Repost from Texas Public Radio [Editor: This seems to be an early posting on Texas Public Radio, with actual interview audio to follow. I will return to add the audio when it is posted. – RS]
The Source: Derailments Spike Along With Oil Shipments
By Paul Flahive, July 1, 2014
Transporting crude oil from areas booming with the hydraulic fracturing revolution relies heavily on railroads. Busier railroads means more derailments and more derailments with trains loaded with old cars filled with oil means more tragedies.
Chris Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, noted the dramatic rise in flammables being transported by rail the in a letter to U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley while noting a number of specific oil derailments:
March 27, 2013, derailment of a Canadian Pacific train involving 14 tank cars of Western Canadian crude oil in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, that released 15,000 gallons of product.
January 31, 2014, 11 tank cars of a Canadian National (CN) train transporting North Alberta crude oil in New Augusta, Mississippi, derailed, releasing 50,000 gallons of product.
February 13, 2014, 19 tank 2 cars of a Norfolk Southern train carrying Western Canadian heavy crude oil derailed in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, releasing 4,300 gallons of product.
January 7, 2014, 5 tank cars of a CN train carrying Western Canadian (Manitoba/Saskatchewan) crude oil derailed in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, releasing 60,000 gallons of product.
As we enter July, the property damage by oil on rail derailments has already surpassed all of last year and these derailments have affected every region of the country according to a Politico investigation.
As these trains travel through our communities, sometimes without the knowledge of first responders, are we safe? Should we have more information and the ability to keep these trains outside densely populated areas? Are there alternatives, and how does the Keystone XL pipeline figure in?
This Is Where Deadly Crude Oil Trains May Be Rolling Through California
By Ken Broder, June 20, 2014
Although this country’s oil boom has been accompanied by an explosion of dangerous crude-carrying trains―literally and figuratively―a much-anticipated environmental impact report (Summary pdf) says the spill threat from Valero Refining Company’s proposal to run 100 tanker cars a day through Roseville and Sacramento to its Benicia refinery is negligible.
The draft EIR, written by Environmental Science Associates of San Francisco for the city of Benicia and released on Tuesday, singled out air pollution, “significant and unavoidable,” as the sole danger among 11 “environmental resource or issue areas.”
The next day, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released seven maps detailing the rail routes through the “Crude Oil Train Derailment Risk Zones in California,” which stretches from the Bay Area to the Central/San Joaquin Valley and encompasses 4 million people.
The NRDC’s assessment of risk was markedly different than in the EIR. Noting that “California has seen a dramatic increase of crude by rail, from 45,000 barrels in 2009 to six million barrels in 2013” without any new safety measures or emergency response put in place, the NRDC report said the aging “soda cans on wheels” are not built to handle the particularly volatile crude being fracked out of the ground in America’s rejuvenated oil fields like those in North Dakota, and shipped to refiners.
Tracks would run within half a mile of 135,000 people in Sacramento and 25,000 people in Davis.
The NRDC wants old tanker cars removed from service, lower speeds for trains, rerouting through less-sensitive areas, disclosure of what kind of crude is being carried, more visible emergency preparedness, fees on shippers to pay for emergency response, high-risk designations for oil-trains and more comprehensive risk assessments.
The EIR was a bit more upbeat.
It concluded that oil spills between Roseville and Benicia would occur about once every 111 years. The project would have no impact on agriculture and forestry resources or mineral resources. It would also have less-than-significant impacts on aesthetics, population and housing, public services, recreation and utilities and service systems.
In other words, the assumption is there won’t be anything like the tragic accident in July 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 72 tank cars of crude oil exploded, killing 47 people and destroying much of the town’s core. As Russell Gold and Betsy Morris explained in the Wall Street Journal, “Each tank car of crude holds the energy equivalent of 2 million sticks of dynamite or the fuel in a wide body jetliner.”
The Sacramento Bee said the risk assessment’s author, Christopher Barken, previously worked for the Association of American Railroads, the industry’s leading advocacy group in Washington, and does research supported by the railroad association.
Barken’s website at the University of Illinois, where he is a professor and executive director of the Railroad Engineering Program, says, “Our strong relationship with the rail industry means our research has an impact.”
In describing the twice-a-day snaking of 50-car trains through heavily populated areas, the report offered far more information than has generally been made available by rail companies to state and local governments, as well as disaster first-responders. But the EIR did acknowledge Benicia would not reveal seven Valero “trade secrets” (pdf) at the oil company’s request.
That “confidential business information” included the specific crude Valero would be shipping in by rail and the properties of crude it refined now or in the past. That lack of information would be complicating factors in accurately assessing pollution and risk.
California, like states and localities across the nation, are scrambling just to get a handle on how much crude-by-rail is coursing through their jurisdictions, much less assessing what regulations and safety measures need to be put in place. They are working blind.
A study by Politico analyzed 400 oil-train incidents nationally since 1971 and found a dramatic escalation the past five years. Property damage from 70 accidents through mid-May this year is already $10 million, triple the year before.
“It has become abundantly clear that there are a whole slew of freight rail safety measures that, while for many years have been moving through the gears of bureaucracy, must now be approved and implemented in haste,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said.
They must. Because the trains are already rolling and Valero would like to get its California project finished by the end of the year. America is waiting.