Calling all kayaktivists and more: Crude oil pipeline on rails threatens our waterways
By Citizens Acting for Rail Safety and Milwaukee Riverkeeper, September 12, 2015 07:35
The dangers of shipping crude oil over and along our waterways will be highlighted by clean water advocates gathering at the confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers, near the railroad swing bridge.
This bridge is one of many in the metro area where trains carrying volatile crude oil cross or travel near local rivers. The railroad system was not laid out with this kind of cargo in mind. Nationally, oil train traffic has increased more than 4,000 percent in the past five years, and oil trains are also much longer, which concentrates the risk of an accident, especially in urban areas.
Crude oil trains threaten the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinic Rivers and Lake Michigan.
After decades of clean water work, we are alarmed to see an oil pipeline on rails emerge in our metro area. Work to improve water quality and wildlife habitat has also been an essential part of the revitalization of many parts of Milwaukee including the Third Ward, Menomonee Valley, and the Milwaukee River Greenway, and is critical to success of new efforts to develop the Inner Harbor..
An oil spill would have serious environmental and economic consequences.
Citizens have many questions about emergency response plans if a crude oil train were to derail and oil spill into waterways. Many oil trains — some with 100 cars of more — contain the same quantity of oil as an oil tanker, but are not required to have the same level of spill response plans or safety precautions.
Who would respond?
How would this oil be contained and cleaned up?
What would happen in winter when there is ice cover and oil spill recovery becomes nearly impossible?
How would seiche currents impact clean up efforts?
What are the implications for our drinking water and quality of life?
Please join clean water advocates for a visibility event highlighting the danger oil trains pose to our waterways.
When: Sunday, September 13, 3 p.m.
What: A gathering of kayaks, canoes and banners. Paddlers and other clean water supporters will join in singing and drumming with the One Drop ensemble of Jahmes Finlayson and Dena Aronson. Dona Yahola will begin the event with an Ojibwe water prayer and song.
Where: Participants will be near the Railroad Swing Bridge at the Confluence of the Menomonee and Milwaukee Rivers. Convergence at the Confluence. Third Ward Riverwalk.
CSX Provides Update on W.Va. Oil Train Derailment Cleanup
By JOHN RABY Associated Press, Jul 21, 2015, 7:51 PM ET
GLEN FERRIS, W.Va. – CSX is continuing to closely monitor the environmental impact of a fiery oil-train derailment in southern West Virginia, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.The company held a public informational meeting that drew a sparse turnout Tuesday evening at the Glen Ferris Inn.
On Feb. 16, 27 cars of a CSX train’s 109 cars derailed during a snowstorm in Mount Carbon. Twenty of the cars leaked oil, some of which burned or was released into the ground.
Under a March consent order with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the railroad agreed to a long-term plan for cleaning up and restoring the area around the derailment.
“It’s important for the community to know that we said we would be here,” CSX spokeswoman Melanie Cost said. “This is part of that process. We want to keep the open dialogue for them.”
Donna Shabdue lives near the derailment site and was forced to evacuate her home for more than a day. She showed up to the meeting to voice her concerns about local emergency response and pleaded for quickly informing the public about future incidents.
“They need to have a plan,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do. There needs to be a siren somewhere go off to evacuate. We didn’t know what to do. I just want out of there safely.”
The train was carrying 3 million gallons of Bakken crude and headed to Yorktown, Virginia. In recent years, trains hauling crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana have been involved in fiery derailments in six states.
The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the West Virginia accident, which shot fireballs into the sky, burned down a nearby house and caused fires on the ground that smoldered for days.
The cause of the derailment hasn’t been released. Speed had previously been ruled out as a factor. The FRA has said the train was going 33 mph at the time of the crash. The speed limit was 50 mph.
CSX said more than 181,000 gallons of crude oil was recovered after the accident. About 10,000 tons of soil has been removed and shipped for disposal. Additional soil removal is planned next to the Kanawha River and a tributary at the derailment site.
Air, water and soil sampling continues. The water monitoring is at five locations along the river, including a drinking water intake, because of the occasional presence of oil sheens. CSX said the local drinking water supply has been unaffected by the spill.
Oil-absorbing booms were attached to a metal wall more than 410 feet long in the river as an additional containment measure. The wall will eventually be taken down once the sheens are no longer detected, Cost said.
Cost declined to disclose how much the company has spent on the cleanup.
Press Release from Riverkeeper New York [Editor: This from our contact in Albany: “New York State rescinds the Global expansion NegDec (aka, FONSI) and declares the application incomplete. Cites air issues, spill response issues, potential “significant adverse impacts on the environment”, and EPA concerns. Letter from the State attached.” – RS]
Riverkeeper Responds to Decision Regarding Albany Oil Terminal Expansion
For Immediate Release: May 21, 2015
Contact: Leah Rae, Riverkeeper
914-478-4501, ext. 238
Riverkeeper applauds the decision by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation regarding the proposed expansion of Global Companies’ rail-to-barge transfer terminal at in Albany, which would facilitate the transport of heavy “tar sands” crude oil. Riverkeeper calls on the state to follow through on what they’ve begun today and promptly issue a “positive declaration” requiring an environmental impact statement.
“It is good for New York State that the DEC came to a proper decision in one of the most important environmental matters facing the state. We look forward to participating with the state on a full public safety and environmental review that is robust and protective of our communities and our waterways.”
The shipment of tar sands crude oil would pose a whole new level of risk to the Hudson River. In the event of a spill, the toxic, sinking crude would mix into the water column and be unrecoverable.
A lawsuit filed by Riverkeeper and other groups in June 2014 challenged the DEC’s decision not to require an environmental impact statement. Riverkeeper had reminded the DEC that state law required an environmental impact statement on the proposal due to the significant environmental and public safety impacts, ranging from air pollutants to the increased risk of fire and explosion in downtown Albany. The DEC’s own Environmental Justice Policy requires that nearby communities be consulted and informed about proposals that may affect them so that those communities can be meaningfully involved in their review.
Repost from The Los Angeles Times [Editor: Media coverage of late is quite repetitive, calling for better oil and rail safety standards. This piece has significant new material, and is a must-read. Quotes: “…about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.” And, “Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and among the top safety experts in the country, believes the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains. ‘We have never had a situation equivalent to 100 tank cars end to end traveling through local communities,’ Hall said. ‘This is probably the most pressing safety issue in the country. The industry has turned a deaf ear.'” – RS]
Crude-oil train wrecks raise questions about safety claims
By Ralph Vartabedian, March 12, 2015
Four accidents in the last month involving trains hauling crude oil across North America have sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, leaving some experts worried that public safety risks have been gravely underestimated.
Crude trains have crashed in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Ontario, Canada, forcing evacuations of residents and causing extensive environmental contamination.
The industry acknowledges that it needs to perform better, but says the trains are involved in derailments no more frequently than those hauling containers, grain or motor vehicles. Although the public doesn’t pay much attention, about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.
Critics, however, say the industry’s position misses the point. All it is going to take is one major accident to change the entire calculus.
Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and among the top safety experts in the country, believes the government has misjudged the risk posed by the growing number of crude-oil trains.
“We have never had a situation equivalent to 100 tank cars end to end traveling through local communities,” Hall said. “This is probably the most pressing safety issue in the country. The industry has turned a deaf ear.”
Crude shipments have skyrocketed from 29,605 cars in 2010 to 493,126 in 2014, though the growth rate appears to have flattened out over the last 12 months.
As the shipments have grown, so has the number of accidents. The Assn. of American Railroads says there have been seven accidents that resulted in a spill of more than 5 gallons of oil in the last 18 months.
The Times, based on public records and news accounts, found a total of 13 accidents in the U.S. and Canada since the July 2013 catastrophe at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in which 47 people died when a runaway oil train crashed into the center of the city.
The crashes have occurred on bridges, along rivers, near downtowns and in the middle of farms, but none of them have caused the loss of human life since the Quebec accident.
The key question is whether the industry is playing a game of Russian roulette, betting the trains will keep crashing in relatively safe rural sections of track.
As long as the crashes do not threaten public safety, the economic losses to the petroleum companies do not appear to be a deterrent.
Each tank car carries about 682 barrels of oil, worth about $33,000. A used tank car may be worth as little as $30,000, based on rail equipment broker websites. Thus, a derailment and loss of 15 cars with their crude could impose a loss of less than $1 million.
Thomas D. Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, a trade group that represents tank car and other manufacturers, said the rail industry doesn’t have a lot of choice.
Under federal law, it must carry any rail car that meets federal specifications. It means that when the petroleum industry fills a tank car with crude, the freight lines don’t have the option of telling them to take their business elsewhere.
“They are betting their railroad that they are not going to blow up Los Angeles,” Simpson said.
He said the industry had committed to a significant improvement in safety, in which tank cars would have heavier shells, crash shields and stronger valves. And it would retrofit existing cars with stronger shields and thermal protection that would delay fires or explosions.
Simpson is confident that there is nothing about tank cars that makes them more likely to derail than any other type of rail car. “Tank cars don’t slosh and start rocking back and forth,” he said. “I asked that too.”
The question remains why the crude-oil trains are crashing and whether they are crashing for the same reasons as other freight trains.
Brigham McCown, former chief of the federal agency that sets tank car rules, said he believed the string of recent accidents had resulted from extreme weather this winter. The introduction of continuous welded track has made rails more vulnerable to expansion and contraction during temperature swings, experts say.
Another big unknown is human error, which accounted for 38% of all accidents in 2014. The Federal Railroad Administration is still investigating the specific causes of many recent crude train accidents, but it appears so far that none in the U.S. has involved a clear-cut case of human error.
Bill Kibben, a rail safety consultant who has worked for major railroads and government agencies, said accidents seldom occurred at a statistically even rate. “It is going to happen and it is going to be catastrophic,” Kibben said.
Historically, human error accidents have accounted for some of the most serious losses of life.
A decade ago, human error resulted in a train hauling chlorine gas to crash into a parked train on a siding, releasing poison gas that killed nine people and injured 250 others in Graniteville, S.C. In 2008, human error caused a head-on collision between a Metrolink train and a freight train in Chatsworth, killing 25 people and injuring 135 others.
Kibben said that train crews were often affected by health concerns and fatigue, as well. In 2013, four people were killed in the Bronx, N.Y., when a train engineer sped into a curve, an error he later attributed to being in a daze.
“We recognize the public’s deep concern,” said Ed Greenberg, spokesman for the railroad association. “We acknowledge we need to work with other stakeholders.”
Under a deal worked out last year with the Federal Railroad Administration, the rail industry agreed to operate crude trains at a maximum speed of 50 mph and slow down to 40 mph through some urban areas.
Greenberg said the U.S. rail industry had driven down its accident rate by 42% since 2000, making 2014 its safest year on record.
But environmentalists say safety rates for explosive products should not be compared to other merchandise.
“There should be a moratorium on crude trains until sufficient protective measures are in place at the federal level,” said Mollie Matteson, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.