Tag Archives: Oil stabilization

Railway Age Magazine: The importance of little accidents

Repost from Railway Age Magazine
[Editor: At every turn, when an article mentions the North Dakota requirement for crude oil “stabilization,” I must remind the reader that North Dakota does NOT require crude oil “conditioning” as is required in Texas.  Conditioning would make the oil much safer.  – RS]

The importance of little accidents

By  David Schanoes, July 20, 2015 
You know the kind I mean: the ones where nobody gets hurt, nothing blows up, and nobody shows up, except you.

You get there. There’s no press, no NTSB “go team,” no competing reflectorized vests with initials like FBI, DHS, ATF, PHMSA, DEA, FRA, NTSB. No senators expressing shock and dismay and demanding that heads will—as the cameras do—roll.

There’s just you. The wreckmaster is on the way. The track supervisor too. The local fire department is there, and the cops. Everybody is thinking, “What a mess.” And looking at you.

And you know what? It’s better this way. We might actually be able to learn something. Less noise, more signal.

We’ve had a couple of the little ones recently.

First, on July 16, a BNSF unit crude oil train derailed 22 cars near Culbertson, Mont. Three tank cars ruptured, spilling approximately 35,000 gallons of crude. No fire, no explosion, no headlines, none of that stuff I listed above and that I would be happy to never list again.

Now, if I were BNSF, or the NTSB, or FRA, or DOT, or PHMSA, I’d be very interested in this no-fire, no-explosion derailment. BNSF hasn’t identified the source of the crude, but since the train was loaded by Savage Bakken Oil Services in Trenton, N. Dak., I think it’s safe to assume that the contents of this train was Bakken crude.

Last April, North Dakota required that Bakken crude be stabilized (reducing its volatility) prior to transport. So I’d be very interested in knowing if this train was transporting the stabilized crude.

Even more recently, USDOT has established new specs for tank cars handling unpressurized flammable materials, replacing DOT 111 and 111A specs for those cars with the new 117 classification. Another “interim” car, CPC 1232, is currently in service.

So I’d be very interested in knowing if the three cars that ruptured were 111, 111A, or 1232 models. ’d also be very interested in knowing if other cars that did derail but did not rupture are 111, 111A, or 1232 models.

DOT has also stipulated that CBR trains be fitted for ECP, electro-pneumatic braking, meaning of course, that the CBR tank cars must be fitted for ECP braking.

ECP braking is not a new concept. It’s been around for at least, what, 60 years? Instead of using changes in air pressure traveling throughout the entire length of the train to signal for the application of brakes, electro-pneumatic braking sends an electronic signal to receivers on each car’s air brake apparatus to initiate braking. “Lag time” is virtually eliminated; brakes set up simultaneously, smoothly, with dramatic reduction of in-train forces. Great idea—for passenger trains, where all the cars share common electrical connections with the locomotive.

ECP may be a great idea for freight trains. It’s definitely an expensive one, as the 90,000 or so tank cars currently more or less captured in hazmat/CBR transport have no electrical connections to anything.

So I’d be interested in knowing, with ECP braking, how many of the 22 cars that did derail would not have derailed. I’d be interested in knowing if the three tank cars that ruptured after derailing (a) wouldn’t have derailed to begin with and (b) would not have been subject to “rupture forces” due to additional impact from following cars if ECP braking had been installed.

Sounds like a job for TTCI, if you ask me.

And we had a second little accident on Friday, July 17, 2015, right here in New York City. Initially reported as a “sideswipe,” it was in fact a collision between two LIRR passenger trains. A westbound train was stopped at an interlocking signal at HALL. An eastbound train violated a signal displaying “stop,” and proceeded to collide with the stopped train. You can see a summary of the accident on, where else? YouTube. The summary begins around 3:31 into the video.

Again, no injuries, no fires, no explosions. But a lot to learn, because at 13:50 into the video, the president of the LIRR says that because this stop signal violation and resulting collision took place in the interlocking, “PTC isn’t going to help.”

This is startling news, and I hope it’s just a misunderstanding, as LIRR’s approved PTCIP (PTC Implementation Plan), available in public docket FRA-2010-0031, states:

The LIRR PTC system will enforce a stop at every Home Signal displaying a Stop aspect. Transponders provide the onboard computer with the information that the train is approaching a Home Signal and the distance to that Home Signal. The onboard system uses this data to generate a speed profile with a 0 mph target speed at a target point in approach to the signal. . . .

Now, back in the day, “home signals” meant the extreme outer opposing signals of an interlocking. Signals within the interlocking might be referred to as intermediate signals, although the requirements for complying with a stop indication from such a signal within the interlocking limits was exactly the same as that for the home signal.

The distinction between “home” and “intermediate” interlocking signals has operating significance only in defining the geographical boundaries of the interlocking in which all the interlocking rules apply, including stop at every signal displaying stop.

In addition 49 CFR 236.1005(a)(1)(i) (“Requirements for Positive Train Control systems) requires at interlockings where PTC routes intersect that PTC enforce “the stop on all routes.”

It’s the little things that mean the most, sometimes, so I’m looking forward to the little answers.

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    Latest ‘bomb train’ incident predictable

    Repost from The Hawkeye, Burlington, Iowa

    Latest ‘bomb train’ incident predictable

    By Kathleen Sloan, May 11, 2015

    BNSF Railway carried the Hess Corp.-owned rail car, which carried highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and appears to have followed the law.

    President Barack Obama weighed and rejected using executive authority to curb the transport of this explosive crude oil, rich in butane and propane, because he decided North Dakota state law should be the controlling authority. But the law North Dakota passed in December and went into effect just last month, only requires less than 13.7 pounds-per-square-inch vapor pressure inside the tanker, despite explosions at lower pressures.

    That’s almost 40 percent more than the average vapor pressure among the 63 tanker cars that exploded July 6, 2013, at Lac-Megantic, Quebec. That disaster killed 47 people, some of whom could not be found because they were vaporized, and is driving recent federal and state rail car regulations.

    According to an Albany, N.Y., Times Union investigation, the average vapor pressure among 72 tanker cars in the Lac-Megantic train was 10 psi.

    Hess Corp. tested the crude just before loading at 10.8 psi, according to Associated Press reporters Matthew Brown and Blake Nicholson, in their follow-up story about the derailment at Heimdal, N.D.

    While federal regulations only require flash point and boiling point to be measured, North Dakota now requires vapor pressure be measured. But measuring and labeling the danger does not make transporting it safe.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation’s two divisions, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, are the regulating authorities overseeing railway transport of crude oil. Generally, the FRA is responsible for train car and rail safety, while the PHMSA inspects the proper testing of the oil. That determines the oil’s proper classification and its proper “packaging” in pressurized cars and their labeling.

    Other PHMSA duties include checking shipping documents to see if the shipper has self-certified the procedures properly as well as employee safety and handling training.

    The U.S. DOT initiated “Operation Safe Delivery” in August 2013, in reaction to the Lac-Megantic incident, although the Bakken oil boom dates to 2008.

    A federal rule-making process also began in August 2013. Those rules went into effect last week.

    PHMSA, as part of Operation Safe Delivery, took several samples of Bakken crude oil from rail-loading facilities, storage tanks and pipelines used to load rail cars. Several also were collected from cargo tanks.

    The first set of samples were taken August through November 2013 and the second set February through May 2014.

    The first set showed psi vapor pressure among a dozen samples ranging from 7.7 psi to 11.75 psi.

    A second set of 88 samples showed vapor pressure ranging from 10.1 psi to 15.1, with the average at about 12 psi.

    Only six of the 88 samples were at or exceeded North Dakota’s 13.7 psi. This means shippers are not required to treat most of the crude generated from the Bakken oil formation before loading it onto cars.

    The “Operation Safe Delivery Update,” available on the PHMSA website, also gives test results for propane, sulphur, hydrogen sulfide, methane and butane content.

    The conclusions in the Operations Safe Delivery Update, which was not dated, are:

    “Bakken crude’s high volatility level — a relative measure of a specific material’s tendency to vaporize — is indicated by tests concluding that it is a ‘light’ crude oil with a high gas content, a low flash point, a low boiling point and high vapor pressure …

    “Given Bakken crude oil’s volatility, there is an increased risk of a significant incident involving this material due to the significant volume that is transported, the routes and the extremely long distances it is moving by rail… These trains often travel over a thousand miles from the Bakken region to refinery locations along the coasts…”

    And although the report states, “PHMSA and FRA plan to continue … to work with the regulated community to ensure the safe transportation of crude oil across the nation,” the new rules that went into effect last week did nothing about regulating vapor pressure.

    Instead, the rules phase out weaker and older pressurized tanker cars, the DOT-111, by 2020, and phase in CPC-1232 cars.

    So far, at least four derailments of CPC-1232 cars carrying Bakken oil have exploded:

      • March 5 in Galena, Ill.;
      • Feb. 1 in Mount Carbon, W.Va.;
      • Feb. 15 near Timmons, Ontario; and
      • Last year in Lynchburg, Va.

    Experts in various news articles and public comment submitted during the federal rule-making stated the way to make transport safe is to refine the crude before shipping. That would involve building refineries near the extraction point, which experts pointed out would be expensive.

    In a Sept. 26, 2014, story, Railway Age contributing editor David Thomas applauded North Dakota for “using state jurisdiction over natural resources to fill the vacuum created by the federal government’s abdication of its constitutional responsibility for rail safety and hazardous materials.”

    But Thomas admitted the state law on crude treatment would reduce the danger only slightly.

    “Simply put, North Dakotan crude will have to be lightly pressure-cooked to boil off a fraction of the volatile ‘light ends’ before shipment,” Thomas said. “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-liquifies nearly all of the petroleum gases for separate delivery to refiners,” Thomas said.

    He points out owners and shippers in the Eagle Fork formation in Texas, voluntarily stabilize their crude before shipping. It’s more volatile than Bakken crude.

    “So far, stabilized Eagle Fork crude has been transported by tank car as far away as Quebec City, without the fireballs that have plagued the shipment of unstabilized Bakken crude,” Thomas said. “The Texan gases are liquefied and piped underground to the state’s Gulf Coast petrochemical complex for processing and sale.”

    Keeping the volatile gases in solution during shipping, while dangerous, is profitable.

    Thomas said North Dakota has no nearby petrochemical plants, which “explains the oil industry’s collective decision not to extract the otherwise commercially valuable gases from North Dakota crude oil. Instead, most of the explosive gases remain dissolved in the unstabilized Bakken oil for extraction after delivery to distant refineries.”

    The PHMSA, however, requires butane and propane be removed from the crude before it is injected into pipelines, Thomas said.

    Comments to the federal rule-making pointed out Bakken oil is made more dangerous still by corrosive chemicals used in the fracking process. The crude is further treated with chemicals to make the molasses-like consistency easier to pump.

    Severe corrosion to the inner surface of the tanker cars, manway covers, valves and fittings have been recorded in various incidents, commentators said.

    The lack of federal regulations is not the only problem. Enforcement is minimal because there are only 56 inspectors, according to PHMSA spokesman Gordon Delcambre.

    Ten of those have been assigned to the North Dakota Bakken oil formation region, he said.

    In the PHMSA 2013 annual enforcement report, 151 cases were prosecuted and 312 civil penalty tickets were issued, resulting in $1.87 million in fines. The largest fine was $120,200.

    The report did not mention what the hazardous material was in 173 of the 463 enforcement actions.

    Only one enforcement action appeared to result from an inspection of “fuel oil” transport, which resulted in a $975 fine for incorrect “packaging” and failure to prove, through documents, employees had been given the required safety and hazardous material handling training.

    According to BNSF Railway’s report to the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management, required by a U.S. DOT emergency order since May 2014, a range of zero-to-six trains carrying at least 1 million gallons (30,000 gallons per car or about 35 cars or more) pass through Burlington each week.

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      Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) Declares Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulatory System “Fundamentally Broken”

      Repost from DeSmogBlog
      [Editor:  This excellent DeSmogBlog article is more about the power of the oil industry lobby than it is about Rep. Speier.  For video and transcript of Rep. Speier’s comments go to YouTube: “Congresswoman Speier calls PHMSA toothless kitten.” On her Facebook page, Speier recommends more about PHMSA’s pipeline regulatory failings at POLITICO Magazine.”  – RS]

      Congresswoman Declares Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulatory System “Fundamentally Broken”

      By Justin Mikulka, April 23, 2015 – 04:58

      The system is fundamentally broken.”

      Those were the words of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) during an April 14th hearing on oil-by-rail and pipeline safety.

      For anyone expecting the soon to be released oil-by-rail regulations to make any meaningful improvements to safety, it would be wise to review the full comments made by Rep. Speier.

      It has been more than four years since a gas pipeline exploded in Speier’s district in San Bruno, California resulting in eight deaths, huge fires and destruction of a neighborhood. In her testimony she recounted how the state regulators were clearly in league with industry prior to this accident. And in the time since she has come to find that federal regulators, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), “does not have the teeth—or the will—to enforce pipeline safety in this country.”

      PHMSA is the agency also in charge of the new oil-by-rail regulations as it is a division of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). One thing is certain — the new regulations won’t address the volatility of Bakken oil. The White House has already decided that the regulations will not deal with this issue and instead they left it up to North Dakota to deal with it.

      North Dakota passed regulations that went into effect April 1 that require the oil to be “conditioned” prior to shipment by rail to address the volatility. However, as has been documented on DeSmogBlog before, conditioning doesn’t remove the volatile and explosive natural gas liquids from the oil. That requires a process known as stabilization.

      So with no rules in place to require the oil to be stabilized, future train accidents involving Bakken oil will very likely be similar to the seven that have occurred since July 2013. Huge fires, exploding tank cars and the now all too familiar Bakken mushroom cloud of flame.

      There have been seven accidents and it has been the same in all of them. But the White House has decided that the regulations don’t need to address this issue.

      Recently the Department of Energy (DOE) got involved in the discussion about Bakken crude with the release of a document called Literature Survey of Crude Oil Properties Relevant to Handling and Fire Safety in Transport.

      It is interesting that the DOE is commissioning reports on this topic since the department has no regulatory oversight of oil-by-rail. The report received little attention upon its release, although it was immediately touted by the American Petroleum Institute (API) as proving that the characteristics of crude oil had nothing to do with the fires occurring in the Bakken train accidents.

      The API press release stated, “The Department of Energy found no data showing correlation between crude oil properties and the likelihood or severity of a fire caused by a derailment.”

      During the recent hearing, this new DOE report was cited twice by two separate members of Congress. They both used the report to question a statement recently made by Federal Railroad Administration acting administrator Sarah Feinberg regarding the need for the oil companies to reduce the vapor pressure and volatility of oil for rail transport. Reducing the vapor pressure and volatility would require stabilization.

      Early in the hearing, Rep. Lou Barletta (D-PA) read a question that contained the exact same description of the report’s conclusion as the API press release.

      You [Feinberg] have recently called on the energy industry to quote ‘do more to control the volatility of its cargo.’ You may have seen a recent report from the Department of Energy where the agency found no data showing correlation between crude oil properties and the likelihood or severity of a fire caused by a derailment.”

      Rep. Barletta received $106,540 from big rail in the last election cycle.

      Later in the hearing, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) read the exact same statement. It appeared even Feinberg was a bit surprised at being asked the exact same question by two different congressmen as she responded, “I’m happy to take that question again.”

      Rep. Babin received $37,550 from the oil industry in the last election cycle with $7,500 coming from Exxon Mobil.

      So, while the API wasn’t at this hearing, they had two members of Congress directly reading prepared questions that echoed their press release on the DOE report word for word.

      Watch video of the two identical questions asked at the hearing:

      The first important thing to note about the “no data” talking point is that it is true. The report did not find data on this because that isn’t what the report was designed to do. The report reviewed three field sampling studies on the characteristics of Bakken crude oil. None of these studies looked at “correlation between crude oil properties and the likelihood or severity of a fire caused by a derailment.”

      It is easy to say you found “no data” when you know there is none in your source material to begin with.

      Perhaps the most insidious part of this is that no one at the hearing called them on their blatant mischaracterization of the report and their ignorance of the science of Bakken oil and volatility.

      In a recent article about the volatility of oil in Al Jazeera, an actual petroleum engineer clearly stated what is widely known in the oil and rail industries but is “debated” by the API and congress and regulators to avoid having to regulate the Bakken crude.

      The notion that this requires significant research and development is a bunch of BS,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston. “The science behind this has been revealed over 80 years ago, and developing a simple spreadsheet to calculate risk based on composition and vapor pressure is trivial. This can be done today.”

      A bunch of BS. The oil industry, DOE, FRA and PHMSA want us to believe that the properties of oil aren’t currently understood. And as outrageous as that assertion is, multiple hearings and reports have been conducted on the matter. And many more will occur before anything is done.

      The DOE report outlines all of the further research the department will be doing on this issue over the next couple of years.

      And as previously reported on DeSmogBlog, the exact same thing is happening with tar sands oil and dilbit. Hearings, studies, reports. With many of the studies and reports being directly funded by the American Petroleum Institute and its members. All dragging on years after major incidents like the Kalamazoo River dilbit spill.

      In her testimony, Rep. Speier didn’t hold back on her feelings about the failures of the regulatory system.

      PHMSA is not only a toothless tiger, but one that has overdosed on Quaaludes and is passed out on the job.

      But the reality is that PHMSA is just a small piece of the much larger puzzle that includes the Department of Energy, the White House, the Federal Railroad Administration and first and foremost, the American Petroleum Institute and their supporters at all levels.

      A couple of days after the hearing, FRA acting administrator Sarah Feinberg appeared on Rachel Maddow’s show to discuss this problem and said the following regarding stabilization of oil.

      The science is still out. The verdict is still out on what the best way is to treat this product before placing it into transport.”

      Watch FRA acting administrator Sarah Feinberg in this Maddow clip:

      But the science isn’t still out. Even in the DOE report, it clearly states that the oil needs to be stabilized to reduce the vapor pressure and that conditioning the oil, as they currently require in North Dakota, does not accomplish this.

      To add to the absurdity of this situation, Feinberg admitted to Maddow that the oil industry stabilizes the oil before it is transported in pipelines or on ships. Apparently the science is crystal clear in those cases.

      So while Feinberg got beat up at the hearing by congressmen and their API talking points, there was Feinberg on Maddow’s show spouting other API talking points.

      Rep. Speier is probably wrong. The system isn’t fundamentally broken. This would be true if the system was designed to keep the public safe, but it isn’t. The system is designed to keep corporate profits safe so the reality is that the system is working as designed. And the bomb trains continue to roll.

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        Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say

        Repost from The Tri-City Herald

        Rules on oil train, pipeline safety not moving fast enough, lawmakers say

        By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, April 14, 2015

        A chorus of lawmakers expressed frustration Tuesday with the delays in approving and implementing various regulations related to the movement of hazardous materials by rail and pipeline.

        The acting chiefs of two U.S. Department of Transportation agencies heard Republicans and Democrats in the House Transportation Committee complain that rules on railroad tank cars and oil and gas pipelines had been on the table for as long as four years.

        “It’s just unacceptable,” said Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

        Sarah Feinberg of the Federal Railroad Administration and Tim Butters of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration noted that they have little choice but to work within a multi-step process that involves public comment, industry participation and multiple layers of review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

        “It’s not built for speed,” Feinberg testified. “I wish that it was.”

        Butters said that his agency had received 30,000 comments on its proposed rule to improve the safety of oil trains. He said the agency needed to evaluate them as part of its process.

        “We have to go through all of those,” he said. “And that takes time.”

        But a series of train derailments and pipeline failures in recent years has caught the attention of members of Congress, who are hearing concerns from their constituents.

        “That’s just an excuse,” said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., the panel’s chairman. “Four years is too long.”

        Last week, Feinberg visited Denham’s district in Central California to discuss pending rules on the construction of tank cars used to carry flammable liquids, the way the trains are operated and the way the tracks are inspected and maintained.

        She also visited the Sacramento-area district of Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat who last month introduced legislation to regulate the volatility of crude oil loaded into tank cars. Texas and North Dakota, the nation’s leading oil producers, currently set such limits.

        Garamendi proposed that the committee write the new rules into the larger surface transportation bill Congress needs to pass this year.

        “We could write laws that protect the public,” he said. “Why don’t we do that?”

        Acts of Congress don’t always make things go faster. In 2008, lawmakers mandated that railroads install a GPS-based collision-avoidance system called Positive Train Control by the end of 2015. But the nation’s freight and passenger railroads are likely to miss the Dec. 31 deadline.

        Once the new oil train rules become final, it could take years to retrofit or replace tens of thousands of tank cars used to transport the country’s supply of crude oil and ethanol.

        As a sign of how slowly the process moves, Capuano noted that BNSF, the nation’s biggest hauler of crude oil in trains, has gotten ahead of regulators by voluntarily lowering train speeds, increasing track inspections and encouraging shippers to use better tank cars.

        “Whose butt do we have to kick?” he asked. “Whose budget do we have to cut? Whose budget do we have to enhance to make this work?”

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