Tag Archives: Rail accidents

Earthjustice map: Crude-by-rail Across America

Repost from Earthjustice.org
[Editor: I’m reposting this map today – it was recently updated and still highly relevant.  Earthjustice’s map shows Major Crude-by-Rail Accidents since 2012 (Red Symbols) and communities opposing Crude-by-Rail (Green Symbols).  – RS]

More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents in 2013, than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills.

Since late 2012, as hydraulic fracturing and tar sands drilling created a glut of oil, the industry has scrambled to transport the fossil fuel from drill sites to the east and west coasts, where it can potentially be shipped overseas to more lucrative markets.

The increase in oil rail traffic, however, has not been matched with increased regulatory scrutiny. Oil trains are not subject to the same strict routing requirements placed on other hazardous materials; trains carrying explosive crude are permitted to pass directly through cities—with tragic results. A train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013, killing 47 people in the small community.

In the absence of more protective regulations, communities across the country are beginning to take matters in their own hands.

Legal Cases

Earthjustice represents groups across the country, fighting for protections from crude-by-rail:

FAQs: About Crude-By-Rail

Q. What are DOT-111s?

DOT-111s are rail cars designed to carry liquids, including crude oil, and have been in service in North America for several decades. They are prone to punctures, oil spills, fires and explosions and lack safety features required for shipping other poisonous and toxic liquids. As crude production in the United States has surged exponentially in recent years, these outdated rail cars have been used to transport the crude oil throughout the country.

The U.S. and Canadian government recognized decades ago that the DOT-111s were unsafe for carrying hazardous materials, finding that the chance of a “breach” (i.e., loss of contents, potentially leading to an explosion) is over 50% in some derailment scenarios.

U.S. and Canadian safety investigators have repeatedly found that DOT-111s are unsafe and recommended that they not be used for explosive or hazardous materials, including crude oil; however, the U.S. government’s proposal to phase out these rail cars fails to take sufficient or immediate action to protect the public.

Q. What is Bakken crude oil?

Bakken crude refers to oil from the Bakken shale formation which is primarily in North Dakota, where production has skyrocketed in recent years due to the availability of newer hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) techniques. The increase in the nation’s output of crude oil in 2013, mostly attributable to Bakken production, was the largest in the nation’s history.

Bakken crude is highly flammable, much more so than some crude oils. Today, Bakken crude moves in “unit trains” of up to 120 rail cars, as long as a mile and a half, often made up of unsafe DOT-111s.

Q. Are there alternative tank cars available?

Transporting Bakken crude by rail is risky under the best of scenarios because of its flammability. But legacy DOT-111s represent the worst possible option. All new tank cars built since October 2011 have additional some safety features that reduce the risk of spilled oil by 75%. Even so, safety investigators, the Department of Transportation, and the railroad industry believe tank cars need to be made even safer. Some companies are already producing the next-generation rail cars that are 85% more crashworthy than the DOT 111s. Petitioners support the safest alternatives available, and expect that the ongoing rulemaking process will phase out all unsafe cars.

In the meantime, an emergency prohibition on shipping Bakken crude in DOT-111s—which virtually everyone acknowledges is unreasonably dangerous—is required immediately. (Read about the formal legal petition filed on July 15, 2014.)

Q. What steps have U.S. and Canadian governments taken?

The U.S. government recognizes that Bakken crude oil should not be shipped in DOT 111 tank cars due to the risks, but has done shockingly little to limit their use.

In May 2014, the DOT issued a safety alert recommending—but not requiring—shippers to use the safest tank cars in their fleets for shipments of Bakken crude and to avoid using DOT 111 cars. Canada, in contrast, responded to the Lac Mégantic disaster with more robust action. It required the immediate phase-out of some DOT-111s, a longer phase-out of the remainder, and the railroads imposed a surcharge on their use to ship crude oil in the meantime.

In the absence of similar standards in the U.S., the inevitable result will be that newer, safer cars will be used to ship crude in Canada—while the U.S. fleet will end up with the most dangerous tank cars.

Share...

    Portland votes to oppose any new projects that would increase the transportation or storage of fossil fuels

    Repost from OPB.org, Portland OR
    [Editor:  Significant quote: Thursday’s vote was the second climate change resolution city commissioners have voted on in as many weeks. Last week, the council voted to oppose projects that would increase oil train traffic in the metro area.   – RS]

    Portland Approves ‘Landmark’ Fossil Fuel Limits

    By Ryan Haas OPB | Nov. 13, 2015 1:45 p.m.
    A large crowd cheered Wednesday night as the Portland City Council voted 4-0 to approve a resolution opposing projects that would increase the number of oil trains traveling through Portland and Vancouver, Washington. Alan Montecillo/OPB

    Portland city commissioners on Thursday voted unanimously to oppose any new projects that would increase the transportation or storage of fossil fuels in the city.

    The vote followed hours of testimony that mostly supported the resolution. Among the people testifying were students, who in recent years have filed lawsuits that asked the federal government, states and cities to take action on climate change.

    Environmental groups praised the move by Portland commissioners as a “landmark,” and the most stringent action taken by any city against climate change.

    Mayor Charlie Hales delivered the final vote for the resolution before the chamber erupted in loud cheers. He said the council’s decision shows a clear commitment to counteract climate change.

    “It feels like things are accelerating,” the mayor said, referring to recent action by the White House and a climate summit earlier this year hosted by Pope Francis. “We have one route through those rapids that are just ahead.

    “The future is not that far away, but if we are aware,” Hales said, “and we steer where we want to go, we can get to a safe and wonderful future.”

    While all of the city commissioners eagerly endorsed the resolution, Commissioner Dan Saltzman noted that the vote took place before a friendly crowd.

    “We still have a lot of work to do,” Saltzman said. “It’s easy to proselytize among ourselves and feel a sense of excitement in the city hall chamber that’s packed with advocates. But when you step outside, we have a real world that needs to be persuaded and convinced.”

    Thursday’s vote was the second climate change resolution city commissioners have voted on in as many weeks. Last week, the council voted to oppose projects that would increase oil train traffic in the metro area.

    That was a largely symbolic vote, however, because the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over railways.

    Both resolutions are a response to the rapid expansion of fossil-fuel development nationwide and numerous oil train accidents in recent years.

    Vancouver Energy Project wants to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver. If completed, it would ship an average of 360,000 barrels of oil daily to refineries along the West Coast.

    While opponents to the resolutions were greatly outnumbered, they urged the commissioners to consider how limiting fossil fuels in the region could hurt jobs.

    “I wish the people in this room had the same passion for income inequality as they have for fossil fuels,” said electrical worker Joe Esmond at least week’s hearing.

    Share...

      VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD LETTER: Valero is NOT good neighbor!

      Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

      Valero is NOT a good neighbor!

      By Rebekah Ramos, September 25, 2015

      Valero’s self-proclaimed “Good Neighbor” status is laughable when you begin to peel back the onion and remove the layers of misinformation (or missing information) and reveal the same flavor of corporate propaganda and fearmongering that is used to hold small communities hostage.

      There are hidden costs to having Valero as a neighbor that you may not be aware of.

      Valero says the City of Benicia is losing more than $360K per year in revenue because of delays in approving their crude by rail project, which could get us 4 new police officers.

      Valero DOESN’T say…

        • CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) is a law that requires due diligence to properly evaluate environmental impacts and most importantly, inform the public of those impacts. City staff initially attempted to push this project through, under the radar, and without LITTLE public notification – skirting the law. Had it not been for a group of alert citizens bringing this to the public’s attention Valero would have gotten away with implementing a project that would have enormous ramifications to our health, safety, and economic viability, not only in our community, but every community along the rails.
        • Our personal safety is NOT at risk because we are short on police officers, it’s at risk because transporting highly volatile crude oil by rail is extremely risky business. More than 17 major oil train accidents have occurred in the last 24 months resulting in explosions, spills, and derailments.

      Valero says they contribute 25% to Benicia’s general fund.

      Valero DOESN’T say…

      • That number is actually 20% AND it doesn’t reflect the millions that Valero has taken away from the city’s coffers in recent years.
      • The City of Benicia was forced to pay Valero $2.3 million because Valero filed an appeal for a reduction in its property value from $1.02 billion to $230 million and $964 million to $100 million in 2012 and 2013 respectively despite climbing profits and gas prices since 2010. Benicia loses $2.3 million AND any on-going revenue generated from Valero’s property taxes. How many police officers do you think $2.3 million get us?

      Valero says the crude by rail project will reduce air emissions and decrease greenhouse gases. In addition, they say they are entitled to $57million in emission reduction credits because of improvements made to the refinery.

      Valero DOESN’T say…

      • The recirculated EIR for their crude by rail project specifically states that there will be significant increases in air emissions and greenhouse gases.
      • Valero has received dozens of notices of emissions violations nearly every single month of 2014 and 2015 including a violation for Benzene.
      • Valero has failed to install any publically accessible emissions monitoring equipment despite their pledge to do so since 2008.
      • Emission reduction credits would allow Valero to increase their emissions for new projects, sell or trade their credits to other polluters. Because of Cap and Trade legislation, big polluters in our own backyards get to pollute even more.
      • According to the EPA, Valero is the biggest polluter in Solano County, contributing 82% of all toxic releases in 2013. Data for 2014 and 15 is not available.

      Valero is desperate to turn a profit and will use whatever means is necessary – squeeze money from the city coffers, pollute our environment, and put our lives at risk – to satisfy the short-term interests of their shareholders. They even threaten to lay people off or sell the refinery if the city doesn’t comply.

      We can’t let one business keep our community in such an economically vulnerable situation. The City of Benicia has adopted a Climate Action Plan, but can’t seem to address THE REAL CLIMATE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, which is Valero. It’s time that serious action be taken to seek out and invite other, more sustainable industries to our city because Valero is NOT a Good Neighbor!

      Share...

        Two more derailments: coal near Denver, potash near Edmonton

        Latest derailments – March 22, 2015

        1.  Train carrying potash derails in Alberta

        Trevor Robb, QMI Agency, March 22, 2015 8:41:21 EDT PM

        Container cars balance precariously on top of each other, as red potash spills out into the snow at a train derailment on Highway 13 East, just outside of Wetaskiwin, Alta., which occurred shortly after 9:15 a.m. March 22, 2015. No one was injured in the incident and there are no environmental concerns. SARAH O. SWENSON/WETASKIWIN TIMES/QMI AGENCY

        EDMONTON — The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says 20 cars carrying potash derailed just north of Wetaskiwin, Alta., around 9:09 a.m. Sunday near Highway 13.

        Pictures from the scene show piles of potash, which is mostly used in fertilizers, spilling onto the ground.

        No one was injured…  [MORE]

        2.  Near Denver: 27 coal cars jump tracks in train derailment; no injuries

        Raquel Villanueva, KUSA 5:49 p.m. MDT March 22, 2015
        At least 27 freight cars derailed and lost their cargo in Hudson on Sunday.
        At least 27 freight cars derailed and lost their cargo in Hudson on Sunday. (Photo by 7NEWS, via Heidi Schreiner Gotto)

        HUDSON, Colo. (AP) — A train jumped its tracks early Sunday, dumping tons of coal from more than two dozen cars near the northern Colorado town of Hudson.

        No injuries were reported, but there was significant damage to the tracks, which have been shut down for repairs and cleanup…. [MORE]

        Share...