Category Archives: Explosion

KQED: Oil train traffic is down by more than half — for market reasons

Repost from KQED Marketplace

Oil train traffic is down — for market reasons

By Jed Kim, August 24, 2016 | 11:12 AM
At its peak, in October 2014, trains leaving the Bakken region of North Dakota moved more than 29 million barrels. – FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Oil and its downstream products enable most transportation methods, from the gas in automobile tanks to the rubber in shoes. For oil itself, however, there are only a few methods of movement, and each is controversial. In the U.S., one method that saw a recent boom is now on the decline.

Shale oil pumped in recent years from the Bakken region in North Dakota ramped up production and availability faster than pipelines could be built. Trains filled in the gap in the meantime. At its peak, in October 2014, trains moved more than 29 million barrels.

The most recent data from the Energy Information Administration shows that the amount of oil shipped by rail has fallen dramatically since.

“Within the U.S., we’re moving about 12 million barrels in May, and that compares with last May – the intermovements within the U.S. was 26 million barrels,” said Arup Mallik, an industry economist at the Energy Information Administration.

Several factors have contributed to the more-than-half decline in shipments. One is that the price of U.S. oil has risen to more closely match global prices. That has reduced the amount of oil being purchased and shipped to refineries.

Low global oil prices, meanwhile, have stifled production, thus reducing the amount of oil needing to be moved.

While those factors have led to a temporary reduction in the need for crude-by-rail shipping, the completion of additional pipeline infrastructure around the country has made more of a permanent change.

“New pipelines are still getting built, further pushing down the need for crude-by-rail,” said Adam Bedard, CEO of ARB Midstream, a company that invests in pipelines and rail facilities.

Bedard said the biggest impact to crude-by-rail shipments may come later this year, if construction is completed on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would move oil east into Chicago.

“Those barrels will have to come from somewhere, and it is our view that a lot of those barrels will come from crude by rail,” Bedard said. “The Dakota Access Pipeline can move up to 450,000 barrels a day.”

In May, the total amount of oil moved by trains in the entire U.S. was 470,000 barrels a day.

The future of that pipeline is being decided. Protests have temporarily halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, partly because of concerns for the safety of drinking water.

Safety issues plague perception of crude-by-rail as well. In the past four years, there have been a dozen significant derailments of trains carrying crude oil in the U.S., spilling more than 1.5 million gallons, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said his organization is fighting to reduce or eliminate the traffic traveling through the Pacific Northwest. An oil train derailed in Mosier, Oregon, in June, spilling an undetermined amount of crude.

“We think oil trains are dangerous,” said VandenHeuvel. “We’ve seen explosions very close to our homes here on the Columbia River and have watched explosions and derailments all over the nation, and we think it’s not a safe way to transport oil.”

The overall decline of oil train traffic in the U.S. doesn’t extend to his region, as the network of pipelines on the West Coast is largely isolated from the rest of the country. Trains are necessary. Canada, as well, is expected to see an increase in crude-by-rail because it lacks comparable pipeline infrastructure.

VandenHeuvel said his organization will work to keep more terminals from being constructed that would bring in more rail traffic. He said he’s concerned more will come if oil prices rise again.

“You know, that number could ramp back up as production increases,” VandenHeuvel said.

Jed Kim
Jed Kim is a reporter for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk. He focuses on issues of climate change, conservation, energy and environmental justice.  Prior to joining Marketplace in April 2016, Jed was an environment reporter at KPCC public radio…
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MOSIER OR: High levels of benzene in groundwater after oil train crash

Repost from Water Online
[Editor: Significant quote: “The concentration that we found (of benzene) was 1,800 parts per billion, which is approximately ten times higher than a screening level for what would concern us for animals living in a wetland.”  – RS]

Oil Train Crash Left Benzene Contamination In Groundwater

By Sara Jerome, August 15, 2016
train reg new.jpg
Image credit: “union pacific,” matthew fern © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license, creativecommons.org

A town in Oregon is still reeling from a train derailment two months ago, discovering the crash leaked oil into the groundwater supply.

A Union Pacific oil train derailed in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge in June, raising concerns about nearby water service and knocking the wastewater system completely out of function in the town of Mosier. In the aftermath of the initial crisis, officials are facing down water contamination, seeking treatment remedies for lingering pollution.

They found “elevated concentrations of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in groundwater near the derailment site,” OPB reported.

“The concentration that we found (of benzene) was 1,800 parts per billion, which is approximately ten times higher than a screening level for what would concern us for animals living in a wetland,” Bob Schwarz of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality told OPB.

State environmental authorities plan “to install a treatment system that injects air into the underground water. They say the oxygen will stimulate the existing microbes that live in the water to break down the oil,” KATU reported.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality installed “four monitoring wells to observe ground water quality after the wreck. Schwartz said one of them had significant oil contamination from the train derailment,” the report said.

Schwartz provided an update to KATU News.

“The numbers we’re concerned about are based on the potential of long-term impact … if animals were exposed over many years. In this case, we don’t expect it to be significant because we plan to get out there and remove the contamination within weeks or months,” Schwartz said. “I think this is something we will be able to clean up fairly quickly so I don’t think it will be a significant problem.”

One positive sign amid the wreckage: Drinking water wells for this town remain unaffected, the report said. They were uphill from the crash site.

Mosier lost access to its sewer system and wastewater treatment plant as a result of the incident, which saw 16 of the train’s 96 tank cars go off the rails, according to the Associated Press.

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PUBLIC RADIO: The Best Of A Worst Case Scenario: How Bad Could The Mosier Oil Train Spill Have Been?

Repost from Jefferson Public Radio, Southern Oregon University

The Best Of A Worst Case Scenario: How Bad Could The Mosier Oil Train Spill Have Been?

By EMILY SCHWING • AUG 10, 2016
In the wake of June's train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, Washington's Department of Ecology placed an oil containment boom in Rock Creek 'just in case.'
In the wake of June’s train derailment in the Columbia River Gorge, Washington’s Department of Ecology placed an oil containment boom in Rock Creek ‘just in case.’ WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY

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If it had to happen, the worst case scenario couldn’t have played out more smoothly. That’s the sentiment in Mosier, Oregon, where a train loaded with highly volatile Bakken crude oil derailed two months ago.

On the day of the accident, 14 cars bent and folded like an accordion across the tracks. Four of them caught fire, but the wind was oddly quiet, so a subsequent fire didn’t spread like it could have. And as they careened off the track, oil cars narrowly missed the trestle of an overpass that serves as one of only two routes into town.

“Living here in Mosier, it was the best of a worst case scenario,” local Walter Menge said. “I mean it could have been so much worse.”

Bob Schwarz is a project manager with Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality. Lately, he’s been giving a lot of media tours of the accident site.

“We’re standing near a manhole where the lid was sheared off by one of the cars and it caused a lot of the oil to flow into the manhole to the wastewater treatment plant which is about 200 feet from us right now,” Schwarz said. “And that captured quite a bit of the oil fortunately, which kept it from getting into the Columbia River.”

Schwarz said some of that oil did seep into the groundwater, although it’s not clear how much.

“We’re measuring it in hundreds of parts per billion with a ‘b,’ so it’s a very small mass,” Schwarz said. “But the levels are still high enough for us to have to clean it up.”

Despite all the luck, there are still a few unknowns, like where all that spilled oil might go.

“I’m concerned about all the animals in the wetlands,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz wouldn’t say whether the cleanup effort is moving fast or slow. He did say DEQ is ‘pleased with how things are progressing’ and said Union Pacific Railroad, the company that was transporting the oil, has been ‘extremely cooperative.’

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