Tag Archives: National Fire Protection Association

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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    New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

    Repost from the Bellingham Herald

    New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

    By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 11, 2015
    Derailed train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday. A CSX train carrying crude oil derailed at around 1:20 p.m. Monday, spilling oil into the Kanawha River and destroying a home in the path of the wreckage. Marcus Constantino/ Daily Mail

    — Lawmakers and environmental and industry groups criticized the federal government’s new safety measures for oil trains when they were announced earlier this month. Now another group has expressed disappointment in the new rules:

    Emergency responders. They’re among the first in danger when a fiery derailment happens.

    After another oil train derailed and caught fire last week, this time in North Dakota and the fifth in North America this year, firefighters renewed their call for more training and information about hazardous rail shipments.

    The International Association of Fire Fighters’ primary objection to the new rules is about their information-sharing requirements. But Elizabeth Harman, an assistant to the general president of the group, also said firefighters needed more training on responding to hazardous materials incidents. The rule didn’t directly address that issue, though some lawmakers have sought additional funding.

    “The training that’s needed has been developed,” she said. “This is the first step that needs to be funded and expanded for all first responders.”

    Harman said her group had been talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency about making more competitive grants available for first-responder training.

    Tank cars still showing accident vulnerability

    Tens of thousands of rail tank cars haul flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol, across North America, and most have weak spots that make them vulnerable to puncture and fire in an accident. A new tank car design has been approved, but is not widely available yet. There have been five serious oil train derailments so far this year.

    Old and new tank car designs
    Click for full size viewing
    Accidents
    Click for full size viewing.
    1. Feb. 14, Gogama, Ontario, 29 cars of a Canadian National oil train derail and a fire engulfs seven cars. No injuries are reported.
    2. Feb. 16, Mount Carbon, W.V., 28 cars of a CSX oil train derail along the banks of the Kanawha River. One injury reported.
    3. March 5, Galena, Ill., 21 cars of a BNSF crude oil train derail and a fire erupts.
    4. March 7, Gogama, Ont., 39 cars of a Canadian National oil train derail and a fire engulfs multiple cars. A bridge is destroyed by the heat. No injuries are reported.
    5. May 6, Heimdal, N.D., six cars of a BNSF crude oil train derail and a fire erupts, forcing temporary evacuation of Heimdal.
    *In addition to the 2015 accidents, the map locates selected derailments from 1981 through 2014 involving DOT-111A tank cars that polluted waterways and threatened cities with flammable or toxic chemicals.  Sources: McClatchy Washington Bureau, National Transportation Safety Board, Department of Transportation, Surface Transportation Board, Association of American Railroads, Railway Supply Institute

    Since 2010, an exponentially larger volume of flammable liquids, especially crude oil and ethanol, has been moving by rail, and with it has come an increase in risk to communities.

    “We need to be prepared for it, and we’re willing to be prepared for it,” Harman said.

    The rail industry and the government have funded new training for emergency responders as a result of the increased risk. Railroads train 20,000 firefighters a year in communities across the country, according to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.

    Since last summer, the rail industry has paid to send hundreds more to an advanced firefighting academy in Pueblo, Colo., designed for responding to oil train fires.

    While firefighter groups have praised the industry’s efforts, 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area, according to a 2010 survey by the National Fire Protection Association.

    While no first responders have been injured in multiple oil train derailments and fires in the past year and a half, they’ve faced numerous challenges:

    – When an oil train derailed and caught fire near Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30, 2013, a BNSF student engineer became an ad-hoc first responder. According to interview transcripts published last month by the National Transportation Safety Board, the student donned firefighting gear and equipment as he uncoupled cars that were still on the track to move them away from the fire.

    – When an oil train derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Va., on April 30, 2014, first responders didn’t know right away which railroad to call, since two companies operate tracks through the city. According to a presentation at a conference of transportation professionals in Washington in January, it also took 45 minutes for first responders to obtain documents showing them what the train was carrying.

    – After an oil train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., on March 5 this year, volunteer firefighters could reach the remote site only via a bike path. Once there, they attempted to extinguish the fire, but had to retreat when they realized they couldn’t, leaving their equipment behind. According to local news reports, their radios didn’t work, either.

    Harman said the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new regulations for trains carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids didn’t go far enough with respect to information that railroads provided to communities.

    Under an emergency order the department issued last May, railroads were required to report large shipments of Bakken crude oil to state emergency-response commissions, which then disseminated that information to local fire departments.

    But under the department’s new rules, starting next year, railroads will no longer report the information to the states, and fire departments that want the information will have to go directly to the railroads. It also will be shielded from public disclosure.

    “These new rules fall short of requiring rail operators to provide the information fire departments need to respond effectively when the call arrives,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the firefighters group.

    Susan Lagana, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said Friday that the department was reviewing feedback from emergency responders and lawmakers to address their concerns.

    She said the new rule would expand the amount of information available to first responders and noted that for now, last year’s emergency order remains in place.

    Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, said the industry was reviewing the new regulations. He said it had shared information with first responders for years and would continue to do so.

    Greenberg said the industry was developing a mobile application called AskRail that would give emergency responders immediate access to information about a train’s cargo.

    “Freight railroads have ongoing dialogue with first responders, residents and local civic officials on rail operations and emergency planning,” he said.

    Emergency planners in Washington state sought more information about oil trains from BNSF, including routing information, worst-case derailment scenarios, response planning and insurance coverage. On April 30, the railroad met with state fire chiefs in Olympia.

    “I think both sides learned a little bit about the other group’s point of view,” said Wayne Senter, the executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs. “I was pretty positive by the end of the meeting the information we asked for in our letter was either available or will soon be available either directly or indirectly.”

    Samantha Wohlfeil of The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald contributed to this article.
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      As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

      Repost from Reuters

      As oil trains roll across America, volunteer firefighters face big risk

      By Edward McAllister, Mar 23, 2015 4:45pm EDT
      Firefighters' jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
      Firefighters’ jackets and helmets are hung on a wall in the main fire hall in West Webster, New York, December 28, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri

      (Reuters) – Volunteers at the Galena, Illinois, fire department were hosing down the smoldering wreck of a derailed BNSF oil train on the east bank of the Mississippi River on March 5 when a fire suddenly flared beyond their control. Minutes later, the blaze reached above the treetops, visible for miles around.

      “They dropped the hoses and got out” when the flames started rising, said Charles Pedersen, emergency manager for Jo Daviess County, a rural area near the Iowa border which includes Galena. “Ten more minutes and we would have lost them all.”

      No one was hurt in the fire, which burned for days, fed by oil leaking from the ruptured tank cars. But an increase in explosive accidents in North America this year highlights the risks that thousands of rural fire departments face as shipments of oil by rail grow and regulators call for improved train car standards.

      Nearly two years after a crude oil train derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in 2013, there are no uniform U.S. standards for oil train safety procedures, and training varies widely across the country, according to interviews with firefighters and experts in oil train derailments and training.

      About 2,500 fire departments are adjacent to rail lines transporting oil in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa alone, according to figures provided by the Department of Transportation, but no nationwide statistics exist. The DOT does not know which of these fire departments are in need of training, a spokesman said.

      The scenario concerns experts who say more needs to be done for sparsely equipped, rural, mostly volunteer-run fire departments to prepare as oil train accidents increase. Already this year, four oil trains have derailed and exploded in North America, double last year’s tally.

      No deaths have occurred as a result of U.S. derailments. Oil trains have been a consistent feature on U.S. rails only since 2009.

      “Is it acceptable that we just let these fires burn out?” said Thomas Miller, board member of the National Volunteer Fire Council and principal at the National Fire Protection Association, which draws up training guidelines.

      “We have to have a comprehensive plan to identify training levels required and to make sure training is available,” he said.

      CART BEFORE HORSE

      Railroads have increased safety training in the nearly two years since Lac-Megantic, a period during which nine trains have derailed and exploded in North America.

      Berkshire Hathaway-owned BNSF, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern Corp and other railroads have bolstered their own network of hundreds of hazardous-materials experts and equipment centers dotted around the country that react if an accident occurs.

      The major North American railroads last year spent $5 million to send more than 1,500 first responders on a new three-day oil train program in Pueblo, Colorado, the first site dedicated to oil derailment training in the United States.

      The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is developing an oil derailment training module, expected to be completed in May.

      But PHMSA funding to state and tribal governments for hazmat training has declined from $21.1 million in 2010 to $20.2 million last year, even as oil derailments increased. Moreover, interviews with fire departments across the country reveal stark disparities in training.

      In Galena, where up to 50 oil trains roll through each week, the fire department had received some basic hazmat training provided by BNSF last year. But when the train came off the rails in March, Galena firefighters were still waiting for a slot at the Pueblo, Colorado facility.

      “It was a bit cart-before-the-horse,” said Galena volunteer fire chief Randy Beadle. “It just happened that we had an incident before we could get the guys out there” to Pueblo, he said.

      It is unclear what exactly the Galena firefighters might have done differently given proper training and greater resources, but other firefighters who have received extensive training say it is vital to countering an oil train blaze safely.

      In Casselton, North Dakota, the fire department has been “bombarded” with training after an oil train collided with a derailed soybean train in December 2013, setting 21 oil cars ablaze and causing a fireball whose heat was felt from over a quarter of a mile away, said Casselton’s volunteer fire chief, Tim McLean.

      Before that accident, McLean and his 28-strong fire team “had no idea oil trains were that explosive,” said McLean, a corn and soy farmer. Since then, eight firefighters from the department have been to the Pueblo site for intensive training and more will attend this year.

      In Pembroke, Virginia, where CSX rerouted some crude oil trains last month after a derailment damaged its track in West Virginia, the volunteer department has had no specific oil training, said fire department president Jerry Gautier.

      “We have reached thousands of people for hydrogen and ethanol training, but the oil program is in its infancy,” said Rick Edinger, a member of the hazardous material committee at the International Fire Chiefs Association. “It could take a couple of years to roll out.”

      Meanwhile, oil train accidents remain at the front of people’s minds in Galena, especially for Pedersen, the emergency manager in Jo Daviess county, one of the busiest areas in Illinois for oil trains.

      “Every time I hear a train go by now, I think a little differently about it,” he said.

      (Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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        Fire safety officials to NTSB: very little we can do

        Repost from the White Plains NY Journal News on LoHud.com

        NTSB hears concerns on derailments of oil trains

        Brian Tumulty, TJN  |  April 23, 2014
        A CSX train carrying light crude oil makes it way through West Nyack on March 17, 2014.(Photo: Ricky Flores Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

        WASHINGTON – Crude oil and ethanol fires caused by derailed freight trains are left to burn out on their own because first responders can’t extinguish them, fire safety officials told the National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday.

        “They are no-brainers,” Greg Noll of the National Fire Protection Association said during the second day of a two-day forum on safety issues linked to rail transport of crude oil and ethanol. “There is very little we as first responders are going to do.”

        Even multiple fire departments located near the site of a railroad tanker fire don’t have enough foam to extinguish such blazes, which can spread from car to car. The DOT-111 tankers that carry most crude oil moved by freight rail can’t quickly vent high-pressure vapors that build up inside the cars, railroad experts said during the first day of the forum Tuesday. They said those vapors can ignite into a thermal mushroom cloud.

        The use of so-called unit trains carrying up to 100 tanker cars of crude oil or ethanol is a relatively new phenomenon that risks catastrophic events such as the July 2013 accident in Quebec that caused 47 deaths and the evacuation of more than 2,000 people.

        The engineer on that crude oil train failed to properly secure it on an incline when it was parked overnight. The train rolled into the community of in Lac-Megantic, derailing at a speed of 64 mph.

        An estimated 434,000 tanker loads of crude oil were shipped by rail last year, compared to only 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads.

        Much of that oil was carried, mostly on freight trains, from the Bakken Formation oil field in North Dakota and Montana to refineries on the East, West and Gulf coasts. Oil production in the Bakken field reached 1 million barrels a day in December and is forecast to peak at 2 million barrels a day in seven years, Skip Elliott of CSX Transportation told the NTSB.

        Deadly derailments of trains carrying crude oil and ethanol also have raised questions about tanker car design, but industry groups say they haven’t been able to agree on the thickness of steel in the shell of new tankers.

        Rail tanker manufacturers said they’re ready to increase production to meet increased demand, but want regulatory certainty about the future standard.

        Industry officials said a disagreement over one-eighth-of-an-inch thickness of steel for the shell — whether to continue using 7/16ths of an inch or move to 9/16ths of an inch — led them to ask federal regulators to promulgate a rule setting the standard for new tanker cars.

        The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which has jurisdiction over rail tanker car safety standards, has not yet proposed a new standard. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who oversees the agency, has told Congress no date has been set for releasing a draft of the proposed standard.

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