Tag Archives: Oil stabilization

Half Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

Repost from DeSmogBlog
[Editor:  See the more detailed interactive map of schools by the Center for Biological Diversity.  Note Benicia’s Robert Semple Elementary School on the Center’s map, located just 0.88 miles from a Union Pacific train route which currently carries hazardous materials and is proposed for Valero Refinery’s Crude By Rail project.  Here’s a map of Robert Semple school and the tracks.  – RS] 

Half a Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

By Justin Mikulka, September 7, 2015 – 04:58

A new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that 500,000 students in California attend schools within a half-mile of rail tracks used by oil trains, and more than another 500,000 are within a mile of the tracks.

“Railroad disasters shouldn’t be one of the ‘three Rs’ on the minds of California school kids and their parents,” said Valerie Love with the Center. “Oil trains have jumped the tracks and exploded in communities across the country. These dangerous bomb trains don’t belong anywhere near California’s schools or our children.”

Click for larger image

Current safety regulations for first responders dealing with oil trains recommend evacuating everyone within a half-mile of any incident with an oil train. This wasn’t much of a problem for the most recent oil train accident in July in Culbertson, Montana because there were only 30 people within the half-mile radius area. However, in populated areas like California, potential scenarios could involve large-scale evacuations and casualties.

In addition to the threat posed to California’s students, the report Crude Injustice on the Rails released earlier this year by ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment, pointed out that in California the communities within the half-mile blast zones were also more likely to be low-income minority neighborhoods.

As more communities across the country become aware of the very real risks these oil trains pose, opposition is mounting to new oil-by-rail projects as well as challenges to existing facilities.

This past week in California, the Santa Clara County board of supervisors voted to keep oil trains out, citing an “unacceptable risk to our community.”

In Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) held a hearing on the subject and heard from concerned residents like Catherine Dorr, as reported by the local CBS station.

We’re in the 100 foot blast zone,” Dorr said. “My house and 60 townhouse residents are going to be toast if there’s an explosion.”

In Albany, New York which is the largest oil-by-rail hub on the East coast, this week a coalition of groups announced their intentions to sue the oil company transporting Bakken crude through Albany and challenge the validity of the air quality permit the company received in 2012.

And even in remote places like North Dakota, where much of the oil originates, the U.S. military is concerned about the proximity of the oil train tracks to nuclear missile facilities.

With all of this concern about the dangers of oil trains, a new report by the Associated Press (AP) paints a troubling picture about the preparedness of populated areas to respond to an oil-by-rail incident. The report was based on interviews with emergency management professionals in 12 large cities across the U.S.

It concludes, “The responses show emergency planning remains a work in progress even as crude has become one of the nation’s most common hazardous materials transported by rail.”

As noted on DeSmog, one of the reasons that the oil trains pose such a high risk is that the oil industry refuses to stabilize the oil to make it safe to transport. And the new regulations for oil-by-rail transport released this year allow for older unsafe tank cars to be used for another 8-10 years.

While the regulations require modernized braking systems on oil trains in future years, the rail industry is fighting this and a Senate committee recently voted to remove this from the regulations.

The reality is that unless there are drastic changes made, anyone living within a half mile of these tracks will be at risk for years to come.

And while oil production isn’t increasing in the U.S. right now due to the low price of oil, industry efforts to lift the current ban on exporting crude oil could result in a huge increase in fracked oil production. In turn, that oil will be put on trains that will head to coastal facilities and be loaded on tankers and sent to Asia.

Despite all of the opposition and the years-long process to complete new regulations, as the Associated Press notes, it isn’t like the emergency first responders are comfortable with the current situation.

“There could be a huge loss of life if we have a derailment, spill and fire next to a heavily populated area or event,” said Wayne Senter, executive director of the Washington state association of fire chiefs. “That’s what keeps us up at night.”

And even the federal regulators expect there are going to be catastrophic accidents. As reported by the AP earlier this year, the Department of Transportation expects oil and ethanol trains “will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.”

With the known risks and the number of accidents, so far communities in the U.S have avoided disaster. But as Senator Franken pointed out, that has just been a matter of luck.

We’ve been lucky here in Minnesota and North Dakota and Wisconsin that we’ve not seen that kind of fatalities, but we don’t want this to be all about luck,” Sen. Franken said.

As over 1,000,000 students in California start a new school year in schools where they can easily hear the train whistles from the oil trains passing through their communities, let’s all hope we keep this lucky streak going.

    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.

      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.