy protection since August.
Thousands of claims related to the derailment are expected to be filed against MMA. Public information meetings on the financial-claims process are to begin in Lac-Mégantic next week. Claims must be filed by the middle of June.
People who lost family members, homes and businesses have turned to Canadian and American courts for financial compensation, but the process has been slow. The estates of several of the 47 people killed on July 6 have filed wrongful-death lawsuits in the U.S. Lawyers have also begun proceedings to bring a class action in Quebec. Quebec has already ordered six companies to clean up and decontaminate the town, a move that is facing a legal challenge.
The American lawyer overseeing MMA’s U.S. bankruptcy proceedings himself admits figuring out how victims will be compensated is “quite complicated”.
One of the biggest questions is who has the money to pay for the accident — compensating victims and secured creditors, covering cleanup costs and paying damages that several companies are claiming as a result of the derailment.
MMA was sold in January to New York-based Railway Acquisitions Holdings, for $14.25 million, less than what it owes its secured creditors.
That leaves a $25-million insurance policy and the possibility of a settlement fund composed of contributions from several companies targeted by legal action after the accident, said Robert Keach, MMA’s U.S. Chapter 11 trustee.
Another possible source of financial compensation for victims could come from a lawsuit Keach filed against World Fuel Services, Western Petroleum and Petroleum Transport Solutions, the companies that arranged for the shipment of the crude oil on the train. Keach argued they were to blame for the accident since the oil had been mislabelled as being less volatile than it actually was.
New York-based lawyer Luc Despins is counsel to a victims’ committee made up of residents, the town of Lac-Mégantic and the Quebec government. The committee represents victims’ interests in MMA’s American bankruptcy proceedings, offering input on issues like the compensation process, he said.
Despins said the committee’s goal is to get as much money as possible to the Lac-Mégantic victims as quickly as possible. But, he cautioned, not all claims filed may be accepted.
“If someone agrees their house was worth $600,000 and they got the full $600,000 from their insurance company, and that’s their only claim, they should not be recovering twice, this is not a lottery,” he said. “They may have other claims, but as far as the house I gave as an example is concerned, they can’t recover twice.” The courts will decide who has a valid claim, Despins said.
LOGISTICS: WHAT’S NEXT FOR VICTIMS OF THE DISASTER
Victims of the accident have until June 13 at 5 p.m. to file a proof of claim against Montreal, Maine and Atlantic.
Public information meetings on the claims process are to be held in Lac-Mégantic between April 22 and May 5, and assistance will be provided to help people complete the claims forms, according to an order issued by Quebec Superior Court. Victims who do not file a claims form by June 13 will not be permitted to participate in the Canadian or U.S. bankruptcy proceedings or receive any payment made available in those proceedings.
Claims forms and information about the claims process are posted on the website of Montreal-based Richter Advisory Group, the company’s Canadian bankruptcy monitor, at www.richter.ca under “Insolvency Cases” or http://bit.ly/mmamonitor.
LEGAL ACTIONS INVOLVING VICTIMS OF LAC-MÉGANTIC
A request has been filed to approve a class-action lawsuit in Quebec against MMA, World Fuel services, Irving Oil, Canadian Pacific, the federal government and others. More than 1,550 people have registered with the class action so far.
A committee of three Lac-Mégantic residents, a representative of the Quebec government and the town of Lac-Mégantic represents victims’ interests in MMA’s U.S. bankruptcy proceedings.
The estates of 19 people killed in the Lac-Mégantic train derailment filed wrongful-death lawsuits in Illinois, naming several defendants, including MMA, company chairman Edward Burkhardt, MMA’s parent company Rail World, and World Fuel Services, which arranged for the transportation of the crude oil on the train. All except two of those lawsuits have been withdrawn while American courts decide where they will be heard. A law firm representing the estates says it plans to appeal a recent decision from a U.S. federal judge ordering the cases transferred to Maine, where MMA’s bankruptcy proceedings are being held. One of the issues at play is the amount of money that could be awarded as damages. Illinois has no cap on such payments, while Maine limits them to $500,000 in wrongful-death cases.
POSSIBLE SOURCES OF FINANCIAL COMPENSATION
A $25-million insurance policy MMA has with XL Insurance. Many people and companies are interested in the insurance policy. They include:
– Victims of the Lac-Mégantic derailment, such as the families of people killed in the accident, those who were injured or those who suffered losses to their businesses or homes.
– CIT Group, a company that owned some of the locomotives and tank cars involved in the accident. CIT has said it plans to settle any claims against it from wrongful-death lawsuits tied to the derailment with the XL insurance policy.
– MMA chairman Edward Burkhardt, who has been named in several legal actions linked to the derailment, argued in U.S. bankruptcy court that he is covered by the policy.
Settlements from legal action taken by MMA’s bankruptcy trustee against World Fuel Services.
The creation of a settlement fund made up of financial contributions from companies that may be liable for the accident.
TIMELINE OF THE LEGAL FALLOUT
July 6, 2013: A 72-car oil train pulled by five locomotives unexpectedly rolls down railway tracks into the town of Lac-Mégantic. Most of the cars derail, leading to explosions and a fire that kills 47 people and destroys much of the downtown core. Nearly 6 million litres of crude oil spill in the accident.
July 15, 2013: Lac-Mégantic lawyer Daniel Larochelle and two other law firms file a request in Quebec Court to begin class action proceedings against MMA and 14 other companies and individuals.
July 22, 2013: Annick Roy files a wrongful-death lawsuit in Illinois court on behalf of the estate of Jean-Guy Veilleux and their daughter. Veilleux was killed July 6.
Aug. 7, 2013: MMA files for bankruptcy protection in Canada and the U.S.
Aug. 14, 2013: A total of 19 wrongful-death cases have been filed in Illinois court.
Aug. 22, 2013: The Quebec government announces the creation of a victims’ committee to represent Lac-Mégantic residents, the government and the town in the U.S. bankruptcy proceedings.
Jan 23, 2014: Bankruptcy judges in Canada and the U.S. approve the sale of MMA to Railway Acquisitions Holdings of New York for $14.25 million U.S.
Feb. 12, 2014: Lawyers for the proposed Quebec class action add Transport Canada to the list of more than 50 organizations and people it plans to sue.
Feb. 26, 2014: A joint Canada-U.S. bankruptcy meeting between creditors tries to speed up the pace of the claims process.
April 2014: The MMA sale to RAH is expected to be finalized.
June 13, 2014: This is the proposed deadline for victims and creditors to file claims against MMA in the Canadian and U.S. bankruptcy proceedings.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH MONTREAL, MAINE AND ATLANTIC
The railway company whose runaway oil train derailed in Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013. It is in the process of being sold to Railway Acquisition Holdings, a New York City -based company, for $14.25 million U.S. RAH plans to change the name of the company to Central Maine and Quebec Railway, and offer rail service on MMA’s 800 kilometres of tracks in the two countries.
RAH is acquiring two companies:
Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway
Parent company of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Canada.
Operates a shortline railroad in Vermont and Maine.
Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since August.
State faces planning ‘gap’ if faced with a Quebec-type crude disaster
By Marina Villeneuve, Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
April 17, 2014 8:46 AM
First of two parts. The rail line runs as far south as South Berwick in Maine.
Less than a year ago, a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, a small Quebec town ten miles from the Maine border.
Thousands of gallons of the highly flammable crude oil spilled from ruptured tank cars, setting off fireballs in the town’s center that killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings. Some bodies were likely vaporized and never identified.
In Maine, trains carrying the same crude oil have been passing through dozens of communities, many as close to homes, businesses and people as in Lac-Mégantic.
Railroads carried 4.2 million barrels of crude oil – enough to fill 267 Olympic-size swimming pools – through Maine last year, up from 25,319 barrels in 2011, according to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) data. No crude oil shipments by rail have passed through Maine since last fall, according to state records, but industry experts say if shipping by rail becomes cheaper than other forms of transport, that could change.
Laura Smyth works at a propane company located behind a gas station in Jackman and not far from the railroad tracks. She said that when townspeople hear a train whistle, it remains them about what happened in Lac-Mégantic.
They don’t know if the train is carrying potatoes, lumber – or crude.
“We always say, ‘It could have happened here!’” said Smyth.
And if it did happen in Jackman or Portland or any of the towns along the rail, is Maine prepared to fight a crude oil fire, save lives and protect the environment?
A investigation by Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reveals the burden for planning and responding to a Lac-Mégantic level catastrophe will fall on state and local emergency services, which may not have all the information, training or material they could need.
The potential for a crude oil incident in Maine like the one in Lac-Mégantic has prompted three state emergency groups to make the issue a key topic at the April 22-23 statewide Emergency Management Conference in Augusta.
“We’ve been fortunate, but being fortunate doesn’t mean we’re prepared,” said Robert Gardner, a technological hazards coordinator at Maine Emergency Management Agency.
He pointed to another nearby crude oil incident, in New Brunswick, Canada, when on Jan. 7, eight cars carrying crude oil and propane derailed and generated a massive fire and cloud of orange smoke. “We need to learn what others have experienced so we can be better prepared,” Gardner said.
Federal regulators and industry observers say recent fiery derailments across the continent have revealed a glaring lack of emergency preparedness requirements.
Unlike the marine barges, pipelines and fixed facilities that have transported and stored crude oil for years, U.S. railroads are not federally required to have comprehensive plans in case of a worst-case oil disaster.
“It’s a big gap,” said David Willaeur, of emergency management firm IEM and the former planning director for the Greater Portland Council of Governments.
“Now we have crude oil coming by in mile-long unit trains through remote areas along the U.S., and shipped to refineries on the coast … the oil-response plans need to have a land-based component to them.”
This gap has exacerbated the challenge of planning for oil disasters in rural states like Maine, where:
* State, county and local officials do not know the oil-spill response plans and capabilities of any railroad companies in Maine because the rail firms are not required to share or coordinate such information.
* The first people on scene at a rural oil incident will be declining numbers of volunteer firefighters who are hours from the highly-trained response teams and special kind of equipment, materials and gear needed to handle oil fires. Of 59 communities along rail lines, five have no fire department and 27 rely on solely volunteers.
* Like in all other states, no Maine officials are provided with any information about hazardous materials transported by rail through communities. Last month, Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) asked Pan Am Railways for a list of the top 25 most hazardous goods shipped through Maine in 2013 and is awaiting a response, said agency director Bruce Fitzgerald.
The need to improve emergency response planning for crude oil rail disasters came up at an April 9 U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on railway safety, where both Sen. Susan Collins, a ranking member of the subcommittee, and Rangeley Fire Chief Tim Pellerin spoke on the need to better train and prepare rural firefighters.
“It’s also important to recognize that much of that rail network exists in rural America, and that presents unique challenges to small communities that often lack the resources to effectively respond to hazardous material emergencies,” Sen. Collins, a Republican, said at the hearing.
Feds don’t require railroad emergency plans
Do railways transporting crude oil through Maine have adequate response plans in case a catastrophe happens? Thanks to a federal loophole, no one – including the state of Maine – knows.
Two railroads have carried crude oil from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota into Maine: Pan Am Railways and Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, the carrier that operated tank cars that derailed and ruptured at Lac-Mégantic.
Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano did not respond to repeated interview requests over the course of two months. MMA Railways filed for bankruptcy last August, when it also stopped shipping crude oil. The New York-based firm Fortress Investment Group is in the process of purchasing its assets.
MMA Railways didn’t have sufficient resources to respond to Lac-Mégantic – and it would have been just as unprepared if it had happened in the U.S, according to the National Safety Transportation Board’s (NTSB) Jan. 23 letter to the Federal Rail Administration.
There are no federal rules for how railroads should prepare for any emergency involving hazardous materials, including crude oil, said Willaeur.
“It’s all voluntary, and there’s no standard for what they need to do,” said Willaeur, who has conducted studies of hazardous materials transport in states, including Maine. “So you have a pretty wide range of responses between railroads.”
The country’s seven Class 1 railroads, which have annual revenues of $250 million or more, have system-wide plans that include handling emergencies in local communities and sensitive geographic areas, according to Willaeur.
“On the other end, you have railroads that may have only a rudimentary plan in place,” he said, noting there are 550 smaller railroads known as short-line and regional railroads. Maine is one of four continental states with no Class 1 carrier.
When it comes to oil spills – as opposed to emergency planning — railroads must write basic response plans, but they don’t need to be shared with state agencies or sent to the Federal Rail Administration.
These basic plans don’t include training drills and exercises, assigning a qualified individual to man the response or plans for a worst-case discharge – which can result in up to three million gallons spilled.
“[O]il spill response planning requirements for rail transportation of oil/petroleum products are practically nonexistent compared with other modes of transportation,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman wrote to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on Jan. 21.
Railroads only have to file comprehensive plans if they haul a tank car with a 42,000-gallon capacity – and no tank cars currently in use can hold that much.
This means no shippers have to tell the government, or anybody, what they’d do in case of a disaster, even if they’re hauling ten, average size-tank cars carrying a total 300,000 gallons of crude oil. The rule was developed when crude oil wasn’t being shipped in trains that carry only crude and can haul millions of gallons at once.
This current regulatory scheme “circumvents the need for railroads to comply with spill response planning mandates of the Clean Water Act,” Hersman wrote to the hazardous materials agency.
Comprehensive plans must only be submitted to the Federal Rail Administration, which is not required to review and approve them, Hersman wrote.
“It’s a pitiful pretense of regulation,” said rail security consultant Fred Millar, who worked for the liberal activist group Friends of the Earth for 18 years. “Railroads have gotten themselves exempted from the same kind of response planning and right-to-know laws that apply to everyone else.”
If requirements had been updated as crude shipments began skyrocketing, the federal rail regulators could have required MMA Railway to plan for a disaster on the scale of Lac-Mégantic, wrote Hersman to the regulators.
“DEP and to some extent local communities have taken on that responsibility to be prepared in the event of a spill,” said Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s response director Peter Blanchard.
Responding to rail incidents is challenging in Maine, where railroads traverse cities, rural communities and water bodies – many inaccessible by road, according to Blanchard.
DEP asked Pan Am Railways for copies of their response plans, but never heard back, according to Blanchard.
Blanchard said railroads have made “some effort” to help DEP in preparing for an oil spill, citing a collaboration with MMA Railway that yielded a vulnerability map of sensitive natural resources and remote access points along rail lines.
The DEP has 25 spill responders, with five always on-call at offices in Portland, Augusta, Bangor and Presque Isle. Their equipment includes oil skimmers and two 5,000-barrel oil recovery barges stationed in South Portland and Bucksport.
Volunteers may be first to crash
Recent train derailments involving crude oil and ethanol have raised a question for emergency planners: Who responds when incidents happen in the middle of nowhere?
“When they happen in remote areas, away from populated areas, you not only have fewer resources but volunteer fire departments that don’t necessarily have the capability to handle an incident of that size,” said Willaeur of emergency management firm IEM.
About 90 percent of Maine’s firefighters are volunteer, estimates the Maine Fire Services Institute’s Bill Guimond.
“Probably the biggest challenge facing a lot of departments is just resources on the initial response, especially in the rural communities,” Guimond said. “Firefighters are not always available, and a lot of communities are strapped with resources right now.”
Along rail lines that have carried crude oil, five cities have professional departments. Five small communities have no fire departments, 27 rely on an all-volunteer force and 22 rely on both volunteer and career firefighters.
“It’s certainly a different kind of response when you don’t have everybody right on-call all the time,” said MEMA’s Fitzgerald. “They have to get out of their job, they have to travel to get their equipment, they have to go and respond. Those communities rely almost entirely on mutual aid, because no one department up there is big enough to handle an event.”
If a rail catastrophe happens, local responders like firefighters would receive support from other towns through mutual aid agreements, 17 state-supervised hazardous material teams, spill responders, MEMA and, potentially, federal agencies and out-of-state and Canadian responders.
Since last July, hazardous material teams in Paris and Jonesboro have shut down because they lacked enough people to maintain staffing and training requirements. Rail communities like Jackman, Greenville and Vanceboro are up to two hours away from specially-trained teams in Orono, Skowhegan and Houlton.
Maine’s hazardous material teams train regularly for major oil fires, train rollovers and derailments, according to Mark Hyland, MEMA’s operations and response director. In the past decade, Maine railways have provided locomotives and tank cars to train firefighters and spill responders, according to Blanchard.
Some fire officials said though they appreciate the seminars, training efforts with railroads are not institutionalized, proving a problem for departments with high rates of turnover.
Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain asked Pan Am Railways last year for specialized training in dealing with volatile Bakken crude oil, but he never heard back from the railroad.
In Maine, state and cities like South Portland have invested in the costly resources – like protective gear and specialized foam – needed for a fiery disaster even a fraction of Lac-Mégantic’s size.
In 2009, Maine Emergency Management Agency received a Homeland Security grant to buy three $80,000, 990-gallon foam trailers and placed them in South Portland, Searsport and Sweden. The Air National Guard at Bangor International Airport has 2,000 gallons of foam concentrate.
South Portland has 20,000 gallons of alcohol-resistant foam to smother petroleum fires. Fire chief Kevin Guimond said his team is ready to respond statewide, with 64 full-time firefighters and paramedics and 40 on-call firefighters.
But that big cache of foam is four hours away from communities along rail lines like Jackman and Vanceboro. Half of communities on the rail lines are two to four hours away, with 15 facing wait times of more than three hours.
Information hard to get Maine officials don’t know much about hazardous materials transported by rail, including what kinds go where, or when, how often, and how much they’re shipped. Railroads say sharing such information could jeopardize security.
“There’s a lack of rail transportation response plans because it’s hard to get the information,” said Willaeur. “Many local officials don’t have an idea of what’s going along rails or highway corridor.”
Though U.S. railroads don’t have to disclose any information about hazardous materials to communities, they are not prevented from doing so.
Voluntary industry standards encourage railroads to do so – upon request, and as long as first responders do not make such information public.
MEMA’s Fitzgerald wrote to Pan Am on Feb. 7 requesting a list of the top 25 most hazardous materials transported through Maine in 2013. He is still awaiting a response.
Currently, first responders can figure out what a derailed train car is hauling by reading the placard affixed to the side of a rail car, finding the crew member who has a paper document showing where hazardous materials are located on the train, or calling the railroads’ 1-800 number.
According to an 1817 Congressional act and the interstate commerce clause, railroads can’t refuse to ship anything, including hazardous goods, and only the federal government can restrict such movement, said MEMA’s Hyland.
“But you know, having said that, we’d like to know what’s coming through, just so we can prepare our communities and our regional response teams for what they’d see,” he said.
LaFountain said in his opinion, the rail yard in Waterville – a town where trains carrying crude pass through – is his city’s “most dangerous spot,” and he worries how his team could respond if there was a crude oil emergency.
“To be honest with you, when I saw what happened in Lac-Mégantic, the behavior of the product catching fire and having the ignition it had and the fire conditions it had, that wasn’t what I expected for typical crude oil,” said LaFountain. “Now hearing that this crude oil is different because of where it comes from, it raises concern. It’s not safe.”
CRUDE-BY-RAIL IN MAINE
Railroads carried 4.2 million barrels of crude oil – enough to fill up 267 Olympic-size swimming pools – through Maine last year, up from 25,000 barrels in 2011 and down from 5.2 million barrels in 2012.
The 2013 amount does not include the months of April to August when Pan Am Railways temporarily stopped reporting how much crude oil it shipped into Maine and paying into the state’s three-cent per gallon oil spill clean-up fund, according to Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessamine Logan.
At the time, the company told the Bangor Daily News that state law did not specifically require them to do so. The state legislature revised the statute effective last October.
After several fiery train explosions involving crude from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota, federal regulators issued a Jan. 2 warning that the crude may be more flammable than other varieties. A federal “Bakken Blitz” investigation has revealed that in eleven out of 18 random samples, Bakken crude was misclassified as a less volatile variety.
Three railroads – Pan Am Railways, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, and Eastern Maine Railroad – have carried Bakken crude oil through Maine to an Irving Oil refinery in St. John, New Brunswick.
The MMA Railway line enters Maine at Jackman and then traverses across central Maine to Mattawamkeag. The now-bankrupt company, whose assets are in the final steps of being purchased by a New York-based investment firm, stopped carrying crude oil last August.
A Pan Am line enters Maine at South Berwick and carries crude through towns near Interstate 95, including Portland and Bangor, before heading to Mattawamkeag.
There, the Irving Oil subsidiary Eastern Maine Railroad transports the crude oil from Mattawamkeag, to Vanceboro, to the refinery. Eastern Maine Railroad does not pay into the clean-up fund because state law only impacts carriers bringing oil into Maine, according to Logan.
In Maine, crude oil shipments by rail have dropped off since last fall, but industry experts say dynamic global oil prices could quickly change that.
North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms has estimated that up to 90 percent of the state’s crude will be transported by rail in 2014.
Following growing scrutiny on the rupture-prone DOT-111 tank cars involved in recent derailments, Irving Oil announced in February that by April 30, it will voluntarily retrofit its crude oil fleet to meet higher standards recommended by the Association of American Railroads for tank cars built after 2011.
Even stricter federal standards for the tank cars could be released by the end of 2014, said Cynthia Quarterman, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration at a Feb. 26 Congressional hearing.
Last year, U.S. railroads spilled more crude oil – 1.15 million gallons – than in the last 38 years combined, according to a McClatchy news service analysis of federal data that does not include the 1.6 million gallons spilled in Lac Megantic.
The Association of American Railroad states that through 2010, 99.9977% of rail shipments of hazardous material reached their destination without a release caused by a train accident.
In Maine, railroads have spilled more than 200 gallons of hazardous materials like flammable gas oil and sulfuric acid since 2003, according to a review of Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data. This represents a large decrease from the 120,000 gallons of hazardous materials like fuel oil and sulfuric acid reported spilled between 1976 to 1999.
Approximately one gallon of crude oil spilled in March of 2013, when 13 tank cars operated by Pan Am Railways derailed near the Pencobst River in Mattawamkeag, according to a report filed to the National Response Center. Each car in the 96-car unit train was carrying 31,000 gallons of crude.
— Marina Villeneuve
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org.