Another Voice: The next train derailment could be far more disastrous
By Jean Dickson & Larry Brooks, March 24, 2016 – 12:01AM
The March 1 train derailment in Ripley should serve as a warning to all residents of Western New York, and especially to those living close to the rail lines.
Many people give no thought to the passing freight trains that run along the Lake Erie shore, through our suburbs, and around the Beltline, which runs through Buffalo’s dense Black Rock, North, East Side and South neighborhoods with tracks crossing the Buffalo River in several places.
A century ago, there were even more tracks through the city, but the trains carried passengers and freight, which was mostly heavy and inert, such as grain, coal and lumber. If a car derailed, the only people hurt were those standing along the tracks. Now the freight includes huge quantities of hazardous chemicals, including chlorine gas, hydrochloric acid, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas, propane and petroleum crude oil.
In Ripley, residents were very lucky that no spark lit up the ethanol and propane tank cars that derailed. In Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013, people were not so lucky: 47 people died when petroleum crude oil exploded and a large part of the town was burned. The downtown area is not yet habitable almost three years later, due to soil and water contamination.
Firefighters in Ripley knocked on doors to evacuate residents, but this took some time. The cars derailed at 9:30 p.m.; a resident interviewed by WBFO said he was awakened and evacuated at 11 p.m. If the cars had exploded, as in Quebec, this would have been much too late. In Buffalo, the number of people to evacuate would greatly exceed the 50 or so households evacuated in Ripley.
Ripley residents were also lucky that no tank cars of poisonous gas derailed. If one car of chlorine gas had burst open, it would have killed people for miles around, depending on wind conditions, even without a fire.
In Buffalo, this hazardous freight crosses more than 30 bridges, most of which are 100 or more years old. They belong to companies such as CSX and are used by many railroad companies. Some are in decrepit condition, rusty and dropping chunks of concrete on our roads as they fall apart.
While this railroad infrastructure is in corporate hands, the public has little influence on its condition. Before a deadly derailment occurs, we must do everything possible to inspect and repair bridges and to reroute the hazardous freight away from populated areas.
In the long run, we should make every effort to decrease the use of such hazardous chemicals.
Jean Dickson and Larry Brooks live adjacent to Beltline tracks in Buffalo.
Clean fuels shaping up as fight of the year in Sacramento
New battle lines drawn in fight over low-carbon policy
By Laurel Rosenhall, CALmatters, Mar 5, 2016 Updated: 3/6/16 3:33pm
A Harvard economist known globally for his work on climate change policy sat in the Sacramento office of the oil industry’s lobbying firm recently, making the case that California is fighting global warming the wrong way.
The state has a good cap and trade system, Robert Stavins said, but some of its other environmental policies are weakening it. He pointed to a rule known as the low carbon fuel standard, which is supposed to increase production of clean fuels.
Environmental advocates consider it a complement to the cap and trade program that makes industry pay for emitting carbon; Stavins had other words.
“It’s contradictory. It’s counter-productive. It’s perverse,” he said. “I would recommend eliminating it.”
California’s low carbon fuel policy is shaping up as a major fight this year for the state’s oil industry, an influential behemoth that spent more than $10.9 million lobbying Sacramento last year, more than any other interest group.
“There’s a storm coming,” biofuels lobbyist Chris Hessler told a roomful of clean energy advocates at a recent conference on low carbon fuels. “If we don’t meet this attack vigorously, we’re all going to be in a lot of trouble.”
NEW BATTLE LINES
The oil industry was front and center in the biggest fight to hit the state Capitol last year: a proposal to cut California’s petroleum consumption in half over the next 15 years to slow the pace of climate change. The industry won its battle when lawmakers stripped the oil provision from Senate Bill 350.
But California’s larger oil war is far from over, and the newest battle lines are beginning to emerge.
Gov. Jerry Brown is plowing ahead with plans to cut vehicle oil use in half through executive orders and regulations like the low carbon fuel standard. The standard requires producers to cut the carbon intensity of their fuels 10 percent by 2020. To reach the standard, refineries will have to make a blend that uses more alternative fuels — like ethanol — and less oil.
The program was adopted in 2009 but was locked in a court battle for years. California regulators prevailed, and took action last year to resume the program. Now producers must start changing the way they formulate their fuel or buy credits if their product is over the limit.
That’s led to higher costs for fuel makers, which they are passing on to consumers at a rate of about 4 cents per gallon, according to the California Energy Commission. But the price is likely to keep increasing, the oil industry warns, as it gets tougher to meet the standard that increases over time.
Which is where Stavins’ argument comes in. It goes like this: the cleaner fuels required by the low carbon fuel standard will emit less greenhouse gas. That will reduce the need for fuel producers to buy permits in the cap and trade system (which makes industry pay for emitting climate-warming pollution) and create additional emissions by allowing other manufacturers to buy the pollution permits.
Less demand will also depress prices on the cap and trade market.
Stavins is the director of Harvard’s Environmental Economics Program and part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a prestigious group of experts who review research for the United Nations.
He’s also an advisor to the Western States Petroleum Association, which paid him to make the trip to Sacramento, where he talked with reporters before a day of meetings with lawmakers and business leaders.
Environmental advocates and California clean air regulators reject his view. They say the fuel standard works in harmony with other carbon-reducing programs and it’s an important piece of California’s effort to achieve its climate change goals.
“One of the major goals of the low carbon fuel standard… is to drive innovation of new and alternative low carbon fuels,” said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. “The cap and trade program on its own cannot do that.”
Alternative fuel producers gathered in a ballroom near the Capitol days after Stavins’ visit to Sacramento. During a presentation on the rising price of low carbon fuel credits, Hessler, the biofuels lobbyist, warned that the program is coming under “political attack.”
He defended the fuel standard by saying the regulation limits the price of the credits, and the cost to consumers will be kept down as some fuel producers make money by selling credits to others. He urged conference participants to share his information with California policymakers to counter opposition to the low carbon fuel standard.
“We’ve got to be ready for this,” Hessler said.
HOW THINGS COULD GO DOWN
A fight last year over a low carbon fuel standard in the state of Washington may provide some clues about how things could go down here.
There, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a low carbon fuel standard but failed to earn enough support for it in the Legislature. The fuel standard became a bargaining chip for Republicans in negotiations about funding for transportation infrastructure.
Here in California, lawmakers and Gov. Brown are also negotiating a plan to pay for a backlog of repairs to state roads and highways. Brown has pitched spending $36 billion over the next decade with a mix of taxes and other revenue sources.
Republican votes are necessary to reach the two-thirds threshold for approving new taxes. So far, Republicans have balked at the plan, with some suggesting that the fuel standard should be included in the negotiations.
“As we’re having the discussions about transportation funding in general in California, and transportation taxes in particular, this ought to be part of the discussion,” said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Hesperia.
It’s a message echoed by the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, which advocated against the low carbon fuel standard in Washington.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd said she wants California lawmakers to “take a very hard look” at the low carbon fuel standard as they consider the future of climate change policies and the desire to repair the state’s roads.
“All those things interplay,” Reheis-Boyd said. “That’s a big conversation. I think people across the state are willing to have it, and I think we’re at a pivotal point to have it this year.”
CALmatters is a nonprofit journalism venture dedicated to explaining state policies and politics. For more news analysis by Laurel Rosenhall go to https://calmatters.org/newsanalysis/.
Repost from WBKW, Buffalo NY [Editor: See also the video report at WGRZ Buffalo, which clarifies that three cars carried ethanol and one carried propane. 45 homes were evacuated to a nearby church. – RS]
Controlled burn at Ripley train derailment
WKBW Staff, Mar 1, 2016 11:51 PM, Updated Mar 3, 2016 4:18 AM
RIPLEY, N.Y. (WKBW) – A controlled burn was held at the site of the Ripley train derailment Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Crews worked to ignite what was left of the propane in train cars that went off the tracks Tuesday.
This comes after emergency officials asked residents around Route 76 in the Town of Ripley to shelter in place following the train derailment Tuesday night.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office said that 15 rail cars traveling on the Norfolk Southern lined derailed around 11:20 p.m. Three rail cars were carrying the hazardous liquid ethanol turned on their side. One was said to be leaking.
As a result the Ripley Central Schools were closed Wednesday and government officials asked residents to shelter in place.
“I have directed the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ Office of Emergency Management, the Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the Department of Environmental Conservation as well as foam equipment to assist in suppressing the spill and provide support to hazmat teams that will be working to patch the leak,” Cuomo said in an emailed statement Wednesday morning.
Several homes were evacuated in the vicinity of the derailment. Chautauqua County Sheriff’s deputies say no one was hurt.
Wis. Tanker Derailments Revive Debate Over Safest Way To Transport Crude
Some worry the Obama administration’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline will lead to a significant increase in the amount of crude being shipped by rail. It can also be shipped by truck.
Who are these “some” that “worry” exactly? Apparently, based on this report, just NPR employees and the oil industry lobbyist quoted in the piece. It also would appear the only one “reviving the debate” about the safest way to transport crude oil is NPR.
The radio piece is introduced with NPR host Steve Inskeep saying that they are following a story on “the flipside of rejecting the Keystone pipeline,” even though the story has nothing to do with that.
He then goes on to talk about how oil is moving from Canada by rail. And it is. However, the two trains that derailed were 1) not coming from Canada, 2) not carrying Canadian oil, and 3) not headed to the Gulf Coast. So, a completely misleading setup, but one that pushes the industry talking point that all pipelines should be approved because they are safer than rail transport.
This false argument ignores the reality that the most common destinations for Bakken crude shipments are U.S. East Coast refineries that can only be accessed by rail.
Building the Keystone XL pipeline — which would’ve run from Alberta across the US border south to connect with an existing pipeline system in Nebraska and then either to Illinois refineries or to Cushing, Oklahoma to continue south to the Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals — does nothing to change that fact.
The Tank Cars
The NPR piece then moves on to the notorious oil tank cars and notes how “safety advocates” are concerned about these tank cars. Reporter David Schaper notes that the new oil-by-rail regulations require that “Within a couple of years [the tank cars] be strengthened,” giving an unrealistic picture of how soon this issue will be addressed.
The regulations allow versions of the DOT-111 tank cars to remain on the rails carrying crude oil — like the oil involved in Lac-Megantic — until 2023. So unless a “couple” now means eight, this wasn’t even close to accurate.
The piece also quotes Karl Alexy of the Federal Railroad Administration explaining how — if the first accident in Wisconsin involved the new updated CPC-1232 cars instead of the DOT-111s — the spill may have been prevented.
This ignores the fact that there have been seven oil train accidents this year that have resulted in spills, and in five of those, also massive fires. They all involved the newer CPC-1232 cars.
Modern Brakes and Myth Making
The current braking technology on oil trains was invented in the late 1800s. The new regulations announced in May require modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking systems on certain oil trains by 2021 and all by 2023.
When the new regulations were announced, regulators included the following language: “This important, service-proven technology has been operated successfully for years in certain services in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.”
The industry has argued the ECP braking technology is “unproven,” which David Schaper repeats in this piece despite the regulators having described it as a “proven technology.”
Earlier this year, DeSmog contacted the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to clarify the agency’s position on ECPbrakes. And FRA was quite clear in its response.
“ECP brakes are a proven technology that will reduce the number of train derailments and keep more tank cars on the track if a train does derail. Delaying the adoption of ECP brakes seriously jeopardizes the citizens and communities along our nation’s freight network,” FRA communications director Matt Lehner told DeSmog.
A decade ago, the FRA commissioned consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to study the benefits and costs of ECPbrakes for the U.S. freight-rail industry. Released in 2006, the firm’s report (PDF) stated that the brakes are a “tested technology” that offers “major benefits” and could “significantly enhance” rail safety.
And yet, NPR repeats the industry talking point that the technology is unproven.
NPR also describes the braking systems as “expensive,” which is technically true. An Association of American Railroads piece opposing ECP brakes estimates a cost of $1.7 billion. That’s a lot of money, until you consider the cost of say, rebuilding downtown Lac-Megantic, which was just one oil-by-rail accident that could have been prevented byECP brakes.
Finally, NPR’s Schaper notes that because the industry says ECP brakes are unproven, this adds “uncertainty over the future of the oil train safety rules.”
The Concerned Mom
The one Wisconsin resident interviewed for the piece is Sarah Zarling. While not mentioned in the piece, Zarling became an oil train activist earlier this year over her concerns about the risks of the trains that ran so close to her home. Her concerns were obviously validated by this recent incident.
DeSmog contacted Zarling to comment on the NPR segment.
“I can’t even begin to talk about what they left out, honestly. I was so excited because he asked really good questions. He really does his homework,” Zarling explained. “So I really thought that this was going to be an opportunity to finally have a side of this story that is not told in the mainstream [media] finally be told and talked about. So the fact that I just came off as a mom cooking in her kitchen and heard this derailment is very disappointing.”
Reviving Debates, Delaying Safety
Sarah Zarling noted that she was impressed with David Schaper’s knowledge of the oil-by-rail issue and that he had “really done his homework.”
And yet the result is a segment pushing many of the top industry talking points, including setting the expectation that there is “uncertainty” that the new regulations will ever be implemented. Left out were any actual concerns or viewpoints from concerned citizen activists.
As trains full of volatile Bakken oil continue to derail and the implementation of new safety regulations are many years away, the reality that at some point there will be “a high enough body count” becomes ever more likely.