Tag Archives: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

Maryland judge orders railroads to release oil train reports

Repost from McClatchyDC

Maryland judge orders release of oil train reports

HIGHLIGHTS
• Case marks first time railroads have lost on the issue in court
• Judge not persuaded that release would harm security, business
• Companies that filed 2014 lawsuit have until Sept. 4 to appeal

By Curtis Tate, August 17, 2015
Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the the reports confidential.
Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the reports confidential. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

WASHINGTON – A Maryland judge rejected two rail carriers’ arguments that oil train reports should be withheld from the public, ordering them released to McClatchy and other news organizations that sought them.

The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.

The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring in May 2014 that railroads inform states of large shipments of crude oil after a series of derailments with spills, fires, explosions and evacuations. Since February, six more major oil train derailments have occurred in North America.

Nonetheless, some railroads have continued to press their case that the reports should be exempt from disclosure under state open records laws. Most states shared the documents anyway, and Pennsylvania and Texas did so after McClatchy appealed. Maryland is the only state that was taken to court after it said it would release the reports.

Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the Maryland Department of the Environment in July 2014 to stop the state agency from releasing the records to McClatchy and the Associated Press. They have until Sept. 4 to appeal the decision, issued Friday by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Both companies, which transport crude oil to East Coast refineries concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said they would review the decision.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would “respond at the appropriate time and venue.”

Melanie Cost, a spokeswoman for CSX, said the railroad “remains committed to safely moving these and all other shipments on its network.”

The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to access them.

In his 20-page opinion, Fletcher-Hill was not persuaded by arguments that releasing the oil train reports would harm the railroads’ security and business interests. He also dismissed the relevance of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May final rule addressing the safety of oil trains. The companies had argued that the final rule supported their claims.

He also ordered the companies to pay any open court costs.

In a statement, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said the agency was pleased with the ruling and that it is “committed to transparency in government.”

Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil, produced through hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in North Dakota, has grown exponentially in the past five years. However, a series of fiery derailments, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people, have raised numerous concerns about public safety, environmental protection and emergency planning and response.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued an emergency order on May 7, 2014, that required any railroad shipping 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through a state to inform that state’s emergency response commission what routes the trains would take and which counties they would cross, as well as provide a reasonable estimate of how many trains to expect in a week.

Beginning in June 2014, McClatchy submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports, including Maryland.

McClatchy was able to glean some of the details in the Maryland report through a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak, which owns part of Norfolk Southern’s oil train route in the state. The subsequent release of oil train reports in Pennsylvania revealed more about such operations in Maryland.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an 84-page assessment of oil train safety in the state, which examined derailment risk, tank car failures and regulatory oversight. Some Maryland lawmakers have called for the state to perform a similar assessment.

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    Pennsylvania hires expert to evaluate, advise on oil train risks

    Repost from Railway Track & Structures

    Pennsylvania hires Zarembski to evaluate, advise on freight system risk mitigation

    May 4, 2015

    Pennsylvania hires Zarembski to evaluate, advise on freight system risk mitigationThe state of Pennsylvania has hired Dr. Allan M. Zarembski to a three-month contract to assess the state freight system, which hosts 60-70 crude oil trains a week.

    Zarembski, who is an internationally recognized expert in the area of railway track and structures, vehicle-track dynamics, failure and risk analysis, safety, railway operations, and maintenance, will evaluate Pennsylvania’s freight rail system and advise Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on risk reduction and safety. Zarembski will also work to identify areas of high risk and make recommendations for crude-by-rail safety measures, as well as identify ways to implement those measures as efficiently and cost-effective as possible.

    “My administration is focused on the safety of Pennsylvanians and protecting people from the potential disaster resulting from Bakken crude oil train derailments,” said Gov. Wolf. “I have expressed grave concern regarding the transportation of crude oil in the commonwealth and have taken several steps to prevent potential disasters. Zarembski is an internationally recognized rail expert and he has extensive experience with rail safety and risk analysis. Pennsylvania sees some of the largest volume of Bakken crude oil transportation by rail in the United States and the potential for disaster is too great to ignore. I will continue to take steps to ensure the safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens.”

    A University of Delaware research professor and the director of the railroad engineering and safety program, Zarembski has extensive experience in rail operations, including freight operations, transit, commuter and inter-urban rail. Zarembski has authored or co-authored more than 170 technical papers, more than 120 technical articles and two books “The Art and Science of Rail Grinding” and “Tracking R&D” both published by Simmons Boardman Books.

     

     

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      How many explosions before we stop crude-by-rail?

      Repost from Oil Change International

      How many explosions before we stop crude-by-rail?

      Matt Maiorana, March 13, 2015

      This past Saturday, it happened again. A train carrying highly volatile crude oil, in this case tar sands crude from Alberta, derailed in Ontario and caught fire, damaging a bridge in the blaze. This is the fourth time in as many weeks an oil train has derailed and caught fire or exploded.

      That’s right, there have been FOUR oil train derailments in North America over the past month. Here’s what that looks like:

      rail-blog v1

      There’s clear outrage at the local level, but, so far, political action in Washington has been nearly nonexistent. Worse, some recent reports suggest the Obama administration ‘balked’ at dealing with the problem when considering it last year.

      Government Inaction

      The White House is the responsible party here and it’s time this issue be given the level of attention it deserves by President Obama. It has been 20 months since the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, but the President seems content pushing paper around while meeting with industry representatives.

      As recently as last week dozens of industry representatives met with White House officials downplaying the need for strict safety regulations while an oil train in Illinois was still burning.

      As it stands, draft safety standards put forth by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a part of the Department of Transportation, are awaiting final approval by the Obama Administration.

      These new rules are a potentially important step, but the recent accidents make it clear even upgraded safety won’t be enough. All four accidents happened with “safer” oil tank cars, not the DOT-111 tankers widely known to be dangerous — and there are no reports any of the trains were going above the speed limit.

      President Obama should adopt the strictest possible safety standards, but, at the end of the day, the only safe place for this oil is in the ground — we simply can’t afford to burn it for climate reasons and there’s no good way to transport it.

      These Were No Minor Accidents

      Let’s take a look at the recent derailments and why this past month demands more of a public response from Washington than it has received thus far:

      1. February 14, Ontario #1:
        • The train was going within the speed limit
        • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
        • The train was carrying tar sands crude
        • The resulting fire destroyed 900 feet of track and burned for 6 days
      2. February 16, West Virginia:
        • The train was going within the speed limit
        • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
        • The train was carrying Bakken oil
        • There were multiple massive explosions
        • The fires burned for days
        • Hundreds of families were evacuated and one person nearly lost his life
      3. March 5, Illinois:
        • The train was going within the speed limit
        • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
        • The train was carrying Bakken oil
        • The fire burned for days
        • Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path
      4. March 7, Ontario #2:
        • The train was going within the speed limit
        • The train was hauling newer model tank cars (CPC-1232s)
        • The train was carrying tar sands crude
        • Canadian National Railway Co. is building a new 1,500ft track of railroad around the burning train wreckage. Seriously.

      It is clear from this most recent spate of accidents that neither “safer” tank cars or the current speed limits are limiting the threat crude-by-rail poses to our communities. But that wasn’t the only lesson to be taken from these derailments. The other, just as significant, is that transporting tar sands isn’t necessarily safer than transporting Bakken crude — which we explain in detail in our recent blog post.

      Up until now it had been widely believed that tar sands crude wasn’t as explosive or combustible as the oil coming from the Bakken region in North Dakota. The recent accidents have blown this assumption to pieces.

      The New Normal?

      If the oil industry gets its way, accidents like these will become the new normal. The Department of Transportation itself has found that crude oil trains are likely to derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades — and that’s a conservative estimate made with old data. This would cause more than $4 billion in damage and possibly kill HUNDREDS.

      This is a government agency saying hundreds of people might die in fiery explosions because of the greed of a few private corporations, yet there has been little action taken to slow or stop the oil industry’s efforts.

      Communities Take A Stand

      While exploding oil trains are a frightening proposition, none of this should suggest pipelines are any better. Choosing between one or the other, as many oil insiders have suggested is necessary, is like choosing to get hit by a bus or a truck.

      What’s needed is an urgent and rapid transition to renewable energy that doesn’t devastate the landscape, trample on indigenous and community rights, or cook the planet. Put simply: we need to keep the oil in the ground.

      That’s the message President Obama needs to hear. While he considers the best course of action on the proposed PHMSA rules, it’s important for him to know that communities all over the country are rising up and taking a stand.

      In some places they’re already winning, blocking oil terminals and getting in the way of proposed expansions.

      Near Seattle, local organizers won a victory over Shell, which wants to build an oil train terminal to supply its Anacortes refinery. Shell’s plans now require a full-blown environmental review. And in California, communities are standing in the way of terminal expansions across the state.  (See  herehere and here.)

      Even Governors, like Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf, are asking the federal government for stronger oil train safety standards.

      Our message is simple. If transporting oil can’t be done safely, don’t do it. Keep it in the ground. It’s time for President Obama to take this issue seriously and put in place a moratorium on all crude-by-rail shipments until community and climate safety can be guaranteed.

      Derailments like the four over the past month are what an “All of the Above” energy strategy looks like and we’re not going to take it.

      –––

      Update: While writing this article, another oil train derailed in Manitoba. Information is still coming out about this latest accident, though it appears to be smaller in scale. Still, that makes FIVE derailments involving trains carrying crude oil or refined oil products in under a month.

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