I don’t know the times, locations, or other variables, in the exercise calculations, but I can envision places in Bismarck and Fargo where the death count might be zero at certain times of the day. I could also think of cases, especially in downtown Fargo, when thousands would be in the blast zone.
There were 47 deaths in Lac-Megantic (6,000 pop.) after a Bakken oil train derailed on July 6, 2013. Dozens of downtown buildings were incinerated, but due to the late hour, most of the people who died were assembled at one place of business. http://www.bing.com/videos/search…
“This order will bring every barrel of Bakken crude within standards to improve the safety of oil for transport,” said Governor Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, in a joint statement.
Considering the improved safety, North Dakota officials should have updated projections of fatalities for Fargo and Bismarck. They would know the June variables and the change in composition of the contents of the tanker cars, due to the new Order. You could extrapolate the information to predict the deaths and damage for your community.
What’s the new number for casualties? These people should know…
North Dakota Industrial Commission
Governor Dalrymple’s Chief of Staff
Governor Dalrymple’s Director and Policy Advisor
Lynn D. Helms, Director
Department of Mineral Resources
Oil and Gas Division
North Dakota Department of Emergency Services
Cass County (Fargo) Emergency Management
Fargo Fire Department
Steve Dirksen Fire Chief
Burleigh County (Bismarck) Emergency Management and Homeland Security
Mary H. Senger Emergency Manager
Bismarck Emergency Management Division
Gary Stockert Emergency Manager
Bismarck Fire Department
Joel Boespflug Chief
Repost from The Press Republican, Plattsburgh, NY [Editor: the safety improvements showcased here are far from adequate, nevertheless, it’s a good update on conditions in New York. Sen. Schumer is absolutely right – the DOT-111 tank cars should be taken out of service immediately… and not just in New York. And Bakken crude should be stabilized before it is transported (not just conditioned) … just as it is in Texas. – RS]
Area officials say crude-oil transport is getting safer
Lohr McKinstry, December 6, 2014
LEWIS — New state regulations on crude-oil trains should help make them safer, Emergency Services officials from Essex and Clinton counties said recently.
State agencies have implemented 66 actions designed to strengthen standards, regulations and procedures to make the transport of crude oil by rail and water in New York safer and to improve spill preparedness and response.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo received a status report outlining the progress made by multiple state agencies after they were directed to evaluate the state’s capacity to prevent and address crude-oil accidents.
Local leaders have been concerned about the 100-car-plus oil trains moving through Clinton and Essex counties as the crude oil extracted in North Dakota arrives via Canadian Pacific Railway trains.
The oil is on its way to the Port of Albany, where it is stored for transport to various refineries.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said he sees the new procedures as a safety benefit to the North Country.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he told the Press-Republican. “We’re in a better position than we were a year ago.”
There’s been concern the trains could derail, and the oil burn or explode, as it has in other regions, and Jaquish praised Canadian Pacific for trying to make the tracks and tank cars safer.
“Upgrading the DOT-111 tank cars, rail replacement and maintenance, and specialized training are all beneficial to safety.
“Canadian Pacific has been helping us with training, hands-on-experience, that first responders need for these situations.”
The tank cars are not owned by Canadian Pacific but by oil companies and vendors, and as a federal common carrier, the railroad is required to transport them.
Both the railroad and federal regulators have pushed for upgrades to the DOT-111 single-shell cars or a switch to the stronger DOT-109 or 112 cars.
“In almost any situation we get, we will be doing evacuations,” Jaquish said. “We’ve been working with Clinton County on planning and implementation.”
Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said any improvements to the transport of oil cars are welcome.
“At the end of the day, what they’ve done is good, no question,” Day told the Press-Republican. “Any regulatory move to make the DOT-111 cars safer is a plus. It’s a long time coming.”
One problem is that there are thousands of DOT-111 tank cars still in service, he said.
“There are so many of them (DOT-111 cars) out there on the tracks. They’re not going to stop moving the oil before they fix the cars. The oil is not going to stop coming any time soon.”
Day said enhanced state regulations on oil shipments will be helpful.
“If there are changes that are pushed upon them (shippers), it can only make it safer. We’ve seen some of the benefits of the state’s work with regard to planning,” he said.
“We have guidance now on firefighting potential on dealing with these things. There are so many variables. Multiple cars of this crude oil on fire are a different animal.”
He said that, thanks to a donation, they now have the foam needed for such fires. The expensive product costs $30,000 for 1,000 gallons of foam but puts out crude-oil-based fires.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission has proposed draft regulations to remove the volatile gases from the oil before it is shipped, and Day said that provision is a good one.
“One of the things that makes the Bakken crude so volatile are the gases in the oil. The gas works its way out and is stuck in the head space of the car. If they breech, there’s flammable gas; cars that aren’t breeched and heat up, the gas could expand and be a problem.
“Removing that gas is a possibility before they put in the cars and ship it. If they could do that, it’s a big win.”
Cuomo called for the federal government to mandate tank-car upgrades or replacement.
“The federal government plays a vital role in regulating this industry, and Washington must step up in order to expedite the implementation of safer policies and rules for crude-oil transport,” he said in the release.
The governor said the oil-production industry has resisted stronger tank-car standards and regulations requiring companies to reduce the volatility of crude before shipment.
A new report from the Brattle Group for the Railroad Supply Institute, a trade group, showed that a proposed federal rule to upgrade rail-tank cars could cost $60 billion.
According to the report, the high price tag is largely due to the costs associated with potential modifications to tank cars, early retirement of existing tank cars, temporarily using trucks instead of rails for transport and lost service time for tank cars under modification or awaiting modification.
U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) has also come out against use of DOT-111 cars.
“These outmoded DOT-111 tank cars … are ticking time bombs that need to be upgraded ASAP,” the senator said in a news release.
“That is why for two years, since the tragedy at Lac-Megantic, I have pushed federal regulators to phase out and retrofit these cars.
“As a result of our efforts, the federal Department of Transportation has put a proposal on the table that could start taking these cars off the tracks within two years, as well as restrict the speeds at which these trains operate.”
On July 6, 2013, a 74-tank-car train carrying Bakken light crude derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and the tank cars exploded, killing 47 people, destroying 30 buildings and spilling 1.5 million gallons of heavy crude oil.
That disaster was followed by oil-train-explosion derailments in Alabama, North Dakota, Illinois and New Brunswick, Canada.
Repost from The Daily Yonder, Speak Your Piece [Editor: Ok, I knew North Dakota regulators were working on regulations to get rid of volatile gases in the crude they ship by train, but I didn’t pay attention: I missed understanding the difference between oil “conditioning” and oil “stabilization.” If Ron Schalow is right, North Dakota officials are far from fixing the problem of volatile crude oil “bomb trains.” This is an important distinction – read on…. – RS]
North Dakota’s Other Oil Boom
North Dakota regulators could lessen the danger of crude-oil explosions that have killed bystanders and damaged property. Instead, the state’s Industrial Commission is likely to allow oil producers to continue shipping dangerous crude across North America when a commonly used fix is possible.
By Ron Schalow, 11/24/2014
The safety of millions of Americans who live, work or play within a mile of tracks where Bakken oil trains run are in the hands of three mortal men.
Unfortunately, these men make up the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
“It’s a little like the Wild West up in the Bakken, where everybody gets to do what they want to do,” says Myron Goforth, president of Dew Point Control LLC, in Sugarland, Texas. “In the Eagle Ford (Texas shale play), you’ve got to play by the rules, which forces the oil companies to treat it (crude) differently.”
Not in North Dakota, where oil regulators are finally feeling pressure to require the Bakken oil producers to render the trains non-explosive. The push comes six years after the first massive Bakken oil train explosion outside of Luther, Oklahoma, and seven months since the last, in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, where a quirk of physics turned the exploding tanker cars towards the river, sparing many people and buildings.
Making the trains safer has been possible all along. It seems that politicians in some states don’t want their citizens or towns incinerated, nor do they wish to watch property values drop in the meantime.
Will the North Dakota Industrial Commission act?
Spoiler alert: No.
The Bakken crude needs to be “stabilized,” to remove all explosive “natural gas liquids” such as ethane, propane and butane. That requires billions of dollars in additional equipment and infrastructure, and the oil companies don’t want to pay for it.
Stabilization is a standard practice in many other parts of the United States. And it’s a required part of preparing crude for shipment via pipelines. The explosion risk North Dakota’s lack of regulation imposes on railroad communities all over North America is completely unnecessary. And requiring stabilization would a further boost to the state’s economy. But that’s not enough for the commission.
Instead, the commission is going to sell a different process called “conditioning,” which the oil companies have been doing all along. And conditioning doesn’t do the job, unless you think that job should include towering fireballs, mushroom clouds, charred buildings and graves.
This conditioning lowers the ignition temperature of crude oil—but not by much. It leaves in solution most of the culprit gases, including butane and propane. Even the industry itself says conditioning would not make Bakken crude meaningfully safer for transportation, though it would make the state’s crude more consistent from one well to another.
The only solution for safety is stabilization, which evaporates and re-liquefies nearly all of the petroleum gases for separate delivery to refiners. Stabilization is voluntarily and uniformly practiced in the Eagle Ford formation in Texas.
And, right on cue, on November 13 North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms presented the North Dakota Industrial Commission with proposed new standards (there never were any old standards) to “condition” the Bakken crude, supposedly for the purpose of making the Bakken oil trains non-explosive. Or somewhat less explosive, kinda not explosive, or to get the height of the fireballs down into double digits… I don’t know.
But, if the goal is to render the Bakken oil trains NON-explosive, the proposal to “condition” the crude isn’t going to cut it.
I repeat, the producers have always “conditioned” the crude, but, evidently, now they’re going to be “forced” by the North Dakota Industrial Commission to turn the knob a few notches to the right, and everything will be peachy.
If it was that simple, perhaps they should have done that before dozens of people got killed – maybe sometime shortly after the first Bakken oil train derailed and blew sky high in 2008.
Commission Chair and North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has so much faith in “conditioning” that his own emergency exercise of a Bakken oil train derailment and explosion estimated 60 casualties in Bismarck or Fargo, both medium-sized cities in North Dakota. One can only guess the number of deaths, if a Bakken train were to jump the rails in Minneapolis or Chicago.
Furthermore, taxpayers are footing the bill for billions to outfit, equip and train firefighters and emergency personnel to deal with a Bakken oil derailment and explosion. Quebec is on the hook for the $2.7 billion disaster in Lac-Megantic, a village of 6,000. That explosion required responses from “more than 1,000 firefighters from 80 different municipalities in Quebec and from six counties in the state of Maine,” according to a report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
How much will it cost your community if tragedy strikes? Will North Dakota pay?
But, there is a bright side. When the next, or the next, or the next Bakken oil train disaster kills more people and decimates a section of Albany or Sacramento or Missoula or Perham, North Dakota can quit worrying about how to spend all of the money piling up in the Bank of North Dakota from oil production revenues. It will be gone to the survivors and a long list of stakeholders.
The loss will be due to willful negligence, disinterest or incompetence on the part of three men.
Ron Schalow lives in Fargo, North Dakota, and is part of the Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization.
Repost from The New York Times [Editor: This is an INCREDIBLE, intimate portrait of the lives and times of those living through the nightmare of the crude oil boom in North Dakota. Due to it’s GORGEOUS and informative interactive imagery, the Benicia Independent can only repost a small portion of this lengthy and immersive article. Get started here, then click on MORE. – RS]
The Downside of the Boom
North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances.
By DEBORAH SONTAG and ROBERT GEBELOFF NOV. 22, 2014
WILLISTON, N.D. — In early August 2013, Arlene Skurupey of Blacksburg, Va., got an animated call from the normally taciturn farmer who rents her family land in Billings County, N.D. There had been an accident at the Skurupey 1-9H oil well. “Oh, my gosh, the gold is blowing,” she said he told her. “Bakken gold.”
It was the 11th blowout since 2006 at a North Dakota well operated by Continental Resources, the most prolific producer in the booming Bakken oil patch. Spewing some 173,250 gallons of potential pollutants, the eruption, undisclosed at the time, was serious enough to bring the Oklahoma-based company’s chairman and chief executive, Harold G. Hamm, to the remote scene.
It was not the first or most catastrophic blowout visited by Mr. Hamm, a sharecropper’s son who became the wealthiest oilman in America and energy adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. Two years earlier, a towering derrick in Golden Valley County had erupted into flames and toppled, leaving three workers badly burned. “I was a human torch,” said the driller, Andrew J. Rohr.
Blowouts represent the riskiest failure in the oil business. Yet, despite these serious injuries and some 115,000 gallons spilled in those first 10 blowouts, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which regulates the drilling and production of oil and gas, did not penalize Continental until the 11th.
The commission — the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — imposed a $75,000 penalty. Earlier this year, though, the commission, as it often does, suspended 90 percent of the fine, settling for $7,500 after Continental blamed “an irresponsible supervisor” — just as it had blamed Mr. Rohr and his crew, contract workers, for the blowout that left them traumatized.
Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.
In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.
For those who champion fossil fuels as the key to America’s energy independence, North Dakota is an unrivaled success, a place where fracking has provoked little of the divisive environmental debate that takes place elsewhere. Its state leaders rarely mention the underside of the boom and do not release even summary statistics about environmental incidents and enforcement measures.
Over the past nine months, using previously undisclosed and unanalyzed records, bolstered by scores of interviews in North Dakota, The Times has pieced together a detailed accounting of the industry’s environmental record and the state’s approach to managing the “carbon rush.”
The Times found that the Industrial Commission wields its power to penalize the industry only as a last resort. It rarely pursues formal complaints and typically settles those for about 10 percent of the assessed penalties. Since 2006, the commission has collected an estimated $1.1 million in fines. This is a pittance compared with the $33 million (including some reimbursements for cleanups) collected by Texas’ equivalent authority over roughly the same period, when Texas produced four times the oil.
“We’re spoiling the child by sparing the rod,” said Daryl Peterson, a farmer who has filed a complaint seeking to compel the state to punish oil companies for spills that contaminated his land. “We should be using the sword, not the feather.”
North Dakota’s oil and gas regulatory setup is highly unusual in that it puts three top elected officials directly in charge of an industry that, through its executives and political action committees, can and does contribute to the officials’ campaigns. Mr. Hamm and other Continental officials, for instance, have contributed $39,900 to the commissioners since 2010. John B. Hess, chief executive of Hess Oil, the state’s second-biggest oil producer, contributed $25,000 to Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2012.
State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.
Mr. Dalrymple’s office said in a statement: “The North Dakota Industrial Commission has adopted some of the most stringent oil and gas production regulations in the country to enhance protections for our water, air and land. At the same time, the state has significantly increased staffing to enforce environmental protections. Our track record is one of increased regulation and oversight.”
Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
With spills steadily rising in North Dakota, evidence gathered by The Times suggests that the cooperative approach is not working that well for the state, where the Industrial Commission shares industry oversight with the state’s Health Department and federal agencies.
One environmental incident for every 11 wells in 2006, for instance, became one for every six last year, The Times found.
Through early October of this year, companies reported 3.8 million gallons spilled, nearly as much as in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. (In addition, the oil industry reported spilling 5.2 million gallons of nontoxic substances, mostly fresh water, which can alter the environment and carry contaminants.)
The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry. State officials, who rarely discuss them publicly, sometimes use them to present a rosier image. Over the summer, speaking to farmers in the town of Antler, Lynn D. Helms, the director of the Department of Mineral Resources, announced “a little bit of good news”: The spill rate per well was “steady or down.” In fact, the rate has risen sharply since the early days of the boom.
Presented with The Times’s data analysis, and asked if the state was doing an effective job at preventing spills, Mr. Helms struck a more sober note. “We’re doing O.K.,” he said. “We’re not doing great.”
He noted it is a federal agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that regulates oil transmission pipelines. “You can’t use the spills P.H.M.S.A. was responsible for and conclude my approach to regulation is not working,” he said.