Tag Archives: Mount Carbon WV

OIL TRAIN DISASTER PLANS: A burning need for the truth about oil train fires

Repost from STAND.EARTH
[Editor:  Highly significant. REQUIRED READING.  For a number of BenIndy articles addressing “Let it burn,” click here.  For “first responder training,” click here.  – RS] 

Oil Train Disaster Plans: A burning need for the truth about oil train fires

By Matt Krogh, May 13, 2016
Don’t believe the hype: The scene of a crude oil derailment and fire is an uncontrollable fire. All firefighters can do is evacuate the area and wait for the fire to burn itself out.

In the year since five fiery oil train disasters in the US and Canada brought national attention to the threat from trains hauling explosive crude oil, the rail industry has embarked on a high profile public relations exercise to reassure the public that deadly disasters can be averted by emergency responders. In fact, the reality of oil train accidents — and the unanimous opinion of fire officials and federal rail safety experts — proves that there is no fighting an oil train derailment and fire. The scene of a crude oil derailment and fire is an uncontrollable fire. All firefighters can do is evacuate the area and wait for the fire to burn itself out.

Images from oil train firefighter training circulated by railroad and oil companies show firefighters standing close to burning tank cars, training hoses on small fires. But as Fairfield, Iowa, Fire Chief Scott Vaughan described in 2014, “If there was a spill or a fire, our big thing would be containment and evacuation,” he said. “We train for it, but training and actually doing are two different things.” Very simply, there is no controlling an oil train fire.

In 2013 in Lac Megantic, Quebec, 47 people died when an oil train derailed and caught fire in the center of a small Canadian town. More than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in flowing “rivers of fire”, creating pool fires and filling sewers. Blocks away uncontrollable fires erupted from drains and manholes and more than 30 building were destroyed. Despite 1,000 firefighters responding from across Quebec and Maine the fire burned for two days.

When an oil train derails at any speed over the puncture velocity of roughly 10 miles an hour (for a common CPC-1232 tank car) a dozen or so cars typically come off the tracks, decouple and are thrown from their wheels. If tank cars are punctured, possibly by something on the ground or the couplers on the ends of the cars, the crude (either Bakken or diluted tar sands, both highly volatile) can easily self-ignite or find an ignition source.

Observations published by FEMA from County Emergency Manager Dave Rogness on the oil train explosion that rocked the small town of Casselton, ND, describe the derailment and the size of the spill:

On December 30, 2013 in Casselton, a BNSF westbound train with 112 grain cars went off the tracks. Thirteen of the cars derailed, and one fell on the eastbound tracks. Within two minutes, a BNSF eastbound crude oil train hit that car. That caused two front locomotives, a hopper car, and twenty cars on the eastbound train to derail, and 18 of them ruptured, exploded, and released 450,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil.

First responders to the Casselton accident were forced to pull far back from the scene because of the intense heat:

The command post was originally set up one-quarter mile from the scene, but they had to pull back to a half mile because it was too hot for the responders even inside their rigs.

A similar situation occurred in Galena, Illinois, where the fire from the March 2015 derailment burned for days. First responders, who unloaded emergency equipment nearby to fight the fire, were forced to abandon $10,000 in equipment on the scene when they pulled back to a safe distance.

The DOT Emergency Response Guidebook is quite clear on the initial response to a single tank car disaster: “If tank, rail car or tank truck is involved in a fire, isolate for 800 meters (1/2 mile) in all directions” But this direction is for a single tank car, and oil train disasters almost always involve many more than one car.

Emergency response to oil trains traveling across the US and Canada is left to municipal fire departments. Few fire departments have the manpower, training, or equipment to respond to more than a single burning 10,000-gallon tank truck of crude. An oil train tank car carries triple that, and most oil train disasters involve way more than a single tank car. As North Dakota Emergency Manager Rogness describes:

“There were few options for fighting the fire. Water should not be put on exploding crude oil. Firefighters did not have enough foam in four counties together to put the fire out, plus the foam would freeze in the cold. Dry chemicals were not available. The only choice was to let it burn, which BNSF responders said would take about 12 hours. It took more than 24. Political leaders were skeptical of the strategy.

In fact, federal guidelines for emergency responders for oil train fires state very clearly that the only option is to let the oil burn itself out.

In the event of an incident that may involve the release of thousands of gallons of product and ignition of tank cars of crude oil in a unit train, most emergency response organizations will not have the available resources, capabilities or trained personnel to safely and effectively extinguish a fire or contain a spill of this magnitude.

In 2015 in Mount Carbon, West Virginia, tens of thousands of gallons of burning crude escaped punctured cars, flowing into the nearby river and forming a pool fire under other tank cars. Under the intense heat those additional cars began to rupture and explode. A report on oil train safety by the Interagency Board, which coordinates local, state and federal agencies on emergency response, described the situation on the ground during the 2015 West Virginia oil train accident:

During the derailment sequence, two tank cars were initially punctured releasing more than 50,000 gallons of crude oil. Of the 27 tank cars that derailed, 19 cars became involved in the pileup and post-accident pool fire. The pool fire caused thermal tank shell failures on 13 tank cars that otherwise survived the initial accident.

Emergency responders at the Mount Carbon, WV incident reported the first thermal failure about 25 minutes after the accident. Within the initial 65 minutes of the incident, at least four tank car failures with large fireball eruptions occurred. The 13th and last thermal failure occurred more than 10 hours after the accident.

With oil trains continuing to run across North America, it’s a question of when, not if, we will experience the next fatal oil train accident. As Christopher A. Hart of the National Transportation Safety Board explained in January 2016, “We have been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area… But an American version of Lac-Megantic could happen at any time.”

Realistic oil train disaster preparations would not involve firefighters spraying tank cars for cameras. The first, most important step would be to recognize — as emergency responders across the country freely admit — that no municipal fire department can control an oil train fire.

An upcoming Department of Transportation rulemaking is intended to provide oil train information and preparedness (materials and training) for first responders around the country. Unfortunately, that new rule has been delayed for years and the draft rules are not expected until late 2017. It will be years before the final rules are released, leaving dangerous tank cars, volatile crude, and unprepared communities to bear the risks of oil train traffic.

And thorough reporting by DeSmog Blog on the weak existing regulatory standards and the oil and rail industry’s failure to meet them demonstrates, there have been no improvements in the safety of the 100,000 unsafe tank cars in the US fleet. The steps oil shippers have promised to improve the safety of oil trains are as hollow and inadequate as the promise of firefighters dousing burning oil tank cars.

Real emergency preparedness for oil trains would involve preparing for massive amounts of spilled crude oil by developing evacuation protocols for the 25 million Americans who live in the oil train blast zone. It would include modeling the flow of burning crude, likely toxic plumes and wildfires. It would also require much better information sharing and coordination with emergency officials on oil train hazardous cargo, routes, and scheduling, information which railroads have strongly resisted sharing.

According to the National Fire Protection Association 69 percent of the 1.1 million firefighters in North America serve in volunteer fire departments. They are not trained or equipped for effective oil train emergency response – in fact, the scale and danger of an oil train fire puts our emergency responders, like the millions who live along the tracks, at unacceptable risk. The railroads are providing some highly touted emergency training to a tiny sliver of this massive force, but the reality is that these efforts are staged to misinform the public, not prepare emergency responders.

Federal emergency response guidance and fire chiefs have long recognized that there is no effective emergency response to a crude oil derailment fire event. If even one tank car of crude oil is involved in a fire, federal guidelines are clear that firefighters should pull back half a mile and let it burn. And that is another good reason that oil trains are too dangerous for the rails.


Many thanks to Fred Millar for his research and analysis.


[Editor:  For a number of Benicia Independent articles addressing “Let it burn,” click here.  For “first responder training,” click here.  – RS] 

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Train Carrying LPG Derails in West Virginia

Repost from Natural Gas Intelligence / Shale Daily

Train Carrying LPG Derails in West Virginia

Jamison Cocklin,  December 28, 2015

A CSX Corp. train carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) derailed early last Thursday in Wetzel County, WV, but no injuries or propane leaks were reported.

Six cars went off the tracks at a rail yard in New Martinsville, about 50 miles south of Wheeling, and four tipped over, CSX said. The cars were not damaged, but it remains unclear what caused the derailment. Both CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration are expected to investigate the cause. First responders said the incident did not affect nearby neighborhoods.

The incident occurred at about 2:45 a.m. EST and forced the company to shut down the stretch of tracks. Public safety officials said no gas leaks were discovered and added that the cars had a double steel casing that likely prevented any leaks.

LPG deliveries via rail in the region have increased with the rise in natural gas liquids production from the Appalachian Basin. Earlier this year, a 109-car CSX train carrying Bakken Shale crude oil derailed in the Mount Carbon area of West Virginia, about 35 miles southeast of Charleston. No injuries were reported, but about 19 rail cars exploded after they derailed (see Shale Daily, Feb. 20).

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Tests showed rail defect 2 months before W.Va. oil train derailed

Repost from McClatchyDC News

Tests showed rail defect 2 months before W.Va. oil train derailed

By Curtis Tate, October 9, 2015

HIGHLIGHTS:
• Feds identify broken rail as primary cause
• Flaw detected in two prior track inspections
• CSX, contractor will pay $25,000 in fines

Scorched and deformed tank cars await examination by federal investigators at Handley, W.Va., on Feb. 24, 2015. A CSX train carrying crude oil had derailed a week earlier, spilling nearly 400,000 gallons and igniting a fire that kept 100 people from their homes for four days.
Scorched and deformed tank cars await examination by federal investigators at Handley, W.Va., on Feb. 24, 2015. A CSX train carrying crude oil had derailed a week earlier, spilling nearly 400,000 gallons and igniting a fire that kept 100 people from their homes for four days. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

WASHINGTON – Two separate tests in the two months prior to a fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia earlier this year showed the presence of a rail defect, according to a report on the incident.

But neither the railroad nor the contractor who did the tests followed up on the results in December 2014 and January 2015, and the rail broke under a 107-car CSX train loaded with Bakken crude oil. The Feb. 16 derailment near Mount Carbon, W.Va., led to explosions, fires and the evacuation of 1,100 nearby residents.

On Friday, the Federal Railroad Administration said it had issued $25,000 civil penalties against both CSX and Sperry Rail Service, the contractor that performed the rail tests.

The railroad agency recommended that both companies enhance employee training and use improved technology. It also asked CSX to establish a plan to identify and correct track defects on routes used to ship crude oil.

Noting that track flaws are a leading cause of derailments, Sarah Feinberg, the agency’s acting administrator, said railroads hauling hazardous materials need to pay closer attention to track conditions.

“All railroads, not just CSX, must be more diligent when inspecting for internal rail flaws or when contracting out inspection work,” she said in a statement.

In a statement, CSX said it would develop additional inspection processes in collaboration with federal regulators.

“CSX intends to pursue these efforts to their maximum potential as part of our commitment to the safety of the communities where we operate, our employees and our customers,” said Kaitlyn Barrett, a spokeswoman.

According to the agency’s report, 24 of the 27 derailed tank cars sustained significant damage that released oil, fueling fires and explosions even in single-digit temperatures. One resident’s home was destroyed by fire, but no one was seriously injured or killed.

The Mount Carbon wreck was among six oil train derailments in North America this year and one of four in the U.S. All revealed vulnerabilities in the kinds of tank cars used to transport oil, as well as shortcomings in the inspection and maintenance of track and rail car wheels.

In April, the Federal Railroad Administration recommended improved wheel inspections. A broken wheel was suspected in the March 6 oil train derailment near Galena, Ill., though the agency has yet to announce an official cause.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced its final rule requiring more crash and fire resistance for tank cars used to transport flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol.

The recent push for improved track and tank cars in North America followed the July 2013 oil train disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died. On Friday, a U.S. bankruptcy judge approved a $343 million settlement with the families of the victims.

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