Operations at Oregon’s only crude oil export terminal went off the rails on Earth Day weekend — after activists blocked all train traffic leading to the Northwest Portland facility.
Extinction Rebellion protesters dumped topsoil and planted a “Victory over fossil fuels Garden” on and adjacent to the train tracks as early as 6 a.m. on Sunday, April 21. By mid-day, a tiny house, large globe and a crowd of at least 100 had sprouted outside the Zenith Energy terminal, 5501 N.W. Front Ave.
A BNSF oil train was turned back from the rail spur around 9 a.m. Activists say they plan to occupy the site indefinitely.
“We are here to demand from our political leadership, at the city and county level, that they take effective action to end Zenith terminals,” said Corbett resident Ken Ward, whose well-known exploits include a 2016 arrest for activating the Trans Mountain pipeline emergency shutoff valve.
“What we have to do to preserve liveable conditions on the planet, and what seems to be politically feasible now — there’s a gap there, and we have to close it,” Ward continued.
Long used as an asphalt and oil storage center, operations ballooned after Zenith purchased the terminal from Arc Logistics in December, 2017. Permits approved in 2014 allow Zenith to unload as many as 44 train cars at a time — though the swarm of tanker cars activists say they usually see were less visible on Easter Sunday.
Demonstration organizer Mia Reback led the crowd on a sidewalk tour of the area, highlighting the construction of new unloading platforms, an additional rail spur and a cinder block fence topped with barbed wire.
She said the 18 full-time workers on site use Naphtha diluent to flow the thick tar sands off the rail cars and into massive storage tanks. From there, the crude oil is pumped across the street to a Chevron dock and onto sea-going vessels destined for U.S. and foreign refineries.
“Zenith is doubling down on the fossil fuel industry at a time when we know we have to get off fossil fuels to stop catastrophic climate change.” Reback said.
The 11 terminal companies located on Front Avenue store natural gas, asphalt and about 90 percent of the fuel sold at gas stations in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Zenith, however, has unique status as an exporter, and activists say the fire suppression equipment installed by the company isn’t adequate.
“All of these tanks along here are built on fill,” said David Scharf, a Scappoose resident. “If we get the big earthquake… the assumption is pretty much all of these tanks could burst.”
“It’s just an accident waiting to happen,” added Jane Heldmann of Portland.
In March, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the Tribune that he does not support the infrastructure expansion due to its location in an earthquake liquefaction zone. In a lettersent on Sunday, the occupiers called on the full City Council to rezone the land as open space.
Representatives with the Portland Police Bureau and Zenith Energy did not immediately return requests for comment.
Federal Government Foot-Dragging Helps Oil Industry Delay Oil-by-Rail Rules
By Justin Mikulka, April 5, 2019 – 13:18
In an attempt to reduce the risk of fiery oil train accidents, the state of Washington is working to pass a bill that would limit the vapor pressure of oil on trains to below 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a measure of the volatility of flammable liquids and correlates to their likelihood of igniting. Higher vapor pressure means an oil is more volatile and more likely to ignite and burn when a train derails.
“If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” state Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said of the bill he sponsored. “There is just too much to lose — for people and our environment.”
Billig’s comments point to the federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America.
The Obama administration specifically left this issue out of the Department of Transportation’s 2015 regulations on moving oil by rail. In May 2017, half a dozen state attorneys general petitioned the federal government to regulate vapor pressure, which resulted in a proposed rule at the end of the Obama administration.
This oil train vapor pressure rule has gone nowhere in the Trump administration.
The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, North Dakota. Credit: U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration
Unsurprisingly, the state of North Dakota, where much of the highly volatile crude oil moved by rail in America is produced, opposes Washington state’s rule and is preparing to sue the state over it.
However, in a surprising moment of honesty, North Dakota’s top oil regulator didn’t bother pretending this opposition was about safety and instead revealed the real motivation: money.
The crude coming out of oil fields like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale is rich in natural gas liquids such as propane and butane, which make the oil more dangerous to transport but also more valuable. A value the industry and its allies in government aren’t willing to relinquish.
However, this isn’t really news. I wrote about a similar message from a North Dakota oil producer in 2014 when he too was opposing regulations to reduce the vapor pressure of Bakken oil before rail transport.
“The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.
North Dakota Using Federal Government Delays to Avoid Regulation
Once trains carrying volatile oil from the Bakken Shale started blowing up on a regular basis in 2013, it became clear that the oil itself was part of the problem. Its high amounts of natural gas liquids make the oil more volatile and therefore more likely to catch fire and explode.
Which is true. But crude oil mixed with lots of propane and butane, such as the Bakken’s crude oil, does explode like that. And trains carrying oil from the Bakken continued to explode like that after derailing again and again.
The Obama administration argued that it couldn’t regulate oil vapor pressure because the issue was disputed scientifically and required more study. More than three years ago, I wrote that this was simply a delay tactic and that claiming the oil industry didn’t understand the fundamental science of crude oil was absurd:
“The oil industry and the government regulators in charge of regulating the industry don’t understand the basic science of oil. This is the core of the argument used to justify why they continue to run dangerous trains filled with Bakken oil through communities across North America. Do you believe them?
Despite the audacity of this position, it is being used to delay any new regulations and to support the idea that the mystery of why Bakken crude oil explodes must be studied for years before it would be possible to make any regulatory decisions.”
“The notion that this requires significant research and development is a bunch of BS,” Krishnamoorti wrote in an email response to Al Jazeera. “The science behind this has been revealed over 80 years ago, and developing a simple spreadsheet to calculate risk based on composition and vapor pressure is trivial. This can be done today.” [emphasis added]
The Departments of Energy and Transportation announced the start of a study that was supposed to resolve this issue — four years ago — in April of 2015. At the time, regulators referred to it as a two-year study.
In late 2016, at the Energy by Rail Conference in Arlington, Virginia, Suzanne Lemieux of the American Petroleum Institute gave a presentation on crude oil volatility and stabilization. While arguing once again that there wasn’t clear evidence that stabilizing oil reduces its volatility and risk, Lemieux noted that the federal study on the issue had been delayed. She said now it was expected to conclude sometime in 2018.
The explanation for the delay was that the researchers at Sandia National Laboratories were still collecting samples of the oil in late 2016 — almost a year and a half after the “two-year” study was announced.
And now, four years later, according to The Bismarck Tribune, North Dakota oil regulator Lynn Helms “encouraged [Washington] legislators to wait for the results of a Sandia National Laboratories study that was commissioned by the U.S.Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy.”
North Dakota’s top oil regulator is trying to convince legislators in Washington state that a proposal they’re considering to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil transported by rail is not supported by science.https://t.co/J0v3BNaiqh
Repost from The Register-Guard, Eugene, OR [Quote: “When something bad happens, the government will take action — but over time those regulations and requirements wind up being dropped, reduced or delayed. The 2017 fatal Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, the 2016 oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2008 financial crisis and countless other events could have been prevented.”]
Deregulating? DeFazio’s watching
Posted Mar 27, 2019 at 12:01 AM
The Boeing 737 jet crashes raise troubling questions that go far beyond one company’s safety record and one federal agency’s watchdog role.
The history of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft suggests it is an example of how the government’s regulation-and-oversight pendulum has swung too far. The Federal Aviation Administration has lacked both the money and the inclination to adequately oversee aircraft development, instead relying heavily on companies to do their own testing.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio is demanding answers. The Springfield Democrat chairs the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee’s investigative staff is doing research, and DeFazio then plans to hold hearings.
“This is really, really raising questions about the FAA as a watchdog,” he said in a meeting with The Register-Guard editorial board.
A faulty sensor is being investigated as one cause, and Boeing is working on a software fix. The two-sensor system was developed as a safety feature to prevent a plane from stalling. But it appears the failure of just one sensor can send the aircraft into a powerful, possibly irreversible dive unless the pilots override the system within 40 seconds, according to a New York Times report this week.
DeFazio promises a tenacious investigation. Among the questions are why the system was designed this way, whether the aircraft was unsafely rushed to market, and why the FAA and Boeing did not require extensive retraining of pilots.
“This is the first time Boeing has put in a system that took over the plane automatically,” he said. “And they didn’t think they needed to tell people about it — because it’s different from any other Boeing plane ever made?
“Obviously, maybe not the best idea.”
For years, the FAA has lacked sufficient inspectors and has outsourced much of that responsibility to the manufacturers. But the FAA is not unique. We now have a government that relies on the honor, integrity and self-supervision of the industries it regulates.
When something bad happens, the government will take action — but over time those regulations and requirements wind up being dropped, reduced or delayed. The 2017 fatal Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, the 2016 oil train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2008 financial crisis and countless other events could have been prevented.
“It’s repeated time and time again,” DeFazio said. “There are limits to deregulation, which in many cases have been exceeded.”
Oregon has its own history of unwatchful eyes. The Cover Oregon health insurance fiasco could have been averted through closer, more-knowledgeable oversight and insistence on stronger testing of the technology throughout its development. Better oversight — not to mention much-better planning in the first place — might have saved the state from wasting millions of dollars in the Highway 20 reconstruction between the valley and the coast.