Tag Archives: Washington Environmental Council

Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards

Press Release from ForestEthics

Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards

The new safety standards issued by the Department of Transportation take too long to get dangerous tank cars off the tracks and contain loopholes that leave too many vulnerable
May 14, 2015, Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, (415) 815-7027, eddie@forestethics.org

San Francisco – In the wake of a spate of fiery derailments and toxic spills involving trains hauling volatile crude oil, a coalition of conservation organizations and citizen groups are challenging the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) weak safety standards for oil trains. Less than a week after the DOT released its final tank car safety rule on May 1, a train carrying crude oil exploded outside of Heimdal, North Dakota. Under the current standards, the tank cars involved in the accident would not be retired from crude oil shipping or retrofitted for another 5 to 8 years.

Earthjustice has filed suit in the 9th Circuit challenging the rule on behalf of ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Spokane Riverkeeper, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Department of Transportation’s weak oil train standard just blew up in its face on the plains of North Dakota last week,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney. “Pleas from the public, reinforced by the National Transportation Safety Board, to stop hauling explosive crude in these tank cars have fallen on deaf ears, leaving people across the country vulnerable to catastrophic accidents.”

Rather than immediately banning the most dangerous tank cars — DOT-111s and CPC-1232s — that are now used every day to transport volatile Bakken and tar sands crude oil, the new standards call for a 10-year phase out. Even then the standard will allow smaller trains — up to 35 loaded tank cars in a train — to continue to use the unsafe tank cars.

The new rule fails to protect people and communities in several major ways:

• The rule leaves hazardous cars carrying volatile crude oil on the tracks for up to 10 years.

• The rule has gutted public notification requirements, leaving communities and emergency responders in the dark about the oil trains and explosive crude oil rumbling through their towns and cities.

• New cars will require thicker shells to reduce punctures and leaks, but retrofit cars are subject to a less protective standard.

• The standard doesn’t impose adequate speed limits to ensure that oil trains run at safe speeds. Speed limits have been set for “high threat urban areas,” but very few cities have received that designation.

Click here for a close analysis of the hidden dangers buried in the federal tank car rule

“Explosive oil trains present real and imminent danger, and protecting the public and waterways requires an aggressive regulatory response,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Instead, the Department of Transportation has finalized an inadequate rule that clearly was influenced by industry and will not prevent more explosions and fires in our communities. We hope our challenge will result in a rule that puts the safety of people and their waterways first.”

“We’re suing the administration because these rules won’t protect the 25 million Americans living in the oil train blast zone,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics Executive Director. “Let’s start with common sense – speed limits that are good for some cities are good for all communities, 10 years is too long to wait for improved tank cars, and emergency responders need to know where and when these dangerous trains are running by our homes and schools.”

LEGAL DOCUMENT: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/petition-for-review-groups-sue-obama-administration-over-weak-tank-car-standards 

BACKGROUND:

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that the DOT-111 tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. The Safety Board has made official recommendations to stop shipping crude oil in these hazardous tank cars, but the federal regulators have not heeded these pleas. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, and the Safety Board has called for a ban on shipping hazardous fuels in these cars as well.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail from 2008 to 2013, primarily in trains with 100 to 120 oil cars that can be over 1.5 miles long. The result has been oil spills, destructive fires, and explosions when oil trains have derailed. More oil spilled in train accidents in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

ForestEthics calculates that 25 million Americans live in the dangerous blast zone along the nation’s rail lines.

REPORTER RESOURCES:

Q&A: The Challenge To The Federal Tank Car Standards

Map: Crude By Rail Across the United States

Quote Sheet By Officials On The Dangers of Shipping Bakken Crude in Hazardous Tank Cars

ForestEthics Map: Oil Train Blast Zone

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Did a “Bomb” Train Full of Volatile Crude Oil Pass By Tuesday’s Seattle Mariners Game?

Repost from The Stranger, Seattle, WA

Did a “Bomb” Train Full of Volatile Crude Oil Pass By Tuesday’s Mariners Game?

By Sydney Brownstone, Apr 23, 2015 at 1:50 pm
This was taken at around 8:15 p.m. at Tuesday nights Mariners game.
This was taken at around 8:15 p.m. at Tuesday night’s Mariners game. Courtesy of David Perk

Maaaaaybe it wasn’t the thrill he was looking for.

A spectator at Tuesday night’s Mariners game caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a crude-oil unit train moving past Safeco Field.

The attendee took video and photos while taking a walk behind the scoreboard, but didn’t want to be credited for them. David Perk, a friend of the photographer’s who was also at the game, passed along the images on that person’s behalf. Perk, a volunteer with the Washington Environmental Council, went to the game because of the ticket special to honor local volunteering efforts.

Perk says he first spotted the train while driving to the game from Renton. “I was wondering if it was going to roll north while having our tailgate party on the side of the tracks,” Perk said. Nearly 14,000 people attended the game, according to Seattle Mariners spokesperson Rebecca Hale.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe wouldn’t confirm whether the train was carrying crude, but the Sightline Institute’s Eric de Place said that the train was “almost certainly a unit train of crude.” Unit trains often contain a hundred or more tank cars, and can measure as long as a mile. The train was also heading north, which means that it was likely full and heading for refineries near Anacortes or Ferndale.

Unit trains moving crude from the shale oil fields of North Dakota (also known as “bomb trains”) carry a unique risk of derailing and exploding. The US Department of Transportation has estimated that an average of 10 crude-oil trains will derail a year over the next two decades. The DOT has thus far failed to finalize safety rules for crude-by-rail, but did order a 40-mile-per-hour speed limit on unit trains through populated areas last week. On April 14, the Washington State House also passed an oil transportation safety bill sponsored by Representative Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle).

Much of downtown Seattle falls within the crude-oil route’s half-mile blast zone, including Safeco Field, which sits right next to the railroad. But railroads aren’t required to share crude-oil routes with the public. Earlier this month, Seattle’s new fire chief, Howard Scoggins, told reporters that a derailment in Seattle would “exhaust our resources and require assistance from communities around us.”

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Washington State bill: Report volume, contents of oil trains

Repost from SeattlePI.com

State House bill: Report volume, contents of oil trains

By Joel Connelly, April 14, 2015

A bill that would require “comprehensive reporting” of the volume and specific contents of oil trains crossing Washington was passed on a bipartisan vote by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Oil tanker cars derailed under the Magnolia Bridge.  No harm done, but not the case elsewhere.
Oil tanker cars derailed under the Magnolia Bridge. No harm done, but not the case elsewhere.

The legislation goes to the Republican-run state Senate, where key committee chairs enjoy much closer relationships with railroads and oil refiners.

“The House has passed these urgently needed policies with bipartisan support, twice. Delay on the part of the Senate is unacceptable,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters.

(Washington Conservation Voters tried in 2014 to defeat several oil industry allies in the Senate, but lost every high-profile race.)

The legislation, passed on a 58-40 vote, requires that shippers and receivers give cargo data to first responders, but goes further and establishes a website for members of the public to access the information.

Washington Fire Chiefs, in letters sent last month to railroads, asked BNSF, Union Pacific and Canadian National to supply “Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans” and “Worst Case Scenarios” on an oil train accident.

BNSF has responded by offering the chiefs a meeting.

If there is such a response plan or plans, “I haven’t seen it,” new Seattle Fire Chief Harold Skoggins told a news conference with Sen. Maria Cantwell and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray last week.

“It would be nice were there a system created where we would be notified when this material is traveling through our city,” Skoggins added.

The railroads have been reticent about releasing cargo information, citing national security concerns and privately voicing fear of protests.

A fire burns Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Steve Keenan)
A fire burns Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. (AP Photo/The Register-Herald, Steve Keenan)

BNSF has, however, released information on the upgrading of tracks and investment in newer, safer oil tanker cars.

The House legislation goes further, directing rule making for such measures as tug escorts when hazardous cargoes are transported by water.  It directs the state to inspect rail crossings and push for repairs.

And it would require oil companies to pay for increased oil spill prevention, preparedness and response.

Just two and a half years have passed since the first oil train, carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota, passed through Seattle en route to refineries in northern Puget Sound.

The state now sees about 19 oil trains a week.  At least a dozen pass along the Seattle waterfront, through a mile-long tunnel, and past the stadium homes of the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners and Seattle Sounders.

The BNSF has trained Seattle firefighters on oil tanker cars brought to a site in Interbay.  But any serious fire would require a major response from numerous fire departments.

The legislation in Olympia has been inspired, in part, by the long delay in getting new oil train safety rules — such as getting old, unsafe tanker cars off the tracks — out of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The U.S. and Canada have seen a series of oil train fires in recent months.  A runaway train wiped out the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.  A train blew up near New Casselton, North Dakota, luckily in an unpopulated area.  In February, there were major accidents and fires in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.

Sen. Cantwell is sponsoring federal legislation that would require railroads and oil companies to disclose routes and vapor content of trains to first responders.

Eventually, the senator warned last week, Puget Sound population centers could see up to 16 trains a day.

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