Tag Archives: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

By Justin Mikulka, July 21, 2016 – 13:00

In the most recent oil-by-rail accident in Mosier, Oregon the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) concluded that the tank cars involved — the jacketed CPC-1232 type — “performed as expected.” So an oil train derailing at the relatively slow speed of 25 mph should be “expected” to have breached cars resulting in fiery explosions.

Current regulations allow those tank cars to continue rolling on the track carrying volatile Bakken crude oil and ethanol until 2025 with no modifications.

Yet industry lobbying group the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) has now requested the Federal Railroad Administration to essentially allow these jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars to remain on the tracks for decades beyond 2025.

This was just one of the troubling facts that came to light at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) roundtable on tank car safety on July 13th, and perhaps the one of greatest concern to anyone living in an oil train blast zone like Mosier, Oregon.

Just Re-Stencil It and Call It a DOT 117

One of the biggest risks with Bakken oil train accidents is that often the only way to deal with the fires is to let them burn themselves out. This can result in full tank cars becoming engulfed in flames for hours or days in what is known as a pool fire. This can lead to a “thermal tear” in the tank and the signature mushroom cloud of fire so often seen with these derailments.

The new regulations address this issue by requiring tank cars to have a layer of ceramic insulation covering the entire tank car to prevent the oil from heating up to the point of creating a thermal tear (ceramic shown in pink in the image below.)


Image credit: NTSB

However, the RSI has requested the FRA to allow the existing jacketed CPC-1232 cars, like the ones in the Mosier accident, to not require the ceramic thermal protection.

The industry’s argument is that the current fiberglass insulation on the CPC-1232 is sufficient protection. However, the fact that the fiberglass insulation was not designed to protect the contents of a tank car from fire does not seem to bother the RSI.

At the same time the RSI is arguing against thermal protection for CPC-1232s, the RSI has helpful videos on its website explaining the new safety features for DOT-117 tank cars — including “thermal protection.”

The NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt summed up what this request would mean in one simple statement at the July 13 round table event saying, “the same type of cars as in Mosier can be re-stenciled as DOT-117R with nothing more than a new bottom outlet valve.” [R stands for retrofit.]

So, they are essentially asking to paint over the CPC-1232 label on the tank cars with a DOT-117 while doing nothing more than changing the bottom outlet valve. Which means we should expect many more accidents like Mosier in the future since most of these CPC-1232 cars are only a few years old and they have an expected working life of 30-40 years.

As Robert Sumwalt said in his opening statement explaining why we should expect many more fiery oil train derailments with the existing tank car fleet, “just do the math.”

Industry Arguments Laughable If Not For the Consequences

Would you believe that one of the arguments made at the roundtable in favor of not requiring thermal protection on these cars was that the oil itself acts as a heat sink? Which is true. Until the point where the oil absorbs so much heat from the fire that the tank car explodes.

However, the reason this argument is given credibility is that the regulations only require a tank car to endure sitting in a pool fire for 100 minutes without exploding. Forget the fact that many of the Bakken oil train accidents have involved fires that burned for days.

This 100-minute limit was the same reasoning used to justify the fiberglass insulation on the current jacketed CPC-1232 as offering sufficient protection, as per the industry request. Which led to the following exchange between the NTSB’s Sumwalt and RSI representative John Byrne.

Byrne: “In our own modeling the fiberglass insulation system met the federal requirement for thermal protection.”

Sumwalt: “But in reality in the fiberglass situation, doesn’t the fiberglass all just melt… doesn’t it also melt and all end up pooling down in the bottom in the void between the blanket and the shell?”

Byrne: “Basically yes…but at the same time, that whole system acts as a thermal protection system in that it meets the requirement based on the federal law.”

Sumwalt: “Ok, thanks. So it meets the requirements.”

So, along with the oil itself being offered as adequate thermal protection, we also get fiberglass that melts in a fire being offered as protection for anyone in the blast zone.

So what did the regulators have to say about this absurd argument?

FRA’s Karl Alexy made it clear that “industry” concerns were receiving serious consideration saying, “we’re not taking it lightly, we understand what it means to industry… be certain that we are taking this very seriously.”

Well, we do understand what it means to the industry. Adding ceramic thermal protection would cut into profits. And one thing that was made clear repeatedly during the day’s discussion was that this was all about the money and that safety was only for people worried about “risk.”

As usual when there is a discussion about oil train safety, the oil industry lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute had a seat at the table. API representative Susan Lemieux cut to the heart of the issue with some actual honesty.

“In the industry we don’t see transportation as a risk, it is just a function of business.”

Why try to improve the situation when you don’t see any risk?

The FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have informed DeSmog that they will issue a formal response to the industry’s request to allow the fiberglass to qualify as thermal protection in the near future.

The Ground Rules – Profits Over Safety

In the above slide shown of the DOT-117, there is one other important thing to note. The shells on those tank cars are 9/16th of an inch thick. The shells of the jacketed CPC-1232 are 7/16th of an inch thick. This difference has safety implications as the thinner shells rupture more easily.  The RSI points out this fact in a video on its website about the advantages of the thicker shells on the DOT-117 which they say are “less prone to puncture.”

But the more important difference, as we have pointed out repeatedly at DeSmog, is that safer car designs are heavier, which means they can transport less oil per car. That lower capacity again cuts into profits. This point was made by ExxonMobil in a slide they presented to regulators arguing against thicker tank shells.

While Exxon was not at the roundtable, plenty of oil and rail industry representatives were, and they made this point very clear.

Gabe Claypool, President of oil train operators Dakota Plains, explained why it made economic sense to use CPC-1232s over DOT-117s.

“A lot of it’s economics as well…we were just having a conversation around the sizing of the car, the 1232 car type is very much in abundance and it is also a larger car. In the current category of still trying to be profitable, if I can get that extra volume in a larger car that is still regulatorally [sic] compliant, they’re [sic] gonna stick with that.”

Richard Kloster of rail consulting firm Alltranstek was one of the more vocal participants during the roundtable and he repeatedly made points about the economics of retrofitting the CPC-1232 over buying the new DOT-117 saying, “The retrofit is always going to win economically.”

Kloster also made it clear where the industry put its priorities when it came to safety versus profit saying, “There has got to be a balance between safety and the economic viability of moving these products by rail” and that there were a “lot of cases, you know, where economics wins all the time but risk trumps economics in some cases.”

Economics wins all the time.

There was one representative from labor at the roundtable who did not offer a comment until the final closing segment, but he also shared the reality of what was driving the decisionmaking when he discussed the need for safety but stated, “I know it’s about money.”

ExxonMobil Wins Again

So, in the end, ExxonMobil and the oil industry have won again. Watching this roundtable and the many congressional hearings and previous NTSB events in the past few years and seeing the lack of progress on real safety improvements, it almost seems like this all was orchestrated from the start.

In the years leading up to the latest tank car rulemaking, the industry essentially ordered a whole new fleet of CPC-1232 cars which they are currently using. The CPC-1232 cars have the thinner tank shells which makes them more prone to puncture and also more profitable. And they are ok to use, unchanged, until 2025. If the industry request is approved, those cars will just need new bottom outlet valves after 2025.

Regardless, they will always have the thinner tank shells, like Exxon wanted.

At the end of the July 13 event, Robert Sumwalt made an interesting statement. He said, “some of us met yesterday to go over the ground rules.”

The meeting where they went over the ground rules was not open to the public or media. If one were to hazard a guess as to what the first and foremost ground rule set was, it would be a safe bet to posit it was that “economics wins all the time.”

Blog Image Credit: Dawn Faught via NTSB

 

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‘MOSIER’ Act demands derailment investigations and more

Repost from the Hood River News

‘MOSIER’ Act demands derailment investigations

July 19, 2016

DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier.
DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier. Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced a bill last Wednesday that would compel federal regulators to investigate every major oil train derailment.

The bill came in response to the June 3 fiery derailment in Mosier.

The Mandate Oil Spill Inspections and Emergency Rules (MOSIER) Act calls on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to place moratoriums on oil train traffic after major wrecks, and would require the Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of volatile gases in the crude oil those trains have been hauling.

“As Oregon has seen firsthand, these oil trains are rolling explosion hazards,” Merkley said in a statement. “That’s unacceptable. We need long-term solutions that will keep communities safe. Every accident needs to be fully and independently investigated.”

photo
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

The NTSB declined to launch a formal investigation into the Mosier derailment because there were no injuries or fatalities, and they deemed the wreck didn’t bring to light any new significant safety issues.

In a July 15 letter, the board replied that the agency “decided not to launch on the Mosier derailment due to limited resources and the current investigative workload in the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations (RPH). This information indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues. The tank cars were breached in a manner similar to those that we have seen in other accident investigations. In addition, the derailment resulted in no injuries or fatalities.”

Merkley argued the Federal Rail Administration should have the power to enforce moratoriums until identified problems are fully resolved, and that the more volatile type of crude known as Bakken needs to be “stabilized before it rolls through our communities.”

“Oregonians deserve the strongest possible protections from oil train derailments,” Wyden said. “This bill ensures that federal authorities can stop trains after a major derailment until a thorough investigation has been completed, and that the NTSB has ample resources to closely examine the root causes of such a crash.”

photo
Sen. Ron Wyden | Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

The proposed Act would:

  • Require the NTSB to investigate every major oil train derailment and provide resources to hire additional investigators.
  • Clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to put a moratorium on unit oil trains following an accident to allow for investigations to be completed and safety recommendations to be implemented.
  • Requires the Department of Transportation to establish and enforce a standard that reduces the amount of volatile gases in crude oil.

The MOSIER Act would supplement a 2015 rail safety bill, Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to establish a fee on outdated tanker cars in order to get them off the tracks faster. Funds from the fee would pay for cleanup costs associated with railroad accidents, railroad staff cost, and training local first responders.

Merkley and Wyden were among 12 policymakers who signed that bill.

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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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