Category Archives: Fire

Oil train derailed near site of earlier terrorist attempt, officials say

KIMA News Yakima, by LISA BAUMANN | Associated Press, Wednesday, December 23, 2020

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — Federal and local authorities were investigating a fiery oil car train derailment north of Seattle near where two people were arrested last month and accused of attempting a terrorist attack on train tracks to disrupt plans for a natural gas pipeline.

Seven train cars carrying crude oil derailed and five caught fire Tuesday, sending a large plume of black smoke into the sky close to the Canadian border. There were no injuries in the derailment about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Seattle

Officials were asked about recent attempts to sabotage oil trains, but they said the investigation was just beginning.

“We’ve not been able to get close enough to the site to make an evaluation,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said late Tuesday.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board along with the FBI and other federal, state and local agencies were on the scene.

During a news conference Wednesday, officials spoke about their disaster planning they had done to prepare for incidents similar to what occurred with the train derailment. They also spoke about how the impact of the derailment to the surrounding environment could have been worse.

“As far as crude oil derailments and fires, this could not have occurred in a better location with regard to minimizing environmental impact,” said David Byers, who manages disaster response for the Washington Department of Ecology.

Last month federal authorities in Seattle charged two people with a terrorist attack on train tracks, saying they placed “shunts” on Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks. “Shunts” consist of a wire strung across the tracks, mimicking the electrical signal of a train. The devices can cause trains to automatically brake and can disable railroad crossing guards.

CUSTER, WA – DECEMBER 22: In this aerial view from a drone, a train carrying crude oil burns while derailed on December 22, 2020 in Custer, Washington. BNSF Railway Company released a statement saying the train was traveling north when seven tank cars derailed, resulting in a fire and evacuations of the area. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Authorities said the pair were opposed to the construction of a natural gas pipeline across British Columbia when they interfered with the operation of a railroad in Washington state.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has said there have been dozens of such cases involving BNSF tracks since January, with a message claiming responsibility posted on an anarchist website early this year.

In one, shunts were placed in three locations in northwest Washington on Oct. 11, prompting emergency brakes to engage on a train that was hauling hazardous materials and flammable gas. The braking caused a bar connecting the train’s cars to fail; the cars became separated and could have derailed, authorities said.

CUSTER, WA – DECEMBER 22: A train carrying crude oil burns while derailed on December 22, 2020 in Custer, Washington. BNSF Railway Company released a statement saying the train was traveling north when seven tank cars derailed, resulting in a fire and evacuations of the area. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Home to five oil refineries, Washington state sees millions of gallons of crude oil move by rail through the state each week, coming from North Dakota and Alberta.

The seven cars derailed at about 11:46 a.m. Tuesday. Two people were on board the 108-car train headed from North Dakota to the Ferndale Refinery, owned by Phillips 66.

Critics of oil transport by rail car said Tuesday’s incident was another example of the dangerousness of the practice. They cited the 2013 fiery derailment of a train carrying crude in Lac Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people.

The scene in the Custer area after a train derailed Tuesday morning. (Photo: Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office)

Washington state passed a law that imposed safety restrictions on oil shipments by rail, but it was blocked earlier this year by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Transportation in May determined federal law preempts the Washington law adopted last year, which mandated crude from the oil fields of the Northern Plains have more of its volatile gases removed prior to being loaded onto rail cars.

Matt Krogh, director of U.S. Oil & Gas Campaigns for the environmental group Stand.earth, said it is difficult for state and local officials to place restrictions on shipments of oil by train.

“Our hands are tied in many ways because of federal pre-emption,” Krogh said.

‘Significant industry interest’ in oil tank cars involved in latest fiery CP train crash, TSB says

These tank cars were touted as safer than those in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

CBC News, by Guy Quenneville, Feb 14, 2020 12:15 PM CT

‘There is significant industry interest in documenting the performance of the DOT 117J100-W tank cars’ involved in the crash, the TSB says. (TSB)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says it has not found any mechanical defects that could account for the derailment of a CP Rail oil train last week near the small Saskatchewan hamlet of Guerney — but it’s taking a close look at the tank cars involved in the incident.

The TSB issued a preliminary report on the Feb. 6 crash on Friday morning. None of the findings are final.

“A review of the locomotive event recorder download determined that the train was handled in accordance with regulatory and company requirements,” the TSB said in its preliminary update.

The finding about a lack of mechanical defects referred only to the train and did not refer to the track, a TSB spokesperson confirmed.

It also found that of the 32 tank cars that derailed, 19 were involved in the blaze that shut down the nearby highway and prompted the voluntary evacuation of about 85 people. It’s not clear how many, or if any, tanks lost their entire loads.

Transport Canada has touted the newly-built cars involved in last week’s crash, dubbed TC-117s, as being safer than the tanks used in the explosive Lac-Mégantic rail disaster of 2013.

Questions about ‘containment integrity and fire resistance’

Last week’s derailment was the second to happen near Guernsey in less than two months. A CP oil train crashed on the other side of Guernsey on Dec. 9, 2019, with 19 of the 33 derailed tank cars losing their entire loads of oil.

The tanks involved in that crash were retrofitted cars — TC-117Rs — which have a slightly less thick hull than the new TC-117s.

CP does not own the tank cars but rather leases them from a provider.

In its release about the most recent derailment, the TSB said there is “significant industry interest in documenting the performance of the [new TC-117] tank cars,” particularly in terms of “containment integrity and fire resistance.”

Investigators also found that of the 32 tank cars that derailed, 19 were involved in the blaze that shut down the nearby highway and prompted the voluntary evacuation of about 85 people. (TSB)

The fire from last week’s train crash burned for at least a day and a half.

The eastbound train, which was carrying diluted bitumen owned by ConocoPhillips, had left Rosyth, Alberta, and was headed for Stroud, Oklahoma. It derailed about 2.4 km west of Guernsey.

A Texas-based company called Trinity Rail previously confirmed to CBC News that it manufactured the tank cars involved in last Thursday’s crash and is “proactively monitoring the situation.”

While the TSB said the amount of oil released remains undetermined, the Saskatchewan government has said an estimated 1.2 million litres of oil spilled, citing CP as its source. That’s just short of the amount spilled in the December derailment.

Slower speed in 2nd crash

According to the TSB, the train that derailed in December was travelling at about 75 kilometres an hour, which is the speed limit on that section of CP’s line.

But last Thursday’s train was travelling more slowly, at around 67 kilometres an hour.

Three TSB investigators are probing the causes of the crash.

“Each tank car must be cleaned, purged, and staged prior to inspection,” the TSB said. “As of [Wednesday], about 17 of the derailed cars have been examined, with several cars exhibiting breaches.”

The train was carrying a total of 104 tank cars.

Sask. minister talks pipelines, rail safety

The two derailments have prompted many people to advocate for more pipelines.

In a news conference Friday about school bus safety and the blockades that have crippled Canada’s rail service, Saskatchewan’s minister of highways and infrastructure, Greg Ottenbreit, made a brief comment that touched on the topic of pipelines and railway safety.

“Saskatchewan is a landlocked province but Saskatchewan is also a gateway to the world,” he said. “And I think a lot of my fellow ministers can connect with those comments. We will continue to advocate for an uninhibited tidewater access, also pipeline access, which will lead to rail safety and capacity.”

Oil train news – derailment and fire, speed limits in Canada, expanded production in North Dakota

Three crude oil stories in today’s North American press:
Site of December 2019 CP oil train accident site, with the derailment looking south. Transportation Safety Board of Canada / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Canadian Town Evacuated After Another Oil Train Derails and Burns

From EcoWatch, by Justin Mikulka, DeSmog, Feb. 07, 2020

Early in the morning of Feb. 6, an oil train derailed and caught fire near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, resulting in the Canadian village’s evacuation. This is the second oil train to derail and burn near Guernsey, following one in December that resulted in a fire and oil spill of 400,000 gallons…. [more, including drone footage]


Canada to impose speed limits on trains carrying dangerous goods after crash

Reuters, by David Ljunggren, Rod Nickel, February 6, 2020

Oil train 2OTTAWA/WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Canada said on Thursday it would impose temporary speed limits on trains hauling dangerous goods after a Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd crude oil train derailed and caught fire.

The accident, which happened in the early hours of Thursday near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, was the second derailment in the area in a span of two months.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that effective at midnight Friday (0500 GMT), trains hauling more than 20 cars of dangerous goods would be limited to 25 mph across the country for the next 30 days.

The limit in urban areas will be 20 mph, he told reporters….  [more]


Whiting proposes expansion of oil conditioning facility

Bismarck Tribune, by Amy R. Sisk, February 7, 2020

Oil rigs (copy) (copy)Whiting Oil and Gas plans to expand an oil conditioning facility in Mountrail County to accommodate climbing production. The expanded facility would handle up to 65,000 barrels per day of oil, a 20,000-barrel increase over its current capacity, according to an application Whiting filed with the PSC. The oil, once conditioned, would then be taken by pipeline to market.

…Oil production statewide has climbed to 1.52 million barrels per day, 140,000 barrels higher than a year ago.

…Oil typically undergoes a conditioning process as soon as it’s extracted from underground, said Katie Haarsager, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division. It’s often sent through a heater-treater, which separates the oil from natural gas and saltwater.

The oil must be processed so that its vapor pressure level does not exceed 13.7 psi before it can be transported by pipeline, train or truck. North Dakota’s limit of 13.7 psi is based on a national standard for stable crude of 14.7 psi and builds in 1 psi as a margin of error. That limit has been the subject of controversy from environmentalists and rail safety advocates following fiery oil train derailments.  [more]

Massive fire at refinery in Crockett sends flames, black smoke into air

Massive fire at refinery in Crockett sends flames, black smoke into air

SFGATE, by Katie Dowd, Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 3:33 pm PDT
[BenIndy Editor: Alert Solano sent out this message by text and email at 3:27pm today.:  “Benicia Fire Department is currently monitoring the fire at the Nustar Refinery in the Crockett area of Contra Costa County. We are monitoring the air quality in town. As of this time, there are no impacts to Benicia from this incident. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.”  – R.S.]
A fire in Crockett sent flames and black smoke into the Bay Area on Oct. 15, 2019. Photo KTVU

A massive fire has broken out at a NuStar Energy facility in Crockett, sending plumes of flame and thick black smoke into the air on Tuesday afternoon.

The Vallejo Fire Department confirmed to KTVU the fire started in the NuStar Energy storage tanks on San Pablo Ave. Television reports indicate there may have been an explosion as well.

Aerial footage shows at least two storage tanks appear to be fully engulfed. The hills behind the tanks, which are golden with dry grass, have also caught fire. An airplane is currently conducting air drops on the hills.

A video posted to YouTube shows the top of one of the storage tanks being flung into the air as the fire rages.

Nearby residents in Crockett, Hercules and Rodeo should shelter in place and keep their windows closed, as the black smoke could contain contaminants that are hazardous to those with lung problems.

“Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans,” cautioned the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office. “Unless you are using your fireplace, close your fireplace dampers and vents. Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels.”

HEADS UP, COMMUTERS: The NuStar fire has closed I-80

NuStar Energy L.P. is a San Antonio-based company that bills itself as “one of the largest independent liquids terminal and pipeline operators in the nation.” Contra Costa County District One Supervisor John Gioia said on KTVU that their tanks “store products for local refineries.”

“There was an explosion there,” Gioia said. “A couple tanks are on fire.”

A Phillips 66 refinery is located next door, but does not appear to have incurred any damage.

The cause of the explosion and fire are still unknown. No injuries have yet been reported.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated when more information becomes available.

Katie Dowd is an SFGATE Senior Digital Manager.