Category Archives: Ban oil trains

HUFFINGTON POST: Top 5 Reasons To Ban Oil Trains Immediately

Repost from the Huffington Post

Top 5 Reasons To Ban Oil Trains Immediately

By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, Stand.Earth (formerly ForestEthics), 06/29/2016 01:32 pm ET

On Friday, June 3rd, a crude oil train traveled through the scenic Columbia River Gorge, a national treasure and one of the most beautiful spots in a country blessed with some of the most stunning places on Earth. It went slowly through the small town of Mosier, Ore. Children sat in class, no doubt looking forward to the weekend, people stopped by the post office, enjoying the rituals of small town life. Then the ground shook. Explosions rocked the area and a plume of thick black smoke snaked its way into the sky. The oil train had derailed a few hundred yards from that school, a few hundred yards from the city center. Four railcars spilled and caught fire — and tens of thousands of gallons of burning North Dakota Bakken crude created an inferno.

This disaster occurred as Stand and our many allies in the Crude Awakening Network were preparing for the third annual Stop Oil Trains Week of Action, planning dozens of events across the US and Canada between July 6-12 to mark the solemn anniversary of the tragic Lac Megantic oil train disaster on July 6, 2013. The Mosier derailment drove home, once again, why oil trains are too dangerous for the rails. And why Stand is asking President Obama for an immediate ban on oil trains.

Here are the top five reasons Stand, joined by hundreds of groups, community leaders, and elected officials, are calling for a ban on deadly oil trains.

1. 25 million Americans live in the oil train “blast zone”.
The US rail system was built to connect population centers, not move millions of gallons of toxic, flammable crude oil. But the oil industry is doing exactly that, sending explosive crude down the tracks right through our cities and by the homes of 25 million Americans. At Stand, we have mapped oil train routes with our Blast Zone map. You can use the map to see if your home, school, or office is inside the dangerous one-mile evacuation area. One clear finding from analyzing America’s blast zone: vulnerable populations like environmental justice communities and school children are clearly in harm’s way.

2. Oil trains can’t be operated safely.
Federal safety standards won’t improve oil train safety. Federal legislation, promises by the railroads, and federal regulations- weakened by years of interagency battles between the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board — have all come to very little. Former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Jim Hall, in a June 2016 op-ed advocating a ban on crude oil trains, put it simply: “Carrying crude oil by rail is just not a good idea.” That’s because it cannot be done safely. Period.

Thorough reporting by DeSmog Blog on the weak existing federal regulatory standards and the oil and rail industry’s failure to meet them demonstrates there have been no improvements on the safety of the 100,000 unsafe tank cars in the US fleet. Only a few hundred of these 100,000 dangerous tank cars have been retrofitted, and cars updated to the newest tank car standard will still puncture at just a few miles an hour faster than the current tank cars.

After 2025, there may be marginal improvements in the tank cars and procedures associated with oil trains. But trains will still derail, and crude will still leak and ignite.

3. Oil train fires can’t be controlled.
When an oil train derails at any speed over the puncture velocity of roughly 10 miles an hour a dozen or so cars typically come off the tracks, decouple and are thrown from their wheels. Tank cars are easily punctured, and the crude (either Bakken or diluted tar sands, both highly volatile) can either self-ignite or be sparked by a nearby ignition source.

Once the spilled oil from an oil train disaster ignites, the primary task of emergency responders is to evacuate the area due to toxic plumes, fire, and potential explosions. We write more about the difficulties here, but Bruce Goetsch, a county emergency manager in Iowa, had this advice: “Make sure your tennis shoes are on and start running.” Or listen to the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, which delivered a letter to Washington Governor Inslee on June 8 demanding an immediate halt to crude rail movement and stating that, “these fires are exceedingly difficult to extinguish, even under unusually ideal circumstances.”

4. We don’t need the oil these dangerous trains carry.
Oil trains in North America carry extreme fracked crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, or diluted bitumen from tar sands deposits in Alberta. We don’t need any of this crude oil. According to the most recent information from the US Energy Information Administration, shipments of crude by rail represent only 2.5 percent of the 19 million barrel daily US oil demand. At the same time, the US exports more than five million barrels of oil per day. So the US is exporting ten times more than the 513,000 barrels of crude that is moving by rail each day. The crude moving by train contributes nothing to our energy supply. If we stopped all oil trains tomorrow Americans would never notice the difference at the gas pumps – but we would all be safer, especially the 25 million Americans living in the blast-zone.

5. Oil trains are taking us in the wrong direction.
The dangerous, unnecessary, carbon-intensive crude oil moving by train through North American cities and towns is a new phenomenon. Before 2008, crude oil rarely, if ever, moved by train. Oil companies see this oil as the future. We see a future where we leave extreme crude oil in the ground and use decreasing amounts of conventional oil as we transition to 100 percent clean energy.

The climate accords in Paris followed by the April 2016 United Nations resolution put the United States and the rest of the world on a clear, inevitable path toward reducing fossil fuels from our energy supply. These dangerous oil trains carrying extreme oil are, quite simply, not part of that future: they fail the public safety test, the energy security test, and the climate test.

Forty-seven people died in the Lac Megantic oil train disaster three years ago. Only incredible luck prevented Mosier, OR from being another Lac Megantic. It was a dead-calm day in one of the windiest part of the US, otherwise the fire could have spread quickly to more derailed cars, to surrounding forests, homes, and even to the nearby school. This was another close call, one of more than a dozen major oil train disasters over the last three years that could have been much worse. We need to end this unnecessary and unacceptable threat before our luck runs out.

This is not a radical request. In fact, the Governors of Oregon and Washington have asked for a moratorium on oil trains. Join them — and Stand: Please join us in asking President Obama for an immediate ban on oil trains.

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New Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Repost from Center for Biological Diversity

CenterForBiolDiv_logoNew Oil Train Safety Regs Focus on Accident Response, Not Prevention

Long Phase-out of Hazardous Cars, Inadequate Speed Limits Leave Communities at Risk of Explosive Derailments

For Immediate Release, December 7, 2015
Contact: Jared Margolis, (802) 310-4054

WASHINGTON— A new transportation bill signed by President Obama includes provisions intended to improve the safety of oil trains, but leaves puncture-prone tank cars in service for years and fails to address the speed, length and weight of trains that experts point to as the leading causes of explosive derailments. The bill upgrades safety features on oil train tank cars and requires railroads to provide emergency responders with real-time information about when and where dangerous oil cargoes are being transported but doesn’t do enough to prevent oil train accidents, which have risen sharply in recent years.

“While these regulations improve our ability to prepare for oil train disasters they do virtually nothing to prevent them from ever occurring in the first place,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Until we dramatically reduce the speed and length of these bomb trains it’s only a matter of time before the next explosive derailment sends fireballs rolling through one of our communities.”

The new regulations will require all oil train tank cars to include fire-resistant ceramic coatings and protections for protruding top fittings. The final rule issued by federal regulators in May only required oil trains with 35 loaded oil tank cars or 20-car blocks of oil tank cars to implement the new standards, and would not have required the ceramic blankets or top fitting protections for all retrofitted cars.

But experts say even the protective measures included in the new transportation regulations signed into law on Friday will do little to prevent a spill if a train derails at speeds faster than 18 mph, and oil trains are permitted to travel at 40 mph to 50 mph. And the new regulations do not require the phase-out of dangerous puncture-prone tank cars to begin until 2018, and allows them to remain in service until 2029.

“It’s irresponsible to continue to allow these bomb trains to roll through the middle of our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes,” said Margolis. “We need to quit pretending we can make these dangerous trains safe and simply ban them altogether.”

Congress has directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue requiring notifications to states of train routes and frequencies so communities can better prepare to respond to train derailments, explosions and oil spills. However, the new regulations do nothing to remedy the track infrastructure problems, or the excessive length and weight of oil trains, cited as leading causes of derailments. Further, it remains unclear whether the public will have access to information about these hazards.

“Keeping information on oil trains from public scrutiny is outrageous, and only serves to protect the corporate interests that care little about the risk to the homes, schools and wild areas that these trains threaten,” said Margolis. “We need to keep these trains off the tracks and keep these dangerous fossil fuels in the ground, rather than keeping the public in the dark.”

Background 

The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that current tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. But federal regulators have ignored the safety board’s official recommendation to stop shipping crude oil in the hazardous tank cars. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that even the newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, often puncturing at low speeds.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, has led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail since 2005, primarily in trains with as many as 120 oil cars that are more than 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 just in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fire Rages

Repost from The Huffington Post

Top 10 Questions About Oil Trains: Industry Lobbies for Weak Rules While Derailment Fire Rages

By Todd Paglia, ForestEthics, 03/19/2015 1:59 pm EDT
DERAILMENT
DERAILMENT Marvin Beatty via Getty Images

On Friday, March 6, while an oil train explosion in Illinois was still sending flames and black smoke into the air, railroad agents were in Washington, DC lobbying to weaken new train safety standards. Safer brakes are “extremely costly…” they told White House officials, and explained in great detail why speed limits are impractical. Like the auto industry resisting seatbelts, the rail industry is on the wrong track when it comes to safety.

In the last month, there have been six derailments of crude oil trains in the U.S. and Canada — three of them ignited, sending flames and mushroom clouds hundreds of feet into the air. Luckily, these were in relatively remote locations and no one was killed.

These disasters are not an aberration — oil train traffic is skyrocketing, which means more derailments and more explosions. The oil and rail industries hope to increase further the amount of crude oil barreling down the tracks in the coming years. Before that happens, ForestEthics has some questions we’d like to see the Obama administration ask the army of lobbyists who are trying to push the bar on safety even lower than it already is:

When did trains start exploding?
Rail transportation of crude oil is growing rapidly and dangerously — from fewer than 10,000 carloads in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014 — for two reasons: Bakken oil from North Dakota and Canadian tar sands. The North American boom means oil companies are trying to tails and mine more of this extreme oil, crude that is high in carbon, difficult and expensive to produce, and dangerous to transport.

Are cities and towns with rail lines safe?
With the exception of Capitol Hill (the rail industry seems to be sparing Washington, DC) most routing is done specifically throughout cities and towns. No, the oil and rail industries are probably not purposely targeting us, it’s just that the rails in populated places tend to be better maintained and rated for heavier cargoes. The sane thing to do would be to stop hauling crude oil if it can’t be transported safely. A far distant next best is to make these trains as safe as possible and require rerouting around cities and water supplies.

What is the government doing?
Not nearly enough. While 100-plus car trains full of an explosive crude roll through our towns, the U.S. government is barely moving, bogged down by nearly 100 of Washington’s most expensive K-Street lobbyists. In fall 2014, ForestEthics, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club sued the Department of Transportation to speed up new safety standards on oil trains. We called the trains an imminent danger to public safety. The federal government responded by once again delaying their decision on new rules that have been in the works for years.

What is the slowest speed at which an oil explosion could happen?
An oil tank car can catch fire and explode in an accident at zero miles per hour. Assuming a slightly raised rail bed, an oil car that tips over while standing still (this can and has happened on poorly maintained rails) will strike the ground going approximately 16 miles per hour — more than fast enough to breach the tank, spark, and ignite if it hits a rock, a curb, any hard protrusion.

Do firefighters know when and where oil trains are moving?
First responders do not know when, where, how much oil, and what kind is coming through their town. The US Department of Transportation ordered that railroads and oil companies make this information public. But only for trains carrying more than a million gallons of Bakken crude, and even this information is not being made public on a consistent basis.

How do you extinguish oil train fire?
You don’t put out an oil train fire; nobody does. Oil fires require specialized foam, which fire departments do not have in nearly sufficient supply to fight the fire from even a single 30,000 gallon tank car. All firefighters can do is evacuate those in danger, move outside the one mile blast zone and let the fire burn out, which can take days. In Illinois, firefighters unloaded their equipment to fight an oil train fire, realized the danger and left behind $10,000 in equipment getting out of harm’s way. You can prevent these fires by banning oil trains — but you can’t fight these fires once they happen.

The older oil cars are definitely unsafe, what about the newer ones?
The antiquated DOT-111 tank cars make up 80 percent of the fleet in the U.S. — U.S. rail safety officials first called them “inadequate” to haul crude oil more than 20 years ago. The jury is now in on the newer CPC-1232 tank cars and they are not much safer. The derailments and explosions in West Virginia and Illinois were 1232s traveling at or below the speed limit. In fact, the former head of the federal rail safety agency said in a radio interview that the recent derailments and fires were “the last nail in the coffin” for the CPC-1232 as an alternative to DOT-111 for oil transport.

We know that Bakken crude explodes; does tar sands explode?
Ordinarily it might not, but to move tar sands by rail (or pipeline for that matter) you have to mix in highly flammable, toxic diluents (light petroleum products like propane.) So if it’s on a train or in a pipeline the flashpoint for tar sands crude is lower than for Bakken oil. The oil train explosion on February 16, 2015 in Ontario, Canada occurred in -40 degrees F weather — proving that this stuff can ignite even in arctic cold. So not only is tar sands the dirtiest oil on Earth, but also it may well be the most dangerous too.

Do I live in the Blast Zone?
ForestEthics used oil rail routes from industry, Google maps, and census data to calculate that 25 million Americans live in the oil train blast zone — the dangerous evacuation zone in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. You can use the map to see if your home, office, school, or favorite natural area, landmark or sports stadium is in danger. Visit www.blast-zone.org.

What’s the solution?
The solution is to ban oil trains. If you can’t do something safely, you shouldn’t do it at all. This cargo is too dangerous to our families, our cities, our drinking water, our wildlife and our climate. The extreme crude carried on trains is only a tiny fraction of the oil we use each day as a nation. So while we transition our economy to clean energy and get beyond all oil, we should leave this extreme oil from Alberta and North Dakota in the ground.

See original post on ForestEthics.org and share your concern with President Obama on rail safety here.

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