Repost from Vice News [Editor: This excellent ForestEthics interactive map shows oil train routes throughout the U.S. & Canada. Just click on the map – be sure to zoom in close enough to see your own street’s name! Note that the map seems to have been updated to more accurately show the blast zone in and around the Valero Benicia refinery and the Benicia Bridge. – RS]
Do You Live In A “Bomb Train” Blast Zone?
By Spencer Chumbley, July 28, 2014
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.
The map below provides a striking visualization of where crude oil is traveling by rail throughout the United States and Canada. ForestEthics, the environmental group that created it, used industry data and reports from citizens who live near oil train routes to provide one of the first comprehensive visualizations of how many people are at risk from oil trains, and where.
The group estimates that some 25 million Americans live within the one-mile evacuation zone that the US Department of Transportation recommends in the event of an oil fire. Do you live in the blast zone of a bomb train?
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The dangers posed by a spike in oil shipments by rail extend beyond crude from the booming Bakken region of the Northern Plains and include oil produced elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. safety officials and lawmakers said.
Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said all crude shipments are flammable and can damage the environment – not just the Bakken shipments involved in a series of fiery accidents.
Hart cited recent derailments in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Brunswick and Pennsylvania of oil shipments from Canada. He said those cases exemplify “the risks to communities and for the environment for accidents involving non-Bakken crude oil.”
Hart’s comments were contained in a letter to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley obtained by The Associated Press. They add to growing pressure on federal regulators to improve oil train safety in the wake of repeated derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed in a massive conflagration last July.
Citing the highly volatile nature of Bakken oil, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last month ordered railroads to notify states of shipments from the region so firefighters and first responders can better prepare for accidents.
But Wyden and Merkley told Foxx on Thursday that the order leaves emergency personnel in the dark on oil shipped from outside the Bakken region.
The Oregon Democrats urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. They also pressed for the 1 million-gallon minimum threshold in Foxx’s order to be lowered to include smaller shipments.
“With the exception of the Lac-Megantic accident, every accident involving crude oil, ethanol and other flammable materials since 2006 has resulted in a hazardous materials release of less than 1,000,000 gallons,” Wyden and Merkley wrote to Foxx in a letter.
They said the derailments cited by the transportation safety board show that trains carrying non-Bakken crude or less than 1 million gallons pose the same “imminent hazard” that Foxx has asserted for Bakken oil.
Bakken oil on average travels more than 1,600 miles to reach its destination, transportation officials said. That’s much further than oil from some other parts of the country.
U.S. transportation officials said the lengthier journey increases the overall risk exposure for Bakken oil – and is one reason it’s being treated differently than other hazardous cargos.
Representatives of the oil industry and officials in North Dakota also have complained about Bakken oil being singled out by regulators – although for opposite reasons. The American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers have argued Bakken oil is no more volatile than other light, sweet crudes.
The concerns aired Thursday by the NTSB and Oregon senators essentially flip that argument on its head, to say different types of crude and other hazardous liquids such as ethanol also pose a significant safety risk.
“Accidents involving crude oil or flammable liquids of any kind, especially when these liquids are transported in large volumes, such as in unit trains or blocks of tank cars, can have disastrous consequences,” Hart said.
Association of American Railroads spokeswoman Holly Arthur said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order. She said the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.
About 700,000 barrels of oil a day – enough to fill 10 “unit trains” of 100 tank cars each – is coming out of the Bakken by rail, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. That’s about 70 percent of crude-by-rail shipments nationwide, according to federal officials.
Yet the same hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – technology that has helped drive the boom in the Bakken region during the past decade is being employed on shale oil fields elsewhere. Crude from the tar sands of western Canada is also fueling the surge in North American production.
Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said he supports getting more information on oil trains to first responders so they’re ready for potential accidents.
According to an analysis done for the U.S. State Department, more than half the loading capacity of oil train facilities built in recent years is in parts of the U.S. and Canada outside the Bakken region. That includes loading terminals in Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and parts of western Canada.
Repost from The Kansas City Star [Editor: Significant quote by BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose: “Without focus on the elements of safety, the social license to haul crude by rail will disappear, to say nothing of the regulatory agencies’ response.” – RS]
BNSF: Future of crude by rail depends on safety
James MacPherson, The Associated Press | 2014-05-21
BISMARCK, N.D. — The future of crude oil shipments by train depends on proving to the public that it can be done safely, the head of BNSF Railway Co. said Wednesday.
“Without focus on the elements of safety, the social license to haul crude by rail will disappear, to say nothing of the regulatory agencies’ response,” BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose told several hundred people at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.
BNSF is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but is part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., based in Omaha, Nebraska. The railroad is the biggest player in the rich oil fields of Montana and North Dakota, hauling about 75 percent of the more than 1 million barrels that moves out of the region daily.
Rose told the conference that the railroad is committed to preventing accidents like its Dec. 30 crash outside Casselton that left an ominous cloud over the town and led some residents to evacuate. The disaster in the small town west of Fargo was one of at least eight major accidents during the last year, including an explosion of Bakken crude in Lac-Megantic, Quebec that killed 47 people. Other trains carrying Bakken crude have since derailed and caught fire in Alabama, New Brunswick and Virginia.
Rose last month joined U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx at the North Dakota crash site, where options for enhancing tank car standards were discussed.
The crash occurred when a train carrying soybeans derailed in front of a BNSF oil train, causing that train to also derail and set off fiery explosions. The crash spilled about 400,000 gallons of crude oil, which took nearly three months to clean up.
Rose said the railroad has learned from the disaster and has done such things as decreased train speeds in some areas and increased inspections. The railroad also announced in February that it would voluntarily purchase a fleet a of 5,000 strengthened tank cars to improve safety for hazardous materials shipments. The company said it hoped to accelerate the transition to a new generation of safer tank cars and give manufacturers a head start in designing them as federal officials consider changes to the current standards.
Not everyone in the oil sector is eager to transition to stronger tank cars. At the expo a day earlier, Kari Cutting, vice president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said it was “not proven that extra steel is going to prevent those breaches.”
Cutting also said the newer, stronger DOT-111 tank cars have 14 percent less capacity than older tank cars. Cutting said making those cars the standard will require hundreds more trains to make up the lost volume, actually increasing the risk of accidents.
Oil from North Dakota began being shipped by trains in 2008 when the state reached capacity for pipeline shipments. The state is now the nation’s No. 2 oil producer, behind Texas.
BNSF said it plans to invest $5 billion in its railroad this year, including $900 million to expand capacity where crude oil shipments are surging. Its 2014 spending plan is about $1 billion more than last year, a record, Rose said.
Much of the upgrades will be aimed at safety, he said.
“BNSF believes, at the end of the day, that every rail accident is preventable,” Rose said.
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/05/21/5037936/bnsf-future-of-crude-by-rail-depends.html#storylink=cpy
Raitt’s changes come in response to citizen pressure following a string of spectacular oil train crashes in the past nine months, most particularly the crash in Lac Mégantic, Quebec on July 6, 2013 that killed 47 people.
Raitt proposed two measures of substance: speed limits of 80 kilometers per hour must be followed henceforth by trains containing 20 or more wagons of dangerous goods (that speed can be lowered in populated or ecologically sensitive areas), and the most dangerous of the DOT 111 rail wagons used to transport oil—those without continuous crash shields along the bottom, numbering 5,000 or so—be withdrawn from carrying dangerous cargo within 30 days.
Otherwise, the minister says that Canada’s estimated fleet of 65,000 older DOT 111s must undergo modifications within three years to improve crash resistance, and better emergency response plans must be in place for when crashes of trains carrying oil and other dangerous goods occur.
Until now, modifications to DOT 111s have been voluntary in the U.S. and Canada. As for emergency response, Canada already has a required ‘Emergency Response Assistance Plan’ (ERAP) system on its railways for the transport of chorine, liquid petroleum gases, explosives and other exceptionally dangerous cargo. That dates from the fallout of a 1979 rail crash and explosion of chlorine and propane in a Toronto suburb that forced the evacuation of 200,000 people from their homes. ERAPs will now be required for any train carrying crude oil or other liquid fossil fuel.
Raitt’s announcement creates for the first time a divergence between Canadian and U.S. railway regulations. Cross-border harmonization has been previously assured by Canada simply following any U.S. regulatory lead. Now, for the first time, several distinct, Canadian regulations may come into place for trains that U.S. railways and shippers wish to bring across the border.
This could become a real headache in three years time if U.S. shippers and carriers take longer to modify or phase out older DOT 111s. And since Lac Mégantic, they are showing few signs of any hurry. At a recent National Transportation Board hearing, a representative of the American Petroleum Institute said that older rail cars will be needed for at least ten more years.
Two measures that the federal government is refusing to take, responding to railway pressure, is advance notification by the railways to municipalities of the movement of dangerous cargos through their jurisdictions, and more extensive ‘route planning’ that would direct trains carrying dangerous cargos around populated areas. The latter measure would be costly for the railways and not logistically possible in many cases.
Of continuing note is the failure of the federal government to convene a judicial inquiry into the cause of the Lac Mégantic disaster. For the railways, oil shippers and the federal government, such a proceeding would be very uncomfortable. It would shed light on the string of circumstances that produced the disaster, and that might shed further light on criminal wrongdoing or liability in such areas as:
The dilapidated condition of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. The consignee of the oil on the fateful train was Irving Oil of New Brunswick. A consortium came together to begin to ship oil from North Dakota to Irving’s refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick in 2012. The consortium included CP Rail.
The failure to notify and warn communities of the possible safety consequences of the oil by train operation.
The successive decisions by federal rail regulators that allowed MM&A to operate with lesser safety standards that the Class I rail duopoly in Canada, including operating its trains with one employee only.
The mislabeling of the volatility of North Dakota oil that listed it as less dangerous than it was.
To this day, most U.S. oil shippers in North Dakota are refusing to share with the U.S. Department of Transportation the results of their chemical analyses of the crude product they are shipping.
North Dakota (and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan) is the location of the Bakken oil field, the second largest oil field in the U.S. Seventy per cent of its crude oil product is shipped by rail. The volatility of Bakken crude, it turns out, resembles that of refined gasoline.
The danger of railway shipments in North America is illustrated by a front page article appearing in the Toronto Star on April 26. It reports that in a 24 hour survey the newspaper recently conducted of one of the rail lines running through Toronto, owned by CP Rail, it counted more than 130 cars of crude oil, and tankers carrying methyl bromide and ethyl trichlorosilane — highly poisonous chemicals rated among the world’s most dangerous — as well as radioactive material, methanol, diesel, sulfuric acid and other hazardous goods.
The article reports that the railways and the federal government cite ‘security’ reasons for not divulging their shipments. But Fred Millar, a U.S. consultant on chemical safety and rail transport, tells the newspaper, “This security excuse is really a hoax. These are giant tank cars with placards on the sides that tell you what’s in them.”
Surge of oil by rail
In 2013, there were 450,000 carloads of oil moved by rail in the U.S. (not including movements by Canada’s two railways). So far in 2014, U.S. carload movements are up nine per cent over last year.
According to Statistics Canada, railways in Canada moved app. 165,000 carloads of fuel oils and crude petroleum in 2013, including movements into the U.S. The number jumps to 237,000 when liquid petroleum gas (propane, butane, etc) is included. Carloads of fuel oil and crude petroleum were up 18 per cent in January 2014 over the same month last year.
This will soon pale in comparison to the huge surge of Alberta tar sands bitumen and conventional oil that is coming. Tar sands and conventional crude producers and shippers are building rail capacity in Alberta and Saskatchewan at a dizzying rate. Some is already operational. The Financial Post reports that a total of 850,000 barrels per day of rail shipping capacity is under construction in Alberta, more than the amount of oil that the Keystone XL pipeline would carry. If all that went into trains, it would be half a million carloads in one year.
One of the largest operations under construction is being built by Kinder Morgan and Imperial Oil. It will handle 100,000 barrels of dilbit per day, app.1 1/3 unit trains per day, with an expansion capacity to take it to 250,000 bpd once further, feeder pipeline connections are made.
Whether by rail or by pipeline, port authorities in Houston and coastal Texas are gearing up for much more export traffic.
Port export projects are also planned in Saint John, New Brunswick (Irving Oil), on the lower St. Lawrence River at Cacouna, Quebec (TransCanada), and in Portland, Maine. These three projects are in anticipation of the Energy East tar sands pipeline with its planned capacity of 1.1 million barrels per day and the proposed ‘reversal’ of Enbridge Inc.’s aged Line 9 across southern Ontario.
One factor affecting oil by rail prospects is shipping costs. Compared to pipelines, the cost of shipping oil by rail is approximately double–$15-20 per barrel by rail compared to $7-11 for pipelines. More use of unit oil trains can bring down rail costs, though these heighten the dangers compared to mixed-cargo trains in which groups of cars carrying flammable liquids are separated by cars less-flammable products.
The Financial Post reports that the first unit bitumen train rolled out of Alberta late last year. Gary Kubera, chief executive of Canexus, one of the first oil train terminal companies to expand facilities in Alberta, told Reuters recently, “We expect unit trains will be going to the East, West and Gulf coasts. There is a lot of investment going into refineries to allow them to move crude by rail.”
One of the consequences of the surge of oil by rail (and coal) is that non-fossil fuel customers get short shrift because oil (and coal) shipments are more lucrative for the railways. For grain farmers in Canada and the U.S., 2013 was a bumper year, but they have lost significant income for lack of timely rail transport to get crops to market. The situation in Canada has become so bad that the federal government was obliged to adopt a special law in late March directing the rail companies to transport specified, weekly amounts of grain for the foreseeable future under penalty of fines. U.S farmers are also complaining, but so far there is no government action.
In Canada, there is a legislated maximum rate dating from the year 2000 that the railways can charge to grain farmers.
Last December, some Amtrak passenger train service connecting Chicago and the west coast was cancelled because of heavy coal and oil traffic on shared rail lines.
Meanwhile, a new entry to the fossil fuel-congested rail line story is… sand! The product is required extensively for oil and gas fracking. U.S. fracking-sand shipments have jumped more than fourfold since 2007, to 20.9 million tonnes in 2012, according to Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based market researcher. Demand is expected to more than double to 47.3 million tonnes by 2022, the group predicts.
It’s all a major profit bonanza for the railways. In Canada, CN and CP reported first quarter profits in 2014 of $254 million and $623 million, increases of 17 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, over the same quarter last year. Overall revenues in 2013 were up seven per cent at CN and eight per cent at CP.
In the U.S., the largest rail carrier of oil, BNSF, had 2013 earnings of $6.7 billion, up 15 per cent over the previous year. Union Pacific earned $7.4 billion the same year, up ten per cent.
All of this comes as scientists are saying ever more urgently that if humanity is to avoid runaway global warming with catastrophic consequences for human society, a rapid shift is needed away from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The latest such warning is in a report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in late March. The report was the result of three years’ work by more than 300 scientists around the world.