Tag Archives: Propane

Emergency Moratorium Stops All Unrefined Oil, Coal, and LNG Export Infrastructure Projects in Whatcom County, WA

Repost from the Bellingham Herald
[Editor: Here is the Whatcom County ordinance.  See also Eddie Scher’s statement from STAND.  – RS]

Whatcom County puts new unrefined fossil fuel exports on hold

By Samantha Wohlfeil, August 10, 2016
[NOTE from your Benicia Independent Editor: The Bellingham Herald story inserts a video here, which amounts to a 2-minute public relations piece for BP Cherry Point with no apparent relation to the story about Whatcom County’s August 9 emergency action. Regardless, the video is an interesting look at an industry attempt at reassuring the public that oil trains are safe. I am choosing NOT to embed this commercial video here. View it at the Bellingham Herald.]

BELLINGHAM  >  No new applications to ship unrefined fossil fuel through Cherry Point can be approved for at least the next two months after Whatcom County Council passed an emergency moratorium Tuesday night, Aug. 9.

The council unanimously passed the moratorium to address concerns about potential public health and safety risks that could come with the increased transportation of unrefined fossil fuels, such as crude oil traveling by rail through the county to two refineries at Cherry Point.

The moratorium does not impact the current refining and shipment of products through the BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries.

In July, the council directed the Planning Commission to study changes to the county’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan that could prevent any future export of unrefined fossil fuels from Cherry Point.

The council gave the commission until January to take testimony, study the issue, and make a recommendation on whether the changes should be made.

Until Tuesday night, the question of whether new applications for exports might be submitted in the meantime, in order to get ahead of any ban, was still up in the air.

In December 2015, Congress lifted a 40-year ban on exporting domestic crude oil to other countries. That created a concern for some that local refineries could shift to shipping unrefined materials abroad, eliminating local refinery jobs.

Effective immediately, the emergency moratorium prohibits the filing and acceptance of applications for county permits for new or expanded facilities that would facilitate the increased shipment of unrefined fossil fuels out of Cherry Point.

It defines unrefined fossil fuels as including, but not limited to, “all forms of crude oil whether stabilized or not; raw bitumen, diluted bitumen, or syncrude; coal; methane, propane, butane and other ‘natural gas’ in liquid or gaseous formats; and condensate.”

Environmental groups lauded the council’s move.

“It shows bold leadership that protects our community and responds to concerns that have been expressed by thousands of people throughout this process about the dangerous risks that coal, crude oil and natural gas exports pose to public health and safety in Whatcom County,” said Matt Petryni, clean energy program manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources was one of several environmental organizations rallying people to comment on the proposed unrefined fossil fuel export ban.

Alex Ramel, field director for Stand’s Extreme Oil Campaign, said the moratorium showed Whatcom County was ahead of the curve in policy making.

“This is nation-leading and proactive that the council acted to protect the community from unrefined fossil fuel transport,” Ramel said.

Council members specifically wanted to ensure the moratorium and its wording recognize the positive impact existing industry and the refineries have on the community.

“I find the moratorium helpful. I particularly find it helpful because of the discussion that differentiates between raw materials like crude oil and finished products,” said Steve Garey, a former refinery worker and union president who represented workers at the refineries in Anacortes.

Earlier in the evening, when the council was taking public comment on the rest of the Comprehensive Plan update, Garey told the council that when refineries are converted into exporting facilities, most of the workers lose their jobs.

“It’s important to recognize that refineries need to move finished products, but none of us would be served if they were to shut those plants down and export crude oil,” Garey said in an interview after the moratorium was passed.

The council must hold a public hearing on the emergency moratorium within 60 days. After that, an interim emergency moratorium could be put in place for up to six months, which would allow enough time for the Planning Commission to make its recommendation in January, council member Carl Weimer said. Weimer is the member who first proposed the changes.

“That was key,” Weimer said. “I was scratching my head about whether I was going to support the whole comp plan because I felt we should support the Cherry Point amendments, but I’m fine with passing it while we have this protection in place.”

Brad Owens, president of the Northwest Jobs Alliance, said the moratorium was premature.

“The public deserves their due process through the Planning Commission, and pending the outcome of the Planning Commission’s evaluation, the council should respond accordingly,” Owens said.

The moratorium states that under the Washington State Constitution, the county has authority to provide regulation of land uses within the county.

The council also “recognizes the limits to its authority over transportation of certain goods imposed by federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution, and finds that this action is within its authority.”

If any part of the moratorium is found to be unconstitutional or invalid by a court, the rest of it will remain in effect, the ordinance states.

This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.
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    SACRAMENTO BEE: State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

    Repost from the Sacramento Bee

    State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

    By Tony Bizjak, July 22, 2016 6:00AM

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • California officials say the state isn’t prepared to handle hazardous materials spills
    • A new $45 fee on every rail car carrying dangerous substances will help beef up spill response

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      New York AG calls on PHMSA to close crude-by-rail safety loophole

      Repost from Progressive Railroading
      [Editor:  See also New York Wants Oil Companies to Treat Oil Shipped on Trains – Wall Street Journal, and NYS attorney general pushes federal limit on crude oil train explosion risk – Albany Times Union.  – RS]

      New York AG calls on PHMSA to close crude-by-rail safety loophole

      December 4, 2015

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called on the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to limit the vapor pressure of crude oil shipped by rail.

      In a petition for rulemaking, Schneiderman asked the agency to require all crude transported by rail in the United States to achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability, according to a press release issued by Schneiderman’s office.

      In his petition, the attorney general argues that reducing crude oil vapor pressures is practical and necessary for minimizing the risk and severity of accidents involving tank cars.

      Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures — including crude produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota — have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane and other highly volatile gases, Schneiderman noted. 

      While the vapor pressure of crude involved in train accidents is often undisclosed, the vapor pressure in such accidents in which the levels were disclosed have exceeded 9 psi, including the crude train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that caused 47 fatalities.

      “Recent catastrophic rail accidents send a clear warning that we need to do whatever we can to reduce the dangers that crude oil shipments pose to communities across New York State,” Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. “In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability — which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents. … The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”

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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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