“Oh Ira, why can’t you work more quickly?” That might’ve been what tunesmith George Gershwin said to his lyric-writing brother Ira Gershwin. But for transportation purposes, it’s essentially what Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D- N.D., said Thursday to OIRA – pronounced “oh-Ira” – the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, within the Office of Management and Budget.
OIRA is where proposed regulations go for a final vetting and it now has under review a series of proposed rules on more robust oil tank cars and safer transport of crude oil.
In a letter to OMB director Shaun Donovan, Heitkamp urged OIRA to “quickly finalize” the regulations so that shippers and first responders can know what they must do to more safely ship crude oil. Much of that oil comes from the Bakken formation in Heitkamp’s state and in Montana and is carried by rail to refineries on the East Coast and the West Coast.
She cited the December 2013 derailment, explosion and fire in Casselton, N.D., noting that while no one was killed in that incident “we were lucky… but we cannot depend on luck.”
Meanwhile House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter A. DeFazio, D- Ore., has asked the Government Accountability Office to report to him on what railroads and the federal government are doing to prepare for an oil train derailment and fire “particularly in the most remote and environmentally sensitive areas”
DeFazio specifically asked the GAO to examine what the railroads are doing to preposition “critical resources necessary to respond to spills in both urban and rural areas, including forest lands, with limited road access, prone to catastrophic fire, or at-risk due to long-term drought” and to preposition “critical resources to contain and clean-up oil spills into rivers or other water bodies.”
Repost from McClatchy DC News [Editor: In addition to breaking news about the EPA’s order of “imminent and substantial danger,” this article is an excellent summary of five recent hazmat derailments in as many weeks. – RS]
EPA: Illinois oil train derailment threatens Mississippi River
By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, March 7, 2015
WASHINGTON — An oil train derailment and spill in northwest Illinois poses an “imminent and substantial danger” of contaminating the Mississippi River, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday.
The EPA said it couldn’t estimate how much oil was spilled, but that the 21 cars of the 105-car BNSF Railway train that derailed contained 630,000 gallons of Bakken crude from North Dakota. Small fires from the wreckage continued to burn Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, another oil train derailed and caught fire near Gogama, Ontario, bringing to five the total number of fiery derailments in the U.S. and Canada in as many weeks.
The safety of trains carrying flammable materials has become an issue as the introduction of new drilling technology has allowed the development of crude oil deposits far from traditional pipelines, particularly in the so-called Bakken formation in North Dakota. Rail has become the preferred way to transport that crude to refineries, with railroads moving about 500,000 carloads of oil last year, according to industry estimates, up from 9,500 in 2008. One tank car holds 30,000 gallons.
But recent derailments have cast doubt on the effectiveness of safety efforts and suggest that no tank car currently in service on the North American rail system is tough enough to resist damage in relatively low-speed derailments.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is investigating the Illinois derailment, the train was traveling at just 23 miles per hour when it left the tracks, well below the maximum speed allowed. The damaged tank cars were newer CPC-1232 tank cars, which are supposed to be safer than previous ones, but have failed in at least four derailments this year and at least two in 2014.
Saturday’s derailment of a Canadian National Railway train took place about 23 miles from where another oil train derailed on the same rail line three weeks ago. The railroad said on Twitter Saturday afternoon that five cars were in a local waterway, some of them on fire. About 264,000 gallons of oil were released in the Feb. 14 derailment. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating both accidents.
The Illinois derailment is the second in three weeks on U.S. rails. On Feb. 16, 28 cars of a 107-car CSX train derailed in Mount Carbon, W.Va., and 19 caught fire. One house was destroyed and more than 100 residents were evacuated for four days. Many residents and first responders witnessed columns of fire rising hundreds of feet in the air as several of the tank cars ruptured from heat exposure.
A Canadian Pacific train carrying ethanol derailed on Feb. 4 along the Upper Mississippi north of Dubuque, Iowa. The EPA estimates about 55,000 gallons spilled, some of which burned and some of which was recovered from the icy river.
In a statement Saturday, BNSF said a temporary road was being built to the Illinois site, about four miles south of Galena, to help extinguish remaining fires and remove damaged cars. The railroad said it “sincerely regrets” the impact of the derailment.
“Protection of the communities we serve, the safety of our employees and protection of the environment are our highest priorities,” the railroad said.
The role of the newer CPC-1232 tank cars in recent derailments and fires raises new worries about the risk shipments of oil pose to the cities and towns through which they travel. The rail industry adopted the CPC-1232 tank cars as standard in 2011 for oil shipments, saying they were an improvement over the DOT-111 tank car, which had been in use for decades to haul a variety of commodities, including ethanol and crude.
But in spite of special reinforcement of exposed areas, the new cars are still prone to spilling their contents, even at relatively low speeds.
On Jan. 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent new regulations for oil and ethanol trains to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The rule-making package is expected to include a new tank car design that exceeds the CPC-1232 standard.
According to the department’s February report on significant rule-makings, the final rule is scheduled for publication on May 12.
McKeesport incident among derailments that prompt Casey to push ‘crude-by-rail’ rule
By Patrick Cloonan, Feb. 27, 2015, 5:26 a.m.
A June 7 CSX freight train derailment on a bridge overlooking the Marina at McKees Point was one of at least three in the last 13 months on Southwestern Pennsylvania tracks.
That and other incidents — including last week’s West Virginia tanker accident — prompted U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, to call on federal officials to speed up implementation of a “crude by rail” rule governing oil shipments by freight trains.
“Crude oil shipments by rail have increased drastically over the past several years, largely due to the rise of oil production in North Dakota,” Casey wrote to Shaun Donovan, director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, in a letter released Thursday. “Large quantities of this oil travel through Pennsylvania and other states on a daily basis and are shipped by older rail cars that are prone to rupture.”
That included a Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX train carrying 100 tankers of crude oil through Mt. Carbon, W.Va., 30 miles southeast of Charleston.
Nineteen cars caught fire, oil leaked into the nearby Kanawha River, one house burned to the ground and at least one injury was reported.
Standards for such shipments have been devised by the federal Department of Transportation, with help from freight carriers.
“This is a complex issue with railroads working with policymakers to set the rules and with oil shippers to properly classify tank car contents,” Association of American Railroads spokesman Ed Greenberg said. “The federal government’s long-awaited rules will not only provide certainty, but we also feel (it will) chart a new course for ensuring the safer movement of crude oil by rail.”
The proposal must be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, which said it needs until May to finalize the rule.
“We know that rail transportation is crucial to our economy,” Casey said. “Millions of Americans live near these rail lines and have a right to expect … every step to protect them.”
Casey said he was addressing the Democratic Obama Administration and Republicans who control Congress. He said he pushed hard for funding passed last year that opens the door to hiring 15 new rail and hazardous material inspectors and retaining 45 rail safety positions.
“And we can use more,” the senator said.
Others heard him including the Association of American Railroads, a policy, research and technology entity whose members include all major North American freight carriers and Amtrak.
“America’s freight rail industry supports tougher tank car specifications and, for years, our association has called for stronger federal standards for tank cars,” Greenberg said.
As the Department of Transportation formulated its proposal last fall, the association submitted to the department what it called a comprehensive safety package for stronger tank cars.
Greenberg said it addressed increased shell thickness, use of jacket protection, thermal protection, full-height head shields, appropriately sized pressure relief devices, bottom-outlet handle protection and top-fittings protection.
CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle echoed Greenberg, saying CSX collaborated with the association and other industry partners in developing comments on the proposed new rules.
“Railroads have dramatically improved safety over the last three decades,” Greenberg said. That includes an investment of more than $575 billion since 1980 into the nation’s freight rail network.
Greenberg said freight railroads project spending $29 billion this year on safety-enhancing infrastructure and equipment.
“That said, we recognize more has to be done to ensure the safe movement of this product,” Greenberg said.
That came to light at 10:56 p.m. June 7 when a CSX train headed from New Castle to Connellsville crossed the trestle alongside the Jerome Bridge. Ten of 88 train cars derailed.
Three hung for a time over the Youghiogheny River as well as boats docked at the Marina.
“You could tell the wheels were not on the rail, even before the crash,” said Ashley Bound of Elizabeth. “We were in a boat about 50 feet away and, when I saw all the sparks, I said: ‘I don’t think that’s supposed to happen.’ I was freaking out. It was scary.”
Officials said no one was injured, no chemicals spilled and most cars were empty or carried scrap metal. CSX said a car with “light petroleum” remained upright and did not leak.
Casey referred to derailments last month in Uniontown and Philadelphia as well as the Feb. 13, 2014, derailment of 21 Norfolk Southern rail cars hauling propane gas and Canadian crude oil through Vandergrift.
There cars crashed into the MSI Corp. specialty metals factory. One car spilled 1,000 gallons of heavy crude, but no spillage reached the nearby Kiskiminetas River.
On Jan. 22 in Uniontown seven cars filled with sand for use in the Marcellus shale industry turned over within 2 feet of homes along Locust and East Penn streets.
According to various reports, 11 cars in a CSX train came off the tracks in South Philadelphia on Jan. 31, but the cars remained upright and no chemical leaks were detected.
“Pennsylvania has borne the brunt of many of these derailments,” Casey said. “It’s important for residents to have the peace of mind in knowing that the necessary actions are being taken to improve safety on our nation’s railways.” Carriers serving area towns say they agree.
“Safety is CSX’s highest priority, and we are sensitive to the concerns of the communities where we operate regarding the increasing volume of crude oil that is being moved by train,” Doolittle said.
“Norfolk Southern every day shoulders the obligation of being a common carrier, which means when a shipper gives us a hazardous materials tank car that meets current federal safety standards, we must haul it,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said. “No matter what comes out of proposed new regulations, Norfolk Southern wants the safest tank car to be moving on our network because safety is our top priority — safety of our employees, safety of our customers’ products, safety of the communities in which we operate.”
Revised Oil-Train Safety Rule Said to Delay Upgrade Deadline
by Jim Snyder, February 12, 2015
(Bloomberg) — The Obama administration revised its proposal to prevent oil trains from catching fire in derailments, giving companies more time to upgrade their fleets but sticking with a requirement that new tank cars have thicker walls and better brakes.
The changes, described by three people familiar with the proposal who asked not to be identified because the plan has not been made public, are in proposed regulations the U.S. Transportation Department sent to the White House last week for review prior to being released.
The administration is revising safety standards after a series of oil-train accidents, including a 2013 disaster in Canada that killed 47 people when a runaway train derailed and blew up. Earlier this month a train carrying ethanol derailed and caught fire outside of Dubuque, Iowa. No one was hurt.
Companies that own tank cars opposed the aggressive schedule for modifying cars in the DOT’s July draft, saying it would have cost billions of dollars and could slow oil production. That plan gave companies two years to retrofit cars hauling the most volatile crude oil, including from North Dakota’s booming Bakken field.
Railroads and oil companies fought the brake requirement and proposed a standard for the steel walls that was thinner than suggested by the agency.
Karen Darch, the mayor of the Chicago suburb of Barrington, Illinois, and an advocate for safer cars, said she was encouraged that the rules included stronger tank cars and upgraded brakes. She disagreed with adding years to the retrofit deadline.
“Taking more time on something that’s already taken too long is problematic,” Darch said Thursday in a phone interview.
Officials in the President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget could change the proposal before the final version is released, probably in May. Darius Kirkwood, a spokesman at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Transportation Department unit that wrote the rule, said he couldn’t comment on a proposed rule.
“The department has and will continue to put a premium on getting this critical rule done as quickly as possible, but we’ve always committed ourselves to getting it done right,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said this month in a statement about the timing of the safety rule.
The current proposal would require companies to first upgrade tank cars known as DOT-111s, which safety investigators have said are prone to puncture in rail accidents, according to one of the people. Cars with an extra jacket of protection would remain in use longer before undergoing modifications, according to one of the people.
A newer model known as the CPC-1232, which the industry in 2011 voluntarily agreed to build in response to safety concerns, would have a later deadline than the DOT-111s for modification or replacement, three people said.
The CPC-1232s have more protection at the ends of the cars and than the DOT-111s and a reinforced top fitting.
The draft rule also would require that new tank cars be built with steel shells that are 9/16th of an inch thick, the people said. The walls of the current cars, both DOT-111s and CPC-1232s, are 7/16th of an inch thick.
A joint proposal from the American Petroleum Institute and the Association of American Railroads argued to set the tank-car shell thickness at half an inch, or 8/16ths.
Railroads and oil companies also lobbied against a proposal that the trains have electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, which are designed to stop all rolling cars at a same time.
The Association of American Railroads in June told Transportation Department officials that the electronic brakes would cost as much as $15,000 for each car and have only a minimal safety impact.
Trains often haul 100 or more tank cars filled with crude. These trains have increasingly been used to haul crude as oil production has boomed in places, like North Dakota, that don’t have enough pipelines.
Rail shipments of oil surged to 408,000 car loads last year from 11,000 in 2009.