Tag Archives: Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC)

Told to fix leaky oil train cars in 2 months, owners sought 3 years

Repost from McClatchyDC
[Editor:  Significant quote: “This year is already the second worst for oil spilled from trains since the federal government began collecting data 40 years ago….trains spilled about 1 million gallons in 2013 alone, vs. 800,000 in all the prior years combined….More than 600,000 gallons of oil has spilled from trains so far this year….”  – RS]

Told to fix leaky oil train cars in 2 months, owners sought 3 years

By Curtis Tate and Samantha Wohlfeil, September 2, 2015 

HIGHLIGHTS
• Washington state spills led to March order from federal agency
• Industry group asked for three-year extension
• Regulators gave owners until end of 2015

The wreckage of an oil train derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va., still smolders 48 hours after the crash, on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015.

WASHINGTON  |  Railroad tank cars equipped with defective valves still will be allowed to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials through the end of the year, despite a March directive from federal regulators requiring their replacement within 60 days.

The Federal Railroad Administration order followed a Bellingham (Wash.) Herald story about a leaking oil train reported in Washington state in January. The Railway Supply Institute, trade group representing tank-car owners, wrote the agency in April asking for a three-year extension to replace the faulty valves on tank cars that carry hazardous materials.

About 6,000 tank cars were affected by the recall, issued on March 13. On May 12, the day of the original deadline, regulators wrote back to the trade group that the agency found no basis to give tank car owners until 2018 to comply, but nonetheless gave them until Dec. 31, an extension of more than six months.

Officials from the Railway Supply Institute couldn’t be reached to comment.

60   Number of days tank car owners had to comply
with March directive.

The federal order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking from their top fittings while hauling crude oil through Washington state.

In mid-January, a 100-car train loaded with Bakken crude had 16 leaking cars removed at four different stops between northern Idaho and the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

As the train traveled west along the Columbia River, leaking cars were pulled as they were discovered; at each stop, the entire train was inspected before continuing on to the next location.

BNSF Railway, the train’s operator, said a total of 26 gallons of oil from 14 of the leaking cars was found only on the tops and sides of the cars, and no oil was found on the ground, in a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration fined the owner of a North Dakota oil loading terminal $10,000 for a spill from a tank car that was discovered in November in Washington state. When the car arrived at a refinery for unloading, inspectors found it coated in oil and measured about 1,600 gallons missing.

State officials first learned of the spill a month after it happened, and no local officials were notified. In March, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission recommended $700,000 in fines against BNSF for failure to report 14 hazardous materials spills within the 30 minutes required by state law.

BNSF has disputed the state regulator’s findings. A hearing is scheduled for January.

Six major oil train derailments this year across North America have demonstrated the continued risks of large volumes of crude oil moving by rail.

Four of those derailments occurred in just four weeks in February and March: two in Ontario, one in West Virginia and another in Illinois. All involved large spills, fires and explosions, but no serious injuries.

Two less serious oil train derailments have occurred since, in North Dakota in May and Montana in July.

600,000   Number of gallons of oil spilled from trains
so far this year.

The rail industry and its regulators have been under pressure from lawmakers and the public to fix tank car vulnerabilities and take more steps to prevent derailments from happening.

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued its final rule on tank car standards for trains carrying oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids on May 1.

The new rule requires a tougher design for the tank cars, including thicker shells, more puncture resistance and thermal insulation to protect against prolonged exposure to fire.

It also requires existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet the new standards, depending on the level of hazard, within two to 10 years. Industry groups have challenged the new rule in court, saying it doesn’t give them enough time to complete the retrofit. Environmental groups have sued as well, saying it gives the industry too much time.

This year is already the second worst for oil spilled from trains since the federal government began collecting data 40 years ago.  A McClatchy analysis of the data last year found that trains spilled about 1 million gallons in 2013 alone, vs. 800,000 in all the prior years combined.

More than 600,000 gallons of oil has spilled from trains so far this year, according to a new analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Wohlfeil writes for the Bellingham Herald and reported from Bellingham, Wash.
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    Washington State rail regulators to Fine BNSF for not reporting leaks immediately

    Repost from The Bellingham Herald

    State rail regulators: Fine BNSF for not reporting leaks immediately

    By Samantha Wohlfeil, March 19, 2015 
    Ferndale Siding  PAD
    BNSF rail cars on the railroad siding in Custer, Friday Aug. 22, 2014. The railroad is building a new siding from Ferndale to Custer. PHILIP A. DWYER — The Bellingham Herald

    Washington state regulators have recommended BNSF Railway be fined up to $700,000 for failing to properly report more than a dozen hazardous materials spills in recent months despite the fact state staff had reminded the company how to do so last fall.

    On Thursday, March 19, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission staff announced it found BNSF had failed to report 14 releases of hazardous materials, including crude oil leaks, within a half hour of learning about the leaks, as required by state law.

    In one case, crews at BP Cherry Point refinery found crude oil had leaked onto the sides and wheels of a tank car, which was found to be 1,611 gallons short. That was on Nov. 5, but the UTC didn’t find out about it until Dec. 3, when it got a copy of the report BNSF sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Railroads have 30 days to file that type of report.

    When contacted about the incident by a McClatchy reporter in January, BNSF said the train was “not in transit, not on our property and not in our custody” when the spill was detected, and the company had submitted the required reports to state and federal regulators.

    In another case from Jan. 12 and 13, a train hauling 100 cars of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes had more than a dozen leaking cars discovered in multiple stops as it crossed the state.

    Although the UTC sent an investigator to look at the leaking cars as part of a Federal Railroad Administration investigation, BNSF didn’t report the incident to the state’s 24-hour hotline at the Emergency Management Division until two weeks later. The hotline duty officer is in charge of alerting the various state agencies that might need to respond to a spill.

    When asked by The Bellingham Herald in February why the January incident was reported more than a week later, BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace replied that BNSF staff members thought they were following proper protocols, and had amended their Washington reporting policy following discussions with the UTC in January.

    But the investigation released by the UTC on Thursday shows that on Oct. 22, 2014, the UTC had emailed a copy of the state’s reporting requirements to Patrick Brady, BNSF’s director of hazardous materials and special operations, in an effort to make sure BNSF knew how to report accidents.

    As copied into the body of the Oct. 22 email to Brady, the state law regulating accident reports ( WAC 480-62-310) lists the hotline number, which types of incidents must be reported, and states that railroad companies must call within 30 minutes of learning of the event.

    On Dec. 3, Brady emailed the UTC again asking, “Can you send me the regulatory reference to spill notification to the UTC?” Staff members again emailed Brady the state law on reporting requirements, according to emails included in the investigation.

    From Nov. 1, 2014, to Feb. 24, UTC staff found BNSF committed 700 violations of the reporting requirement. Every day an incident goes unreported counts as a separate violation, per state law.

    In addition to the leaking crude oil incidents, the UTC announcement lists a variety of leaks that occurred throughout the state: a tank car dripping gas/oil from a bottom valve in Spokane Valley on Dec. 8, 2014; cars leaking “primary sludge” found in incidents in Seattle, Vancouver and Everett in December; two 100-gallon spills of lube oil from locomotives in December and January, among others.

    The commission could opt to fine the company $1,000 per violation of the reporting law, but no fine has been issued yet. The commission will set a final penalty after BNSF gets the chance to have a hearing.

    “When a company fails to notify the (state Emergency Operations Center) that a hazardous material incident has occurred, critical response resources may not be deployed, causing potential harm to the public and the environment,” the UTC announcement states.

    BNSF was still reviewing the report when contacted for comment on Thursday.

    “In regards to reporting releases in Washington state, we believed we were complying in good faith with the requirements from our agency partners,” BNSF’s Wallace wrote in a statement. “Following guidance from the UTC in January 2015, BNSF reviewed its reporting notification process and amended its practices to address concerns identified by the UTC. We will continue to work closely with the UTC moving forward on this issue.”

    BNSF is the largest railroad company operating in Washington.

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      McClatchy investigative reports result in enforcement actions

      Repost from McClatchy DC and The Bellingham Herald
      [Editor:  McClatchy News investigative reports have alerted Washington State and federal officials, and resulted in fines and enforcement actions.  For background, see Washington state officials unaware at first of November oil spill (1/26); Officials say oil train leaked as it crossed Washington state (2/6); and Oil-loading facility sanctioned in Washington rail car spill (3/12).  Don’t miss the excellent video near the end of this story.  – RS]

      More oil-train fixes: Feds order defective valves replaced on leaking cars

      By Samantha Wohlfeil and Curtis Tate, March 13, 2015 
      APTOPIX Train Derailment
      Derailed oil tanker train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. A CSX train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm, sending a fireball into the sky and threatening the water supply of nearby residents, authorities and residents said Tuesday. MARCUS CONSTANTINO — AP

      WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration on Friday ordered rail tank car owners to replace defective valves never approved for installation on thousands of tank cars, causing oil to spill from moving trains.

      The directive applies to a 3-inch valve installed on roughly 6,000 tank cars, and their owners have 60 days to replace them. Within 90 days, tank car owners must also replace 37,000 1-inch and 2-inch valves manufactured by the same company. While the smaller valves were not found to be defective like the larger ones, they were not approved for the tank cars.

      The affected cars can be used in the interim, but none can be loaded with hazardous materials if they are still equipped with those valves after the deadlines.

      The enforcement action comes after a story last month in McClatchy’s Bellingham Herald about 14 tank cars that were discovered leaking en route from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

      Friday’s enforcement action is the second to follow an investigation launched after McClatchy reported on leaking cars in Washington.

      On Thursday, the agency said it had sanctioned the operator of a North Dakota loading facility for not properly closing a valve on another oil car after McClatchy reported in January that the car arrived at the BP Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington state with 1,600 gallons missing.

      That spill was discovered in early November but wasn’t reported to state officials until early December. Local emergency officials were never notified, according to a report sent by BNSF Railway to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

      The 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch valves were all manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining, a company in Tennessee. The Bellingham Herald could not immediately reach anyone at McKenzie, but left messages with the company Friday.

      The Federal Railroad Administration also announced Friday that it was launching a full audit of the approval process for tank car components to determine why the unapproved valves were installed.

      Under federal regulations, tank car valve designs must be approved by the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee.

      The Federal Railroad Administration said it would begin working immediately with the association, which is the rail industry’s principal trade group in the nation’s capital.

      Sarah Feinberg, the FRA’s acting chief, said Friday that removal of the valves will help reduce the number of non-derailment releases of hazardous materials.

      “Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” she said in a statement.

      Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the railroad association, said Friday that it supported the order. Railroads don’t own most of the tank cars used to transport oil.

      “Officials from our association will be working closely with the administration in reviewing the tank car valve approval process to ensure the agency is fully satisfied with the current approval requirements that are in place,” he said in a statement.

      The Federal Railroad Administration’s order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking oil from their top fittings on a handful of trains hauling different types of crude oil through Washington state.

      In mid-January, a train loaded with Bakken crude needed to have more than a dozen leaking cars removed at three separate stops as it traveled through Idaho and crossed Washington state.

      The train was headed from Tioga, N.D., to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

      In a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, BNSF reported a total of 26 gallons of oil leaking from 14 cars. Tesoro reported two more leaking cars. The oil was found only on the tops and sides of tank cars, and no oil was found on the ground.

      Crews had first noticed oil on the side of a tank car while the train was in northern Idaho, and after checking the rest of the train, removed that car, which had leaked about two gallons, according to BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace.

      After the train had crossed through the state, following the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., crews found that crude oil had leaked onto the top of seven more cars, which were removed from the train on Jan. 12. BNSF reported the incident to the state Department of Ecology on Jan. 23.

      BNSF also reported that about 10 gallons total had leaked from six more cars removed in Auburn on Jan. 13.

      Wallace said the railroad would work with customers and shippers to take the required actions.

      “Although BNSF does not own the tank cars, nothing is more important to us than safely operating through the communities that we serve,” she said in a statement.


      The state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the FRA investigated the cars that were pulled from the train in Vancouver, which led to the discovery that closure plugs on the valves caused damage to the valve’s seal, and when tightened, would press down on and damage the ball.

      The cars involved were CPC-1232 model cars built after 2011, which some oil companies have started using after several fiery derailments caused concerns about older DOT-111 rail cars, which have been found more likely to puncture or burst.

      However, newer CPC-1232-standard cars that lack features that reduce damage from punctures and fire exposure have performed no better in four recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.

      The White House Office of Management and budget is reviewing a new tank car standard proposed by the Department of Transportation. It is scheduled for publication on May 12.

      Wohlfeil, of The Bellingham Herald, reported from Washington state. Tate reported from Washington, D.C.
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