Tag Archives: Vancouver

Vancouver City Council urged to oppose Tesoro oil terminal

Repost rom The Columbian
[Editor: The resolution is expected to pass.  – RS]

In Our View: Stopping the Oil Terminal

Vancouver City Council should formally adopt its opposition to proposed project

May 19, 2014

After months of limbering up, members of the Vancouver City Council have taken a swing at a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver — and smacked one out of the park. Councilors have prepared a draft resolution weighing in on the deal reached last year between port officials and Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies. They have opposed the proposal in no uncertain terms and have urged government entities that have a say in the matter to rule against it.

The draft resolution will be discussed by the council during a workshop Monday and will receive a public hearing on June 2; council members are expected to vote on the resolution June 16. And while the city has no official decision-making capacity regarding the oil terminal — which would handle up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil per day, arriving by train from the Bakken formation in North Dakota — it has effectively distilled the arguments against the idea. Among the items included in the resolution’s 37 “whereas” statements:

• “Human error, acts of nature and unforeseen disasters are beyond the control of measures proposed for the Vancouver oil terminal project and could have devastating effects on the entire community.”

• There have been several well-documented derailments and explosions of trains carrying Bakken crude, including one in Quebec that killed 47 people.

• The city has invested heavily in a proposed Columbia Waterfront Development, a $1.3 billion project that would result in commercial, residential, and recreational outlets along the banks of the Columbia River — just upriver from the terminal site and in the shadow of the rail tracks used by oil trains.

Each of these is an important aspect deserving of consideration, but the most valid argument from city officials is this: “Whereas the City has a paramount interest in the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and believes that the development of the proposed Tesoro Savage crude by rail oil terminal is contrary to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and business community.”

These talking points have been presented previously by some on the city council and by many members of the public. But formal adoption of the resolution by council members (four of the seven members have expressed opposition to the terminal) would go a long way toward stopping it in its tracks. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is reviewing the proposal and will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will have the final say regarding approval. The city council’s resolution urges both EFSEC and the governor to decline certification of the terminal, and it also urges federal and state lawmakers to tighten regulations regarding the transportation of crude oil.

Most intriguingly, council members request that the Port of Vancouver terminate its lease with Tesoro and Savage. The ability of port officials to do that remains open to interpretation — in part because the lease released to The Columbian under a public-records request contains heavily redacted portions. It is difficult to assess the legal obligations of the port under such a veil of secrecy, which is another reason to question the terminal proposal. If Tesoro and Savage cannot trust the public to know the details, it’s unlikely the public will trust the companies to act in the best interest of the community.

The reasons for opposing the oil terminal are sound and well-considered, having undergone months of scrutiny and discussion. The Vancouver City Council would be wise to formally adopt its opposition.

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NRDC Senior Scientist: Another explosion, and slow progress on tank car regulations

Repost from NRDC Switchboard, Diane Bailey’s Blog

This Washington, that Washington on Crude Oil by Rail

 Diane Bailey | Posted April 30, 2014

Diane Bailey

This afternoon brought news of another fiery crude oil train derailment.  Luckily no one was hurt in the Lynchburg, Virginia accident, but flames were shooting up as high as the 19th floor of one bystander’s office building, oil was spilling into the James River and hundreds have been evacuated.  The billowing black plumes of smoke serve as a warning not just to the 77,000 people living in Lynchburg but to everyone living near rail lines or terminals that the growing transport of long crude oil trains is incredibly dangerous.

It’s not clear that mile long crude oil trains can ever be made safe, but they are upon us, so while we are fighting to keep them out of communities, we better make every effort to improve the situation.  This blog includes notes on the National Transportation Safety Board Rail Safety Forum on the Transportation of Crude Oil and Ethanol  in Washington D.C. last week from Fred Millar, a well-known rail safety expert; and a summary of fieldwork from a leading activist, Matt Landon, who is oil trainspotting in Washington State. (What is oil trainspotting?)

The NTSB Forum in DC last week was packed with industry shippers and carriers, NTSB oil forum.jpgtechnical, policy, emergency response and regulatory experts, all talking about hazardous materials transportation issues and crude oil train derailments disasters. From that discussion, the top two strategies to address these safety risks involve federal regulations: (1) Ordering a fast retrofit of existing tank cars with a strong safety standard, and a similarly strong standard for new tank cars; and (2) re-routing the unit trains around major cities.

As far as the tank cars go, NTSB Chairman Hersman noted that federal agencies could use emergency powers to quickly issue safety-forcing Emergency Orders and even Interim Final Regulations.  She recounted an expeditious federal action in the 1970’s, when the DOT ordered speedy retrofits of pressurized “jumbo” tank cars DOT-112A and DOT-114A that experienced dangerous failures.

In February 1978, a rail tanker explosion killed 16, in Waverly, TN.  Less than a year later, in January 1979 the DOT Secretary reported that nearly all of the defective tanker cars had been retrofitted, and soon thereafter it was obvious that the package of three railcar retrofit devices had reduced serious pressurized railcar releases significantly. During that rulemaking process, it’s important to note that although the industry warned that only four shops could do railcar retrofits and they would take 3 days each, the NTSB ultimately found that 100 shops could retrofit tank cars, and each would take 93 minutes.

So, technically and politically, rail tanker cars can be retrofitted or replaced quickly. And in the case of the puncture-prone DOT-111 tanker cars now used to carry significant amounts of crude oil, speed is called for in their replacement as well.  According to researcher, Dr. David Jeong of DOT, using sophisticated models, the “legacy” DOT-111 tank cars are estimated to spill their contents in an accident over 25 percent of the time, whereas other models are less likely to breach in an accident. For example, COC-1232 tanker cars with full height head shields are estimated to breach in only 6 percent of accidents; and the proposed new design for more robust tanker cars with a thicker shell would only breach in 4 percent of accidents. While imperfect, these newer designs are clearly much safer and should be phased in immediately.

It remains to be seen what this week’s expected federal proposal on rail car safety will bring.  In the meantime, the Canadian government announced last week that industry must – at its own cost – replace 5,000 DOT-111 tanker cars within 30 days, and another 65,000 DOT-111 cars must be removed or retrofitted within three years.

This is a significant step, although three years is a long time to wait, and the regulations do not address re-routing of trains around cities.  In Canada, however, the railroads will have to provide hazmat rail flow information to local emergency responders (note: the public still will not have access to this). The US has no such requirement on the railroads.  Also, to make matters worse, the current “routing selection tools” used by railroads in the U.S. are not disclosed to anyone and receive minimal government oversight.  Railroads and governments have blocked any effort to keep dangerous trains away from the most populated areas by keeping the routing secret and unaccountable, unmeasured as to effectiveness.

firefighter tanker train.jpgHow can emergency responders deal with crude oil rail accidents?  A panel concluded that the best tactic is to let a derailment burn, pull back, and take a “defensive posture”.  Emergency responders were clear that the ongoing crude oil rail disasters are beyond their capabilities to handle.  “Even with an infinite amount of costly foam”, letting them burn is the only sensible approach (and this is what was done in Lynchburg this afternoon).  They note that major derailments would require enormous amounts of foam, there is not enough water to apply it especially in rural areas, and anyway, they cannot get close enough to the fires to apply it.  Derailments in urban areas would pose significant operating risks that go well beyond current operational capabilities for emergency responders.

In the meantime, Matt Landon with the Vancouver Action Network, set out to find whether crude oil trains are leaking fumes in the other Washington – State, that is. This past month, Matt initiated the Washington State Train Watch 2014 covering Spokane, the Columbia River Gorge, Washougal, Camas, Vancouver, Fruit Valley, and Everett, recording the number of oil and coal trains coming through these communities.  Using a FLIR Gasfindir GF320 hydrocarbon viewing video camera, this footage of air emissions from a train carrying crude oil thought to be from the North Dakota Bakken was posted.  Watching this video makes you wonder who is monitoring the air emissions from leaky crude oil trains, how much is leaking, who is exposed and how dangerous is it?

leaking oil train.jpg

Back in Washington D.C., waiting for an announcement on new rail safety measures from U.S. DOT, Fred Millar provided more information from the rail safety forum.  Participants in the NTSB Forum recognize the scope and seriousness of the Crude by Rail issues, given that 80 percent of the 1 million barrels per day of Bakken crude oil produced is shipped by rail, and production is growing, yet there is no single silver bullet to address the rail safety risks.

In addition to the need for improved tanker cars and routing discussed above, there are additional improvements that can be made to rail operations and to emergency response.

One key factor in train derailments that influences the extent of damage is speed.  The models that predict failure rates of tank cars during derailments use an “average accident” speed of 27 mph. Yet, even the NTSB Chair Hersman pointed out that it is not realistic, given the higher speeds seen in some of the serious derailments in recent years and the fact that the new standard adopted by the railroads on routes outside of major cities is 50 mph.  Reducing train speeds would be one effective strategy to reduce risk of catastrophic derailments.

It is also essential to strengthen emergency response capabilities. No one at the Forum asked or speculated on what would it cost if railroads paid for adequate emergency preparedness or if FRA increased their oversight in any serious way. The scale of the needs here is vast, given that there are an estimated 2 million firefighters, 80% of which are volunteers, and 20% of those turn over every year.  They all need hazmat training and appropriate resources to respond in any real way to a unit crude oil train accident.rail placard.jpg

Finally, in order for emergency responders to do their jobs, they need to know what substance they are dealing with during an accident.  Full disclosure of tanker train contents and characteristics is essential.  Communities also have a right to know this information about the mile long trains hurtling through their neighborhood, but this was never even mentioned during the Forum.

The residents of Lynchburg, Virginia and thousands of others who have witnessed the devastation of crude oil train derailments over the past year probably join me in wondering whether the federal government is going to do anything to keep these dangerous oil trains out of communities, or try to make those tanker trains safer, or make the trains slow down, or provide adequate emergency response resources, or… anything.  How many more fiery derailments will it take to act?

Full notes of Fred Millar are available to community, public health and safety advocates upon request.

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Council opposes crude by rail in Vancouver, WA – safety issues

Repost from The Oregonian
[Editor – Significant quote: “a majority of Vancouver City Council members recently announced they opposed the $110 million terminal, citing not its potential environmental impacts, but their concern that the project may endanger the city’s 165,000 residents.”  – RS]

Fiery oil train accidents heighten scrutiny of major Vancouver, WA rail terminal

By Rob Davis | April 11, 2014
 
Port of Vancouver oil terminal – 2.  The Port of Vancouver’s rail loop would be used to unload 360,000 barrels of oil daily from trains. (Courtesy of Port of Vancouver)

Building the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the Pacific Northwest was never going to escape controversy, not in a region with a robust environmental lobby.

But for a planned terminal in Vancouver, Wash., a series of fiery oil train explosions has expanded opposition and heightened scrutiny of a project promising to be a bellwether for a growing number of facilities in development along the West Coast.

Tesoro Corp., a major oil refiner, and Savage Cos., a supply chain logistics manager, are proposing to bring four loaded oil trains a day through the Columbia River Gorge into Vancouver, where crude would be loaded on barges bound for West Coast refineries. The terminal could process 131 million barrels of oil annually, seven times more than trains hauled through Washington last year.

Trains and trade are an indelible part of Vancouver’s identity. Roughly 75 trains move daily through the city, which traces its history to being a hub of the Pacific Northwest’s 19th century fur trade.

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But a majority of Vancouver City Council members recently announced they opposed the $110 million terminal, citing not its potential environmental impacts, but their concern that the project may endanger the city’s 165,000 residents.

“We’re pushing a margin of safety that we’re not ready to deal with,” Councilman Larry J. Smith, a retired Army infantryman, said at a recent meeting. “The accidents sort of prove that. We have a ways to go to prove that we’re safe and secure and taking care of our citizens.”

Oil trains today aren’t as safe as they could be. Most tank cars moving oil are outdated models. While the federal government is tightening safety standards, new rules aren’t expected before late 2014. Upgrading the country’s rail fleet could take as long as a decade.

Meanwhile, the characteristics of the North Dakota oil moving by rail remain poorly understood. Before oil trains exploded, crude wasn’t thought to be especially flammable. But samples show that oil moving through Vancouver into Oregon is saturated with more propane and other flammable gases than comparable types of crude.

Those uncertainties led the Port of Portland to reject crude-by-rail terminals until safety gaps are addressed. But in Vancouver, the port has pushed ahead, with top leaders saying they believe stronger safety standards will be place by the time the project – worth $45 million over 10 years in lease revenue to the port – finishes a state permitting process expected to take a year or longer.

The port had a warning that the project would be more controversial than it expected. The agency approved its lease with Tesoro-Savage less than three weeks after the first oil train accident, which killed 47 people in Quebec last July.

After that accident, port and company representatives said something similar couldn’t happen in Vancouver. The Quebec accident, they said, happened on a short-line railroad with different standards than the main-line track that the BNSF Railway Co. operates in Vancouver. That was reinforced when a second accident happened on a short-line operator’s track in Alabama in November.

Then came a third oil train explosion in December – on a main line BNSF operates in North Dakota.

North Dakota oil train derailmentA string of train accidents involving crude oil from North Dakota have created massive fireballs, including this one outside Casselton, N.D., in December 2013. Bruce Crummy/The Associated Press

Todd Coleman, the Port of Vancouver’s executive director, said his agency may have approached the project differently and gotten safety questions answered up front if it had known more accidents would follow. But Coleman said he is still confident that the project’s state permitting process will make it as safe as it can be.

In the meantime, Coleman has traveled to Washington, D.C., advocating for regulators, railroads and Tesoro-Savage to improve oil train safety.

The port recently commissioned a safety study that concluded the risks of an oil train derailment on its track are very low and recommended $500,000 in rail improvements the agency pledged to make. The study didn’t examine the chances of human-caused errors, the leading cause of rail accidents.

And the port has yet to approve a separate Tesoro-Savage safety plan, which Coleman said could “conceivably” allow the port to require tighter safeguards if federal regulations don’t catch up.

“It’s unfortunate incidents that have happened, absolutely,” Coleman said. “But it will make it safer in the future.”

That hasn’t assuaged fears among people Jack Burkman talks to. The three-term Vancouver city councilman and other elected officials say they’ve been barraged by questions from worried residents.

“I’m stopped everywhere in town by people I never would’ve expected to be concerned about this,” said Burkman, a retired engineer. “There’s too much lack of understanding. While the likelihood of an accident may be really, really low, the problems we’ve seen have been horrific. That’s what people are having a hard time wrapping their arms around.”

The project, which could employ 120, is clearly important to Tesoro. After City Council members announced last month that they would oppose the project, Tesoro executives immediately flew into town to meet with business leaders and the local newspaper to press their case.

Loading oil on barges in Vancouver would allow the company to move North Dakota crude to its California refineries for less than the full rail journey would cost. It could export Canadian crude or move U.S.-produced crude if the oil industry successfully lobbies to lift a ban on exporting domestic supplies.

A Wall Street analyst who follows Tesoro said the terminal faces a tougher permitting process amid rising opposition to crude-by-rail terminals.

“It’s a bit ahead of other projects and it’s a bit bigger, so it’s a bit more of an indicator relative to these smaller projects about whether they get approved,” said Allen Good, a Morningstar analyst. “If it does get stopped, it will give a lot of momentum to groups opposing other crude-by-rail facilities.”

One of the project’s most prominent opponents is Barry Cain, a developer working on a $1 billion waterfront redevelopment of a former Boise Cascade paper mill. He’s an unlikely opponent: A businessman who praises the domestic crude boom for helping the United States reduce its dependency on foreign oil.

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A rendering of the waterfront redevelopment project that developer Barry Cain is working on in Vancouver, Wash.Rob Davis/The Oregonian

Three oil trains a day already move past Cain’s development site, on the key BNSF line that connects to refineries in northern Washington. But the terminal would bring four more. Cain said he worries that fear about exploding oil trains will damage property values, make financing or insurance harder to find and dissuade potential development partners.

“We don’t want to lead any fight,” Cain said of his development partners. “We’re all businesspeople, we’re not the type who’d normally be opposed to this. It’s good to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. But this affects the project we’re working on.”

Ultimately, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will have to approve or reject the project if it clears a quasi-judicial process being led by Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. Inslee has not taken any position on it.

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