Tag Archives: Oregon Senator Ron Wyden

‘MOSIER’ Act demands derailment investigations and more

Repost from the Hood River News

‘MOSIER’ Act demands derailment investigations

July 19, 2016

DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier.
DAMAGED Union Pacific oil train car is trucked away from town on June 8 during an anti-oil train rally at exit 69 in Mosier. Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden introduced a bill last Wednesday that would compel federal regulators to investigate every major oil train derailment.

The bill came in response to the June 3 fiery derailment in Mosier.

The Mandate Oil Spill Inspections and Emergency Rules (MOSIER) Act calls on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to place moratoriums on oil train traffic after major wrecks, and would require the Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of volatile gases in the crude oil those trains have been hauling.

“As Oregon has seen firsthand, these oil trains are rolling explosion hazards,” Merkley said in a statement. “That’s unacceptable. We need long-term solutions that will keep communities safe. Every accident needs to be fully and independently investigated.”

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

The NTSB declined to launch a formal investigation into the Mosier derailment because there were no injuries or fatalities, and they deemed the wreck didn’t bring to light any new significant safety issues.

In a July 15 letter, the board replied that the agency “decided not to launch on the Mosier derailment due to limited resources and the current investigative workload in the Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations (RPH). This information indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues. The tank cars were breached in a manner similar to those that we have seen in other accident investigations. In addition, the derailment resulted in no injuries or fatalities.”

Merkley argued the Federal Rail Administration should have the power to enforce moratoriums until identified problems are fully resolved, and that the more volatile type of crude known as Bakken needs to be “stabilized before it rolls through our communities.”

“Oregonians deserve the strongest possible protections from oil train derailments,” Wyden said. “This bill ensures that federal authorities can stop trains after a major derailment until a thorough investigation has been completed, and that the NTSB has ample resources to closely examine the root causes of such a crash.”

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Sen. Ron Wyden | Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

The proposed Act would:

  • Require the NTSB to investigate every major oil train derailment and provide resources to hire additional investigators.
  • Clarify the Federal Rail Administration’s authority to put a moratorium on unit oil trains following an accident to allow for investigations to be completed and safety recommendations to be implemented.
  • Requires the Department of Transportation to establish and enforce a standard that reduces the amount of volatile gases in crude oil.

The MOSIER Act would supplement a 2015 rail safety bill, Hazardous Materials Rail Transportation Safety Improvement Act, which seeks to establish a fee on outdated tanker cars in order to get them off the tracks faster. Funds from the fee would pay for cleanup costs associated with railroad accidents, railroad staff cost, and training local first responders.

Merkley and Wyden were among 12 policymakers who signed that bill.

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    NY TIMES / AP: Slow Progress Seen on Faulty Rail Cars

    Repost from the New York Times (AP)

    Upgrades to Unsafe Tank Cars Could Take 15 Years, Board Says

    By Matthew Brown, Associated Press, July 13, 2016, 2:30 A.M. E.D.T.
    Oil Train Accidents
    FILE–In this June 3, 2016, file frame from video provided by KGW-TV, smoke billows from a Union Pacific train that derailed near Mosier, Ore., in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. U.S. safety officials say they’ve seen slow progress in efforts to upgrade or replace tens of thousands of rupture-prone rail cars used to transport oil and ethanol, despite a string of fiery derailments. (KGW-TV via AP, file)

    BILLINGS, Mont. — Accident-prone tank cars used to haul crude oil and ethanol by rail could remain in service for another 15 years under federal rules that allow companies to phase in upgrades to the aging fleet, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

    Transportation officials and railroad representatives have touted the rules as a key piece of their efforts to stave off future disasters, following a string of fiery derailments and major spills that raised concerns about the crude-by-rail industry.

    Yet without mandatory, periodic benchmarks for meeting the requirements, the decision to upgrade to safer tank car designs “is left entirely to tank car fleet owners, and may be driven by market factor influences, not safety improvements,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    Tom Simpson with the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car manufacturers and owners, said the industry is committed to putting stronger cars in place. Members of the group will meet deadlines for replacing or upgrading the cars, he said, noting that demand for rail cars has eased after crude-by-rail shipments decreased over the past two years in response to lower oil prices.

    “The need to modify or install new cars isn’t as urgent as when the rule was issued,” Simpson said.

    In recent years, accidents involving the older cars have occurred in Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Illinois, West Virginia and Canada.

    The most notable was in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway oil train derailed in 2013. During the most recent accident last month in Oregon, 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, sparking a massive fire that burned for 14 hours near the small town of Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge.

    Cars built before the rule was enacted do not have to be fully replaced until 2029, although most would have to come off the tracks sooner.

    Just over 10,300 stronger tank cars mandated by the new rules are available for service, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press from the Association of American Railroads.

    That’s equivalent to roughly 20 percent of the 51,500 tank cars used to haul crude and ethanol during the first quarter of 2016.

    Transportation Department Press Secretary Clark Pettig said in response to the NTSB’s criticism that the schedule to retrofit older cars was locked in by Congress in a transportation bill approved last year. The Congressional deadline represents “the absolute last moment” to meet the new standards, Pettig said.

    “We agree with NTSB that industry should work to beat those deadlines,” he said.

    A Wednesday meeting was planned in Washington, D.C., where government and industry officials were set to update the safety board on progress addressing the issue.

    Safety board member Robert Sumwalt told the Associated Press that federal regulators need to set milestones to hold the industry accountable.

    “There’s been 28 accidents over the past 10 years. That’s almost three accidents a year,” Sumwalt said. “Unfortunately, history shows we probably will have more accidents involving flammable liquids.”

    A bill from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and other Democratic lawmakers would offer tax credits for companies that upgrade their cars during the next several years.

    “Communities near train tracks, like Mosier, Oregon, must be confident that companies are using the safest tank cars possible,” Wyden said.

    The railroad association said only 700 of the least resilient model of the older-style tank cars remain in service. Most of the cars in current use have at least some improvements, such as shields at either end of the car to help prevent punctures during derailments.

    Transportation officials cautioned, however, that thousands of idled “legacy cars” could quickly come back online if oil prices rise and shipment volumes rebound.

    Most tank cars are owned or leased by companies that ship fuel by rail, not the railroads themselves.

    “Every tank car carrying crude or ethanol needs to be upgraded or replaced,” said railroad association spokesman Ed Greenberg.

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      NPR: Why Feds Chose Not To Investigate Oil Train Derailment In Columbia Gorge

      Repost from OPB.org, Oregon Public Broadcasting
      [Editor/Background: Here is the  June 9 letter Senators Wyden and Merkley sent to the NTSB. Here is the NTSB’s full 48-page response. (Or jump to page 1 of the NTSB letter below.)  – RS]

      Why Feds Chose Not To Investigate Oil Train Derailment In Columbia Gorge

      By Tony Schick OPB/EarthFix | July 7, 2016 4:45 p.m. | Updated: July 8, 2016 9:06 a.m.
      A 16-car oil train derailment caused a fire and left a small oil sheen on the Columbia River.
      A 16-car oil train derailment caused a fire and left a small oil sheen on the Columbia River. CONRAD WILSON

      The National Transportation Safety Board has responded to letter from Oregon’s senators about why it did not investigate last month’s oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, saying its limited staff likely would not have gleaned any new safety recommendations from examining the incident.

      The federal agency provided a 50-page response to Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, saying it “recognizes the impact of this accident on your constituents and understands the concerns of those affected.”

      The NTSB said it did not send a team to Mosier because the incident involved no injuries or fatalities and because early information gathered from Union Pacific Railroad, first responders and the Federal Railroad Administration “indicated that the circumstances of this accident did not pose any new significant safety issues.”

      Specifically, federal investigators have seen tank cars rupture before when carrying flammable liquids. Their response to the Oregon senators included a list of 23 known incidents in North America involving crude oil, ethanol or other flammable liquids.

      The NTSB opened an investigation into only nine of those and has not yet closed any, according to data relased in the response.

      Wyden said he will be scrutinizing whether the agency needs to increase the size of its investigative staff.

      “As I keep working to build support in Congress for my bill, I will also continue to look at ways to improve oil-by-rail safety,” Wyden said. “I find it very disturbing that the NTSB did not appear to have enough resources to send an investigative team to Oregon to more closely examine the Mosier accident.”


      Read: NTSB Response to Wyden, Merkley

      Page 1 of NTSB-Response-to-Merkley-Wyden-07-05-2016

      Page 1 of NTSB-Response-to-Merkley-Wyden-07-05-2016

      Contributed to DocumentCloud by Tony Schick of EarthFix

      Emergency crews on June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Oregon, the day prior. AMELIA TEMPLETON
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        Oregon & California Senators ask for more oil train notifications

        Repost from The Seattle Times
        [Editor: Significant quote: “The four senators are…asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.”  – RS]

        Senators ask for more oil train notifications

        By Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press, September 30, 2014

        PORTLAND, Ore. — Four West Coast senators are asking the federal government to expand a recent order for railroads to notify state emergency responders of crude oil shipments.

        The letter, sent Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, says railroads should supply states with advanced notification of all high-hazard flammable liquid transports — including crude from outside the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as ethanol and 71 other liquids.

        The letter was signed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

        In May, Foxx ordered railroads operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil — or about 35 tank cars — to inform states that the trains traverse. The order came in the wake of repeated oil train derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

        The West Coast has received unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments in recent years. More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining or loading facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington, with another two dozen new projects or expansions in the works in the three states.

        But according to the California Energy Commission, oil from the Bakken region accounted just for a fourth of crude-by-rail deliveries to California since 2012. Canadian oil — which travels to California through Washington and Oregon, as well as through Idaho and Montana — accounted for as much as 76 percent of California oil deliveries, the senators wrote.

        Non-Bakken oil is also delivered to refineries and loading facilities in Oregon and Washington — including a terminal in Portland. A controversial proposed terminal in Vancouver, Washington, would also receive some non-Bakken crude.

        Wyden and Merkley in June similarly urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart wrote the two senators that month saying all crude shipments are flammable and a risk to communities and the environment — not just the Bakken oil.

        The four senators are now repeating the same demand and are also asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.

        The Association of American Railroads has said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order and the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.

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