Tag Archives: Matt Krogh

Critics say oil train report underestimates risk

Repost from the Spokane Spokesman-Review
[Editor:  Oh…this sounds SO familiar….  Benicia sends solidarity and support to our friends in Washington state.  – RS]

Critics say oil trains report underestimates risk

By Becky Kramer, December 18, 2015
In this Oct. 1, 2014 file photo, train cars carrying flammable liquids heads west through downtown Spokane, Wash. | Dan Pelle photo

The chance of an oil train derailing and dumping its cargo between Spokane and a new terminal proposed for Vancouver, Washington, is extremely low, according to a risk assessment prepared for state officials.

Such a derailment would probably occur only once every 12 years, and in the most likely scenario, only half a tank car of oil would be spilled, according to the report.

But critics say the risk assessment – which includes work by three Texas consultants who are former BNSF Railway employees and count the railroad as a client – is based on generic accident data, and likely lowballs the risk of a fiery derailment in Spokane and other communities on the trains’ route.

The consultants didn’t use accident data from oil train wrecks when they calculated the low probability of a derailment and spill. The report says that shipping large amounts of oil by rail is such a recent phenomanon that there isn’t enough data to produce a statistically valid risk assessment. Instead, the consultants drew on decades of state and national data about train accidents.

That approach is problematic, said Fred Millar, an expert in hazardous materials shipments.

Probability research is “a shaky science” to begin with, said Millar, who is a consultant for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm opposed to the terminal. “The only way that you can get anything that’s even partly respectable in a quantitative risk assessment is if you have a full set of relevant data.”

To look at accident rates for freight trains, and assume you can draw credible comparisons for oil trains, is “very chancy,” he said. “Unit trains of crude oil are a much different animal…They’re very long and heavy, that makes them hard to handle. They come off the rails.”

And, they’re carrying highly flammable fuel, he said.

Terminal would bring four more oil trains through Spokane daily
The proposed Vancouver Energy terminal would be one of the largest in the nation, accepting about 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields and Alberta’s tar sands. For Spokane and Sandpoint, the terminal would mean four more 100-car oil trains rumbling through town each day – on top of the two or three per day that currently make the trip.

The proposed $210 million terminal is a joint venture between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. Oil from rail cars would be unloaded at the terminal and barged down the Columbia River en route to West Coast refineries.

A spill risk assessment was part of the project’s draft environmental impact statement, which was released late last month. A public meeting on the draft EIS takes place Jan. 14 in Spokane Valley. State officials are accepting public comments on the document through Jan. 22.

The spill risk work was done by a New York company – Environmental Research Consulting – and MainLine Management of Texas, whose three employees are former BNSF employees, and whose website lists BNSF Railway as a client. The company has also done work for the Port of Vancouver, where the terminal would be located.

The risk analysis assumes the trains would make a 1,000-mile loop through the state. From Spokane, the mile-long oil trains would head south, following the Columbia River to Vancouver. After the trains unloaded the oil, they would head north, crossing the Cascade Range at Stampede Pass before returning through Spokane with empty cars.

Report used data on hazardous materials spills

Oil train derailments have been responsible for a string of fiery explosions across North America in the past three years – including a 2013 accident that killed 47 people in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Other oil train derailments have led to evacuations, oil spills into waterways and fires that burned for days.

But since shipping crude oil by train is relatively new, there’s not enough statistical information about oil train accidents to do risk calculations, the consultants said several times in the risk assessment.

Instead, they looked at federal and state data on train derailments and spills of hazardous materials dating back to 1975, determining that the extra oil train traffic between Spokane and Vancouver posed little risk to communities.

Dagmar Schmidt Etkin, president of Environmental Research Consulting, declined to answer questions about the risk assessment. Calls to MainLine Management, which is working under Schmidt Etkin, were not returned.

Stephen Posner, manager for the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Council, which is overseeing the preparation of the environmental impact statement, dismissed questions about potential conflicts of interest.

“There aren’t a lot of people who have the expertise to do this type of analysis,” Posner said.

Schmidt Etkin also worked on a 2014 oil train report to the Washington Legislature, he said. “She’s highly regarded in the field.”

According to her company website, Schmidt Etkin has a doctorate from Harvard in evolutionary biology. The site says she provides spill and risk analysis to government regulators, nonprofits and industry groups. Her client list includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard and the American Petroleum Institute.

Posner reviewed the scope of work outlined for the spill risk analysis.

“We put together the best analysis we could with limited sources of information,” he said. “This is a draft document. We’re looking for input from the public on how we can make it better.”

Spokane ‘a more perilous situation’

The “worst case” scenario developed for the risk assessment has also drawn criticism. The consultants based it on an oil train losing 20,000 barrels of oil during a derailment. The risk assessment indicates that would be an improbable event, occurring only once every 12,000 to 22,000 years.

In fact, twice as much crude oil was released during the 2013 Lac-Megantic accident in Quebec, said Matt Krogh, who works for Forest Ethics in Bellingham, Washington, which also opposes construction of the Vancouver Energy Terminal.

“If I was looking at this as a state regulator, and I saw this was wrong – quite wrong – I would have them go back to the drawing board for all of it,” Krogh said.

Krogh said he’s disappointed that former BNSF employees didn’t use their expertise to provide a more meaningful risk analysis. Instead of looking at national data, they could have addressed specific risks in the Northwest, he said.

Oil trains roll through downtown Spokane on elevated bridges, in close proximity to schools, hospitals, apartments and work places. In recent years, the bridges have seen an increase in both coal and oil train traffic, Krogh said.

“The No. 1 cause of derailments is broken tracks, and the No. 1 cause of broken tracks is axle weight,” he said. “We can talk about national figures, but when you talk about Spokane as a rail funnel for the Northwest, you have a more perilous situation based on the large number of heavy trains.”

Elevated rail bridges pose an added risk for communities, said Millar, the Earthjustice consultant. The Lac-Megantic accident was so deadly because the unmanned train sped downhill and tank cars crashed into each other, he said. Not all of the cars were punctured in the crash, but once the oil started burning, the fire spread, he said.

“If you have elevated tracks and the cars start falling off the tracks, they’re piling on top of each other,” Millar said. “That’s what Spokane has to worry about – the cars setting each other off.”

Governor has the final say

Railroad industry officials say that 99.9 percent of trains carrying hazardous materials reach their destination without releases. According to the risk assessment, BNSF had only three reported train derailments per year in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The railroad has spent millions of dollars upgrading tracks in Washington in recent years, and the tracks get inspected regularly, according to company officials.

Whether the Vancouver Energy Terminal is built is ultimately Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision. After the final environment impact statement is released, the 10-member Energy and Facilities Siting Council will make a recommendation to the governor, who has the final say.

Environmental impact statements lay out the risks of projects, allowing regulators to seek mitigation. So, it’s important that the EIS is accurate, said Krogh, of Forest Ethics.

In Kern County, California, Earthjustice is suing over the environmental impact statement prepared for an oil refinery expansion. According to the lawsuit, the EIS failed to adequately address the risk to communities from increased oil train traffic.

“If you have a risk that’s grossly underestimated, you’ll be making public policy decisions based on flawed data,” Krogh said.

    EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations; Permit Invalid

    News Release from Earthjustice

    EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations

    Federal agency says California oil train terminal is major air pollution source, permit is invalid without significant environmental review
    Contact: Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, 415-217-2084, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org, Monday, May 4, 2015
    The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft which the EPA has found in violation of the Clean Air Act.
    The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft which the EPA has found in violation of the Clean Air Act. | Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice

    Taft, CA —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the Bakersfield Crude Terminal for 10 violations of the Clean Air Act, declaring the California crude-by-rail facility a major air pollution source that should have been subjected to rigorous environmental review during the permitting process. The federal agency found that the terminal’s permit is invalid and that the facility lacks required pollution controls and emissions offsets, and that it is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s public notice and environmental review requirements.

    In January, Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment sued the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which issued the invalid permit, over the permitting process for the facility’s expansion— a process that was conducted without public review. Earthjustice is representing the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR), ForestEthics, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

    A public records request revealed communications between San Joaquin Valley Air District officials and the project manager for the terminal that included advice from the officials about how the project could avoid public noticing and pollution controls. The Air District approved the massive expansion in a piece-meal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely out of public scrutiny.

    “The EPA’s announcement declares the Air District’s permit a sham and that the Bakersfield terminal is operating illegally,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “Air District officials went out of their way to exclude the public from the process and speed the approval through, ignoring the environmental review required by state and federal law. We applaud EPA for stepping in and enforcing the Clean Air Act.”

    EPA’s action could subject the terminal to serious Clean Air Act fines, and should force the Bakersfield Crude Terminal to undergo the major source permitting required by the Clean Air Act.

    “The EPA stepped in to protect California from this crude-by-rail facility’s dangerous air pollution,” said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal intervention is urgently needed because the air district and Kern County officials have utterly failed to safeguard public health and the environment. They’re turning a blind eye to air pollution and environmental risks such as catastrophic explosions linked to these massive trains full of volatile crude.”

    “EPA’s notice of violation should serve as a wake up call to local authorities around the country who help polluters when they should be protecting public health,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics Extreme Oil Campaign Director.  “Oil trains threaten 25 million Americans who live in the blast zone, plus millions more who live downwind of a refinery, downstream of where an oil train crosses a river, or in the Bakken and tar sands producing regions of North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.”

    “In Kern County, with the worst air in the nation, the air district has harmed the health of the public by intentionally allowing this facility to violate the Clean Air Act,” said Tom Frantz, with Association of Irritated Residents.

    “Given the increased pollution and hazards from refining and transporting a lower quality crude, there is immediate need for a moratorium that halts new permits and construction of extreme oil infrastructure, not the opposite fast track permitting process that Air District officials put this massive crude by rail terminal on – and in secret,” said Roger Lin, attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

    “The US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement today is a significant step forward for Bakersfield and Kern County residents who bear all the burdens of volatile, accident-prone crude by rail transport and none of the benefits,” said Gordon Nipp Bakersfield resident and Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter Vice Chairman. “This terminal wreaks havoc on our region’s already compromised air quality and our communities now fear the risk of exploding trains.”

    The agency also weighed in on the issue of vapor pressure of Bakken crude, declaring it unreasonable to underestimate the vapor pressure when permitting a crude-by-rail site and requiring vigorous monitoring and reporting of what crude oil is actually shipped. One way many of these facilities get around major source permitting is by cherry-picking the volatility of the crude oil being shipped, estimating the vapor pressure on the low end of the spectrum, which would keep emissions of volatile organic compounds under the threshold for triggering Clean Air Act review.

    In addition to emitting volatile organic compounds from the off-loading of crude oil, the facility endangers Bakersfield and other communities in California by increasing the amount of explosive crude oil transported by rail through the state. There have been multiple incidents of train derailments and explosions across the nation and in Canada. An oil train that derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, destroyed most of the town center, burning more than 30 buildings to the ground and killing 47 people. Just this year, there have been four derailments and explosions in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario involving oil trains.

    Read EPA’s Notice of Violation.

      REUTERS: California opposition to oil-by-rail mounts

      Repost from Reuters

      California opposition to oil-by-rail mounts

      By Rory Carroll, Mar 19, 2015 3:03pm EDT

      (Reuters) – A chorus of local governments across California opposed to crude oil trains grew louder this week in light of recent derailments, with a total of 14 cities and towns now trying to block the trains from running through their communities.

      Five northern California cities – Berkeley, Richmond, Oakland, Martinez and Davis – have voiced their opposition to crude by rail in general. An additional nine communities specifically oppose a Phillips 66 project to enable its refinery in San Luis Obispo to unload crude-carrying trains.

      Fiery derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario in recent weeks have brought the issue back into the national spotlight. The most devastating crude by rail disaster, a July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people, is mentioned in many of the opposition measures.

      San Luis Obispo County is weighing whether to approve the Phillips 66 project, which would use Union Pacific rail lines to bring five 80-car trains per week to the refinery, starting in 2016.

      That has prompted concern from communities along the company’s rail network, including densely populated cities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

      “The opposition is growing exponentially,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter.

      On Monday the Bay Area city of San Leandro passed a resolution opposing the Phillips 66 project, noting that at least 20 schools are located in the “blast zone” along the projected route.

      Paso Robles, a city in San Luis Obispo County, could be the next to take a stand against the dangerous cargo. Its city council is expected to debate the topic at an upcoming meeting.

      While local governments lack the ability to stop the trains, which fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, they hope to put pressure on San Luis Obispo County officials.

      “Every one of the tank cars on these trains carries more flammable crude oil than any municipal fire department can fight. That’s why California cities and towns are saying no,” said Matt Krogh of environmental group ForestEthics.

      Phillips 66 said it has one of the most modern crude rail fleets in service and that every railcar used to transport crude oil in its fleet exceeds regulatory safety standards.

      “The proposed rail project is designed with safety as the top priority and with safety measures embedded in the project,” said spokesman Dennis Nuss.

      (Editing by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Matthew Lewis)