Category Archives: Derailment

Derailment explosion – 3rd accident in North America involving upgraded DOT-117R tank cars

Repost from DeSmog

Ethanol Train Derails and Burns in Texas, Killing Horses and Spurring Evacuation

By Justin Mikulka, April 25, 2019
Fort Worth ethanol train fires
Screen shot of emergency personnel watching an ethanol train burn near Fort Worth, Texas. Credit: Glen E. Ellman

Early in the morning on April 24, an ethanol train derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly destroying a horse stable, killing three horses, and causing the evacuation of nearby homes. According to early reports, 20 tank cars left the tracks, with at least five rupturing and burning.

While specific details have not yet been released, it appears to be a unit train of ethanol using the federally mandated DOT-117R tank cars, based on the images showing tank car markings. This is now the third accident in North America involving the upgraded DOT-117R tank cars, all resulting in major spills of either oil or ethanol.

This latest fiery derailment highlights the dangers to the estimated 25 million people living within the blast zone along rail lines across North America. While this incident had no human fatalities, the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people, devastating the small Canadian town. As I’ve exhaustively reported, the same risk factors for hauling oil by rail, and increasingly, ethanol, are still in place years after the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

In Texas, first responders were quickly on the scene and able to contain the fire, preventing the situation from worsening. When ethanol rail tank cars are involved in fires, the unpunctured tanks can explode as the fire increases the temperature and pressure in the full tanks.

For example, after a BNSF train derailed in Montana in August 2012, eight of the 14 cars carrying ethanol caught fire, resulting in an explosion and the signature “bomb train” mushroom cloud–shaped ball of fire.

Video: Fort Worth ethanol train derailment. Credit: Glen E. Ellman

Ethanol Industry Adopting Risky Oil Train Practices

In 2016 DeSmog published a series of articles analyzing why oil trains were derailing at over twice the rate of ethanol trains. Likely contributing factors included the fact that the derailing oil trains were longer and heavier than ethanol trains.

The oil industry was moving oil using “unit trains,” which are long trains dedicated to a single commodity, while the ethanol industry was using shorter trains. The majority of ethanol was shipped as part of manifest trains, carrying multiple types of cargo and not just ethanol.

As part of the analysis, DeSmog found that derailing ethanol trains tended to be longer trains of 100 or more cars.

However, longer trains are more profitable, and in 2016 the ethanol industry noted it intended to follow the lead of the oil industry and begin to move more ethanol via long unit trains. This announcement led to the following conclusion in the 2016 DeSmog series:

“Based on the ethanol industry’s interest in using more unit trains for ‘efficiency,’ and the fact that it is allowed to transport ethanol in the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars until 2023, perhaps it won’t be long before ethanol trains are known as bomb trains too.”

And while the DOT-111 tank cars are less robust than the DOT-117R tank cars, both have a history indicating neither are safe to move flammable liquids in unit trains. And DOT-117R tank cars are heavier than DOT-111s, adding another factor that increases chances for train derailment.

Bomb Train Risks Continue to Grow

After a string of oil trains filled with volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale derailed and exploded in 2013 and 2014, there was a push for new safety regulations for trains carrying flammable materials including crude oil and ethanol.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation released new regulations, which, as DeSmog noted at the time, were a big win for the oil and rail industries and their lobbyists. While touted as increasing safety, these watered-down rules did not address the trains’ known risk factors or require the oil and rail industries to implement proven safety technologies. The one requirement in the new 2015 regulations that would have greatly improved safety mandated that railroads transition to modern braking systems. That requirement has since been repealed.

The rail industry frequently calls the upgraded tank cars, which include DOT-117Rs and were required by federal regulators, a safety improvement. However, in the first two derailments involving the new cars, those purportedly safer tank cars led to major oil spills. One of those occurred in February in Manitoba, Canada, and now the Fort Worth derailment appears to represent a third example of these upgraded rail cars’ failed safety.

In 2014 during rail safety discussions, the rail industry was recommending using much more robust tank cars — known as “pressure cars” — to move the volatile crude oil implicated in oil train explosions, but federal regulators did not incorporate the recommendation into the final rules. That is why oil and ethanol continue to be moved in rail cars that fail and lead to large leaks and fires during derailments.

In Utah a train carrying propane in pressure cars recently derailed, highlighting the risk of even those more robust tank cars. That derailment caused a propane leak, and hazmat experts decided the safest thing to do was detonate the tank cars, a situation possible when in rural Utah. However, health experts were concerned about the impact on air quality for local residents.

Despite the many examples of the risks of moving these flammable materials by rail, President Trump recently issued an executive order mandating federal regulators allow moving liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail as soon as next year.

These risks are why a group of people were just arrested for blocking oil train tracks in Oregon. And why legislators in the state of Washington have passed legislation requiring oil be stabilized — to make it less volatile and likely to ignite — prior to its loading on rail tank cars for shipment. Several states also are looking at passing laws requiring two-person crews for freight trains to improve safety. One of the factors cited in the deadly Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster was that the train was operated by a single person.

States are moving to address these very real, well-documented, and preventable risk factors because the U.S. federal government has fallen short in mitigating those risks to American communities from the oil and rail industries. These regulatory shortcomings, which began under President Obama’s administration, have only intensified under the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory approach. With the prospect of LNG trains in the near future — along with record amounts of oil trains coming from Canada to U.S. ports and refineries — the risks of “bomb train” accidents (the nickname bestowed by nervous rail operators) continue to grow.

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    The federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America

    Repost from DeSmog

    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.

    As DeSmog reported in 2016, the American Petroleum Institute has said that even having these discussions about regulating oil vapor pressure is “dangerous.”

    Exploding oil train fireball in Casselton, North Dakota
    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.

    Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said that taking the steps to stabilize the crude oil (remove its volatile natural gas liquids) and achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 psi would “devalue the crude oil immensely.”

    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.

    After the deadly oil train accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people, there was confusion about the associated explosions and intense fires that burned for days. As the Wall Street Journal reported at the time, an oil executive said, “Crude oil doesn’t explode like that.”

    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.


    Rainy Day Train Message/Oil Train Protesters. Credit: Joe BruskyCC BYNC 2.0

    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.”

    Meanwhile, as I’ve also been writing for years, if you ask an oil expert like Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Houston, you learn that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    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.”

    Four years later. The federal government is unable to complete a two-year study in four years on a question which oil experts already know the answer to.

    A very effective delay tactic that means no one can “devalue” the oil implicated in multiple explosions and 47 deaths.

    Main image: Screen shot of McClatchy article combined with Justin Mikulka’s oil train photo and text. Credit: Justin Mikulka 

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      Manitoba crude oil train collides with gravel truck – 2nd incident in days

      Repost from CBC News

      Train carrying oil collides with gravel truck in western Manitoba

      RCMP says no spills detected; 2nd incident in days involving train carrying oil through Manitoba
      A CP train carrying petroleum collided with a gravel truck near Westbourne, Man., Tuesday, RCMP said. (Supplied by Greg Perkins)

      For the second time in days a train carrying oil through western Manitoba has been involved in an incident.

      Just after 2 p.m. CT Tuesday, RCMP said a CP train carrying petroleum struck a gravel truck that was trying to cross the intersection at highways 50 and 16 near Westbourne, about 110 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

      “The CP train was carrying petroleum cars at the time but no spill occurred,” RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said in an email.

      The train hit the back end of the truck, causing it to tip over and spill its gravel load. No injuries were reported to RCMP.

      Highway 50 was closed for several hours while crews removed the damaged truck and trailer, Manaigre added.

      A CP spokesperson said the train was travelling eastbound at the time of the crash.

      An investigation is underway.

      The crash comes after 37 CN train cars carrying crude oil derailed Saturday near St. Lazare, about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. The investigation and cleanup effort is ongoing.

      A CN train carrying potash also crashed with a semi-trailer this past Friday near Headingley at the western outskirts of Winnipeg. The train didn’t derail in that case.

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        Train derailment: 230,000 gallons of crude oil released into Iowa floodwaters

        Repost from the Des Moines Register

        230,000 gallons of crude released into floodwaters after train derailment, railroad says

        Associated Press, 4:59 p.m. CT June 23, 2018


        DOON, Iowa — A railroad official says 14 of 32 derailed oil tanker cars in the northwest corner of Iowa dumped an estimated 230,000 gallons of crude oil into floodwaters, with some making its way to nearby rivers.

        BNSF spokesman Andy Williams confirmed the details Saturday. He said that nearly half the spill had been contained with booms near the derailment site and an additional boom placed approximately 5 miles downstream. Williams had earlier said that 33 oil cars derailed.

        Williams said that oil will be removed from that containment site with equipment to separate the oil from the water.

        The railroad will focus on environmental recovery. Williams said “ongoing monitoring is occurring for any potential conditions that could impact workers and the community and, so far, have found no levels of concern.”

        The train derailed early Friday just south of Doon in Lyon County, leaking oil into surrounding floodwaters from the swollen Little Rock River.

        Crews work to clean up cars from the BNSF railway afterSome officials have speculated that floodwaters eroded soil beneath the train track. The nearby Little Rock River rose rapidly after heavy rain Wednesday and Thursday.

        Within hours of the derailment, BNSF had brought in dozens of semitrailers loaded with equipment to clean up the spill, including containment booms, skimmers and vacuum trucks.

        “We are working as quickly as we can to get this cleaned up,” Williams said Saturday. “We’ve had skimmers working since yesterday on the floodwater south of the site.”

        A major part of that work includes building a temporary road parallel to the tracks to allow in cranes that can remove the derailed and partially-submerged oil cars. Williams said officials hoped to reach the cars by sometime Saturday afternoon.

        The train was carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Stroud, Oklahoma, for ConocoPhillips. ConocoPhillips spokesman Daren Beaudo said each tanker can hold more than 25,000 gallons of oil.

        Beaudo also did not know whether the derailed oil cars were the safer, newer tankers intended to help prevent leaks in the event of an accident.

        “We lease those cars and are in the process of verifying with the owners the exact rail car specifications,” Beaudo said in an email.

        Gov. Kim Reynolds was set to visit the derailment site Saturday afternoon as part of a tour of areas hit by recent flooding.

        The derailment also caused concern downstream, including as far south as Omaha, Nebraska, about 150 miles from the derailment site. The spill reached the Rock River, which joins the Big Sioux River before merging into the Missouri River at Sioux City.

        Omaha’s public water utility — Metropolitan Utilities District — said it was monitoring pumps it uses to pull drinking water from the Missouri River.

        Rock Valley, just southwest of the derailment, shut off its water wells within hours of the accident. It plans to drain and clean its wells and use a rural water system until testing shows its water is safe.

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