Repost from The Albany Times Union [Editor: Has anyone researched similar legal authority in California? Under what jurisdictional authority would Governor Brown have power to stop crude oil trains, regardless of federal preemption? – RS]
State’s next gamble is oil trains
By Christopher Amato and Charlene Benton, March 19, 2015
Having won approval for legalized casino gambling in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now rolling the dice on oil trains. The string of oil train disasters over the last year and a half, including four derailments in the past month in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario resulting in massive fires, explosions and air and water pollution, shows that transporting crude oil in unsafe rail cars poses a significant threat to New Yorkers’ lives and property and the state’s natural resources.
Indeed, the oil train report prepared at the governor’s direction by five state agencies and the scores of oil train safety violations detected by federal and state inspectors confirm the dangers of transporting oil in unsafe rail cars. Yet the governor refuses to use the state’s authority to end this hazardous practice. Instead, he claims — incorrectly — that only the federal government has the authority to protect New Yorkers from the dangers of oil trains.
The Environmental Conservation Law authorizes the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation to order the immediate discontinuance of any condition or activity that he finds “presents an imminent danger to the health or welfare of the people of the state or results in or is likely to result in irreversible or irreparable damage to natural resources.”
In 1990, then-DEC Commissioner Tom Jorling ordered several companies to halt the transportation of oil and sludge in unsafe barges. In that case, a federal appeals court ruled that federal law did not prevent the commissioner from exercising his emergency authority.
In October 2014, we submitted a petition to DEC on behalf of a broad coalition of community and environmental organizations requesting that Commissioner Joe Martens use his authority to prohibit the receipt and storage of crude oil in unsafe rail cars at the Albany oil terminals operated by Global Cos. and Buckeye Partners. Recently, DEC rejected the petition in a two-page letter, claiming that only the federal government can act to protect New Yorkers.
If, as the federal appeals court has held, federal law does not prevent the DEC commissioner from ordering an emergency halt to the transport of oil and sludge in unsafe barges, why can’t the commissioner order a halt to the receipt and storage of crude oil in unsafe rail cars? Given the high stakes, isn’t this course of action at least worth trying?
The Cuomo administration has repeatedly claimed that New York is the most aggressive state in the nation taking action on the threats posed by the rail transportation of highly volatile crude oil. But a recent news story reported that dangerous oil train shipments in New York have expanded on Cuomo’s watch, while other states like Washington are blocking crude-by-rail projects or requiring a full environmental, health and safety review of such projects.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that an average of 10 oil train derailments will occur each year for the next two decades, and predicts that a derailment in a populated area — such as Albany — could kill hundreds of people and result in billions of dollars in damages. It is time for the Cuomo administration to stop gambling that New York will escape the type of oil train catastrophe that has already occurred in Alabama, Virginia, North Dakota, West Virginia, Illinois, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Quebec. If the governor’s luck runs out, it may cost New Yorkers their lives.
Repost from CBC News [Editor: from Wikipedia: “Moncton is a Canadian city located in Westmorland County in southeastern New Brunswick. Situated in the Petitcodiac River Valley, Moncton lies at the geographic centre of the Maritime Provinces.”– RS]
Oil spilled in derailment at Moncton train yard
CBC News, Nov 08, 2014
About 150 litres of oil spilled when a number of rail cars derailed Saturday morning at CN’s Gordon Yard in Moncton, a CN spokesperson says.
Louis Antoine Paquin says the train derailment happened at about 12:20 a.m.
There were 16 cars on the train, all remained upright. Ten were carrying unrefined crude oil, while the remaining six were empty cars that are used to transport vehicles.
The leak was quickly plugged and the clean up is complete, said Paquin.
Paul Bruens, a platoon chief with the Moncton fire department, said they weren’t informed of the derailment until 7:45 a.m.
“They requested us for their assistance on a standby mode while they transferred fuel from a damaged rail car into an undamaged rail car,” he said.
Bruens said the incident happened on private property, away from homes and businesses.
Many railroad companies want more time to retrofit cars in the U.S. and Canada, but some are forging ahead.
By Joe Eaton for National Geographic, October 31, 2014
Three days after an oil train derailed and exploded in 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, Greg Saxton wandered through the disaster site inspecting tank cars.
For Saxton, the damage was personal. Some of the tank cars were built by Greenbrier, an Oregon-based manufacturer where he’s chief engineer. Almost every car that derailed was punctured, some in multiple places. Crude oil flowed from the gashes, fueling the flames, covering the ground, and running off into nearby waterways.
Each day, as Saxton returned to the disaster zone, he passed a Roman Catholic church. “We never came and went when there wasn’t a funeral going on,” he said.
“If you don’t set an aggressive time line, you won’t see improvements as quickly as the current safety demands require,” Jack Isselmann, a Greenbrier spokesman, said. “We’ve been frankly just perplexed and confused by the resistance.”
Industry Pushes for More Time
The tank cars that derailed at Lac-Mégantic were built before October 2011, when the American Railway Association mandated safety enhancements to the oil and ethanol tankers known in the industry as DOT-111 cars. The cars lacked puncture-resistant steel jackets, thermal insulation, and heavy steel shields, all of which could have lessened the destruction, experts say.
In July, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) proposed rules that, if finalized, would require higher safety standards for new oil cars. The rules also require owners to retrofit older cars or remove them from the rails by October 2017.
Canadian regulators in July mandated that DOT-111 tank cars built before 2014 be retrofitted or phased out by May 2017. Transport Canada, which regulates rail safety, has also proposed aggressive safety standards for new tank cars and will seek industry comment this fall before finalizing its rules.
Saxton and others at Greenbrier support the proposed regulations, which could be tremendously lucrative to the company. However, others in the rail supply industry say the proposed retrofit time line cannot be met.
The Railway Supply Institute—a trade organization that represents the rail industry—has asked DOT to allow legacy cars in the oil and ethanol fleet to remain on the rails until 2020.
Thomas Simpson, the institute’s president, said a survey of rail maintenance and repair shops found that only 15,000 of the roughly 50,000 non-jacketed legacy tank cars in the crude oil and ethanol fleet can be modified by the proposed 2017 deadline.
For many cars, the retrofit process would include adding thermal protection systems, thick steel plates at the ends, and outer steel jackets, as well as reconfiguring the bottom outlet valve to ensure it does not break off and release oil during a derailment.
That’s too much work to complete before the deadline, and the regulations have not yet been finalized, Simpson said.
The proposed deadline, he said, will “idle cars waiting for shop capacity and adversely affect the movement of crude and ethanol.”
In comments to U.S. regulators and the press, API tied the safety upgrades to approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta’s tar sands oil through the Midwest to Texas refineries.
Both API and the Rail Supply Institute have also warned regulators that a short time line for retrofitting oil cars could cause a spike in truck shipments of oil and ethanol.
But Anthony Swift, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group opposed to Keystone XL, called these arguments misleading. Swift said Keystone XL would have little impact on retrofitting tank cars, because most train traffic from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota moves to East Coast and West Coast refineries. He said that traffic would not be affected by the pipeline.
Swift said the costs to the oil industry are worthwhile if lives are saved. “The argument that we need to wait until the oil industry does not need tank cars until we can make them safe is ridiculous on its face,” he said.
Greenbrier Gears Up to Meet Demand
In February, Greenbrier introduced a beefed-up tanker with a 9/16-inch steel shell (1/8-inch thicker than many DOT-111 cars), 11-gauge steel jacket, removable bottom valve, and rollover protection for fittings along the top of the cars.
Greenbrier calls the tanker the “car of the future,” saying it’s eight times safer than the DOT-111. Isselmann said Greenbrier has received more than 3,000 orders for the new car and plans to double its manufacturing capacity by the end of the year.
In June, Greenbrier and Kansas rail-service company Watco joined forces to form GBW Railcar Services, creating the largest independent railcar repair-shop network in North America. Isselmann said the company plans to hire 400 workers and start second shifts at its factories to meet demand for retrofitting DOT-111 tank cars.
In comments to U.S. regulators, GBW said it currently has the capacity to retrofit more than 10 percent of the fleet of DOT-111 tank cars.
Isselmann said that number will grow as other companies take advantage of the market once regulators release final rules. For that reason, he said the industry’s current capacity to meet regulations is less important than its ability to ramp up quickly to capture the increased business that new safety standards could bring.
“This notion that the status quo is going to remain—it’s diversionary at best,” Isselmann said.
Some in the industry are responding to public concern before rules are finalized. In April, Irving Oil—the owner of Canada’s largest refinery, in Saint John, New Brunswick, where the Lac-Mégantic train was headed before the disaster—completed a voluntary conversion of its crude oil railcar fleet.
Also in April, Global Partners, one of the largest U.S. distributors of gasoline and other fuels, began requiring all crude oil unit trains making deliveries at its East and West Coast terminals to meet October 2011 safety standards for tank car design.
“As an industry, we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to maximize public confidence in the safety of the system that carries these products across the country,” Eric Slifka, Global Partners’ CEO, said in a press release.
A Push to Harmonize Regulations
As the U.S. and Canada consider train safety regulations, oil and rail companies are pushing to ensure that the same tank cars can be used to haul flammable liquids in both countries.
Regulators say they are working together to make that happen. Lauren Armstrong, a spokeswoman at Transport Canada, said the department is holding technical discussions on new tank car standards with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration.
However, coordinating tank car regulations between the two countries would have to overcome current gaps, industry representatives say.
In April, Transport Canada banned the use of the oldest and least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars, which lacked bottom reinforcement. The U.S. so far has not banned the cars from carrying oil and ethanol.
Canada also set a 2017 deadline for retrofitting the cars. In the U.S., regulators are expected to release final rules by early 2015. The process, however, could continue much longer.
The strongest standards will carry the day, said Thomas Simpson, the president of the Railway Supply Institute. Given the large amount of oil that moves between the two countries, Simpson said it makes no business sense for companies to keep two different sets of cars to meet the two sets of rules.
Communities Concerned About Safety
But as final rules are being hammered out in the U.S., some train safety advocates and community groups worry they are being left out of the process.
Repost from Vice News [Editor: The best-yet video on oil by rail – an excellent 23-minute documentary on the North American crisis in oil production and transport. Primary coverage of dangers in the Pacific Northwest, but also giving an overview of the massive increase in Bakkan production, DOT-111 rail cars and industry lobbying against federal and local attempts to regulate. Highly recommended. To embed this video elsewhere go to its Youtube location. – RS]
Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Rail
It’s estimated that 9 million barrels of crude oil are moving over the rail lines of North America at any given moment. Oil trains charging through Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, and Canada’s Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta provinces have derailed and exploded, resulting in severe environmental damage and, in the case of Quebec, considerable human casualties.
A continental oil boom and lack of pipeline infrastructure have forced unprecedented amounts of oil onto US and Canadian railroads. With 43 times more oil being hauled along US rail lines in 2013 than in 2005, communities across North America are bracing for another catastrophe.
VICE News traveled to the Pacific Northwest to investigate the rapid expansion of oil-by-rail transport and speak with residents on the frontline of the battle over bomb trains.