Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Significant quote: “Garamendi has introduced House Bill 1679 that would prohibit the transport of North Dakota Bakken crude by train unless it has a maximum Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of 9.5 psi.” – RS]
Rep. Garamendi to call for safer crude-by-rail transport
By Donna Beth Weilenman, April 7, 2015
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, will join industry leaders in Davis on Wednesday in calling for the U.S. Department of Transportation to make rail delivery of crude oil safer.
“Crude oil is or has until very recently been transported by rail through several cities in Congressman Garamendi’s 3rd Congressional District, including Davis, Dixon, Fairfield, Suisun City and Marysville,” said his media specialists, Donald Lathbury and Matthew Kravitz, in a joint statement on the news conference.
“These routes are very close to residential communities, schools, parks, and businesses.”
Among those joining Garamendi will be Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration, and Paul W. King, deputy director of the Office of Rail Safety at the Safety and Enforcement Division of the California Public Utilities Commission.
Municipal and other leaders also are expected to attend, including Davis Mayor Dan Wolk, Marysville Mayor Ricky Samayoa, Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor and Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson.
Also expected to attend are Terry Bassett, Yolo County Transportation District executive director; Dana Carey, Yolo County office of Emergency Services manager; and Terry Schmidtbauer, assistant director of Resource Management in the Solano County Office of Emergency Services.
Garamendi has introduced House Bill 1679 that would prohibit the transport of North Dakota Bakken crude by train unless it has a maximum Reid vapor pressure (RVP) of 9.5 psi.
He said this is the maximum volatility permitted by the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for crude oil futures contracts.
By comparison, he said, a recent literature review by Sandia Labs indicates that the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s study of 152 Bakken crude samples found an average RVP of 11.7 psi and a max of 14.4 psi. A rule going into effect in North Dakota this month sets the limit at 13.7 psi.
Garamendi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, sent a letter March 3 to the Department of Transportation in which they suggested strengthening safety improvements and asked DOT to drop any plans for weakening regulations.
Instead, they called for stronger safety standards for crude-by-rail transportation.
“Families living near oil-by-rail shipping lines are rightfully concerned about the safety of the trains that pass through their communities,” Garamendi said. “For that reason, I have repeatedly called on the Department of Transportation to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure that these shipments are as safe and secure as possible.
“Every day that strong and effective rules are delayed is another day that millions of Americans, including many in my district, are put at greater risk.”
Garamendi’s announcement will be made at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday next to the Davis Train Depot, near the corner of Second and H streets, Davis.
Repost from Forbes [Editor: Significant quote: “And the returning empty trains are not quite empty. They have enough oil remaining in them to produce highly volatile vapors that make them even more prone to explosions than the full cars.” – RS]
Senators Try To Stop The Coming Oil Train Wreck
By James Conca, 4/06/2015 @ 7:45AM
Spearheaded by the Senators from Washington State, legislation just introduced in the United States Senate will finally address the rash of crude oil train wrecks and explosions that have skyrocketed over the last two years in parallel with the steep rise in the amount of crude oil transported by rail (Tri-City Herald).
Oil production is at an all-time high in America, great for our economy and energy independence, but bad for the people and places that lie along the shipping routes.
Just since February, there have been four fiery derailments of crude oil trains in North America (dot111) and many more simple spills.
More shale crude oil is being shipped by rail than ever before – every minute, shipments of more than two million gallons of crude are traveling distances of over a thousand miles in unit trains of more than a hundred tank cars (PHMSA.gov).
U.S. railroads delivered 7 million barrels of crude in 2008, 46 million in 2011, 163 million in 2012, and 262 million in 2013, almost as much as that anticipated by the Keystone XL Pipeline alone.
Amid a North American energy boom, our pipelines are at capacity and crude oil shipping on rail is dramatically increasing. The trains are getting bigger and towing more and more tanker cars. From 1975 to 2012, trains were short and spills were rare and small, with about half of those years having no spills above a few gallons (EarthJustice.org).
Then came 2013, in which more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents than was spilled in the previous thirty-seven years. The North Dakota shale oil boom has averaged over a million barrels per day and two-thirds of that is being shipped by rail (North Dakota Pipeline Authority).
Crude is a nasty material, very destructive when it spills into the environment, and very toxic when it contacts humans or animals. It’s not even useful for energy, or anything else, until it’s chemically processed, or refined, into suitable products like naphtha, gasoline, heating oil, kerosene, asphaltics, mineral spirits, natural gas liquids, and a host of others.
But every crude oil has different properties, such as sulfur content (sweet to sour) or density (light to heavy), and requires a specific chemical processing facility to handle it (Permian Basin Oil&Gas). Different crudes produce different amounts and types of products, sometimes leading to a glut in one or more of them, like too much natural gas liquids that drops their price dramatically, or not enough heating oil that raises its price.
Thus, the push for more rail transport and pipelines to get it to the refineries along the Gulf Coast than can handle it.
Ensuring that these crude shipments are safe is the responsibility of the United States Department of Transportation, specifically the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
Unfortunately, the shipments aren’t really that safe. We don’t have the correct train cars to carry this unusual freight. The United States now has 37,000 tank cars with thin-walls that puncture easily after which the vapors can cause massive explosions.
And the returning empty trains are not quite empty. They have enough oil remaining in them to produce highly volatile vapors that make them even more prone to explosions than the full cars.
A clear example of this danger came on July 6, 2013, when a train carrying 72 tank cars, and over 2,000,000 gallons of Bakken oil shale crude from the Williston Basin of North Dakota, derailed in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Much of the town was destroyed and forty-seven people were killed.
This disaster brought the problem of rail transport of crude oil to the forefront of the news and of the State and Federal legislative bodies, and brought calls for safety reforms in the rail industry.
PHMSA undertook a series of unannounced inspections, testing, and analysis of the crude being transported (PHMSA.gov). While PHMSA found that Bakken crude is correctly classified chemically under transportation guidelines, the crude does have a higher gas content, higher vapor pressure, lower flash point and lower boiling point, so it has a higher degree of volatility than most other crudes in the United States. These properties cause increased ignitability and flammability.
PHMSA now requires extensive testing of crude for shipping, but the real problem remains – most of our tank cars are not safe to transport this stuff at all and should be taken out of service.
It’s no coincidence that the first two Senators listed are from Washington State. Trains hauling this type of flammable crude pass through our state every day, right through population centers totaling over a million people (Cantwell.Senate).And the number of oil trains will double next year.
This is strange for WA State because it’s the least carbon emitting state in the union and has already satisfied any and all carbon goals one could reasonably think up for any other state. And the state is poised to go even further. So increased oil and coal shipments across its length has the people of Washington State a bit concerned.
The rail standards set by the proposed legislation would require thermal protection, full-height head shields, shells more than half an inch thick, pressure relief valves and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.
The Senators’ legislation would also authorize $40 million for training programs and grants to communities to update emergency response and notification plans.
According to Cantwell, “Firefighters responding to derailments have said they could do little more than stand a half-mile back and let the fires burn” (Tri-City Herald).
Rail carriers would be required to develop comprehensive emergency response plans for large accidents involving fire or explosions, provide information on shipments to state and local officials along routes — including what is shipped and its level of volatility — and to work with federal and local officials on their response plans.
“We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect our communities and give first responders the tools they need,” Cantwell said.
It’s certainly time for some decent regulations on this increasing risk.
Repost from The Jamestown Sun, Jamestown, ND [Editor: The proposed ND vapor pressure standards seem rather lax to my inexpert eyes. See comparative Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) levels mentioned in an August 9 posting here on BenIndy: “On June 2nd Quantum Energy met with OIRA and presented a simple three-page presentation. The presentation explains how regular crude oil has a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of 5-7 psi and Bakken crude has an RVP between 8-16 psi. To put that in perspective, gasoline typically has a RVP of 9 psi.” The proposed new standard in North Dakota according to this article is a “vapor pressure limit of 13.7 pounds per square inch.” – RS]
Oil industry has ‘significant concerns’ about crude conditioning standards
By STATE/REGION on Nov 14, 2014
BISMARCK — North Dakota oil regulators said Thursday they want more input before approving new standards for removing volatile gases from crude oil before it’s shipped by rail, a proposal an industry representative warned could devalue Bakken crude and contribute to more flaring at well sites.
Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms presented the state Industrial Commission with the proposed standards, part of a national effort to improve oil-by-rail safety in the wake of several explosive oil train derailments.
Helms said the standards would result in Bakken crude “behaving even better than the unleaded gasoline that you put in your cars.”
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who serves on the commission with Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, said the department is “on the right track” with the proposed order. But he wanted more time to sort through it and allow for public comment.
Dalrymple agreed, called it “an excellent working draft” and a “very robust system of verification” for making sure Bakken crude falls within vapor pressure standards before it’s loaded onto the rails.
The commission said it would accept comment on the proposed order until 5 p.m. Wednesday and hold a special meeting by Dec. 11 to consider approving it so the standards can take effect Feb. 1.
Helms said the proposed order strengthens the existing rule by requiring well sites to use a gas-liquid separator and/or a heater-treater to remove so-called “light ends” like butane and propane from crude oil, and mandating the equipment be operated at certain temperatures and pressures.
He estimated 80 percent of existing wells in the Bakken and Three Forks formations would be able to produce oil within the proposed vapor pressure limit of 13.7 pounds per square inch.
National standards recognize oil with a vapor pressure of 14.7 psi or less to be stable, and winter blend gasoline has a vapor pressure of 13.5 psi, he said.
Helms said the average vapor pressure of Bakken crude across several recent studies was 11.8 psi, though “there were significant outliers.”
“We really believe that the vast majority of our Bakken crude oil will already fall well below the standard,” he said.
The roughly 15 percent of wells that operate outside of the temperature and pressure standards would have to hire a third party to test their crude for vapor pressure and submit the results to the state within 15 days. Operators looking to use alternative methods for conditioning or stabilizing their crude would need commission approval after a hearing process.
The proposed order also would ban the practice of blending crude oil with light ends or liquids recovered from gas pipelines before the oil is sold. Dalrymple noted violators can face fines as high as $12,500 per day.
“I think we want to be sure that that’s clear for everybody,” he said.
North Dakota Petroleum Council president Ron Ness cautioned that the standards could devalue Bakken crude by requiring it to be over-treated, at the same time contributing to natural gas flaring by removing more gas at the wellsite.
“I think we have some pretty significant concerns,” he said, adding the Industrial Commission is “getting into the nitty-gritty details of how companies manage their commodities.”
Helms said preliminary figures show 24 percent of the gas produced at North Dakota wells in September was burned off. Flaring reduction standards approved by the commission in July will lower the allowed flaring rate to 23 percent on Jan. 1, 15 percent by 2016 and 10 percent by Oct. 1, 2020.
The proposed oil conditioning standards will make it more challenging for producers to meet those flaring goals, Helms said.
“We’re pushing at both ends of the system, so we’re making life really difficult for these people right now. But it’s got to be safety first,” he said.
A Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday questioned the accuracy of the testing method used in a Petroleum Council-funded study of Bakken crude’s volatility, and Stenehjem asked Thursday whether the Industrial Commission should conduct its own study.
“It has been questioned, simply because it was the industry that conducted it,” he said.
Helms urged the commission to support an ongoing U.S. Department of Energy study that could involve the Energy & Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks.
Ness said it’s concerning that “the focus is all back on the commodity.”
“The root of the issue is the trains and the train tracks and the accidents,” he said.