SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as part of a multistate coalition, filed a comment letter to the Department of Transportation in support of the State of Washington and in opposition to an attempt by North Dakota and Montana to preempt Washington laws that create a limit on the level of vapor pressure allowed when transporting highly-flammable crude oil by freight rail.
These trains are often known as “bomb trains” because of the high intensity fires and violent explosions that can result from accidents and derailments. These trains travel through California, passing through both highly populated communities and areas adjacent to California’s most sensitive ecological areas.
The state asserts that Washington’s rules are both permissible and necessary in light of the risks of crude-by-rail in Washington and the EPA’s inaction on establishing protective standards, putting communities at risk.
“States play an important role in protecting the health and safety of their citizens,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Millions of Californians live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of railroad tracks. We can’t afford to wait for the next disaster before taking action on the transport of dangerous and flammable oil moving through our communities. A derailment or explosion in California could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways. This risk is simply unacceptable.”
California supports Washington’s efforts to protect the public health and safety of its residents and its environment while the federal government dithers over adopting necessary regulations. The attorneys general underscore that their paramount concern will remain protecting the health and safety of citizens, first responders, and the environment within the parameters of the state’s existing authority.
Attorney General Becerra filed the comment letter with the attorneys general of New York, Maryland, and New Jersey.
Derailment in Martinez: the nightmare no one wants
By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent – 05/01/2018
Early this morning, at least two tank cars carrying liquid petroleum gas (LPG) derailed while backing into the Shell Refinery in Martinez, CA. (See brief KTVU News coverage.)
Thank our lucky stars that those tank cars backing into the refinery did not tip over or leak! Had they done so, and a spark ignited a fire, the accident might’ve resulted in a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, or “BLEVE” (blɛviː/ BLEV-ee).
Sharon Kelly described a BLEVE this way on DeSmogBlog: “As liquids in a metal tank boil, gasses build up, pressurizing the tank even despite relief valves designed to vent fumes. Tanks finally explode, throwing shrapnel great distances, and spitting out burning liquids that can start secondary blazes.”
BLEVEs were responsible for the massive degree of destruction and loss of life in Lac Magantic, Canada. If those Martinez tank cars had caught fire and erupted, the whole Shell Refinery might’ve blown up! Downtown Martinez, the AMTRAK station, and the 680 freeway might’ve been threatened.
Photos of the derailed cars show the 4-digit Hazardous Material Identification Placard: 1075. The Emergency Response Guidebook, published by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration identifies the code for 1075 on p. 31 as one of the following flammable materials:
In fires involving Liquefied Petroleum Gases (LPG) (UN1075); Butane, (UN1011); Butylene, (UN1012); Isobutylene, (UN1055); Propylene, (UN1077); Isobutane, (UN1969); and Propane, (UN1978), also refer to BLEVE – SAFETY PRECAUTIONS (Page 368).
BLEVE is defined : “A boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE, /ˈblɛviː/ BLEV-ee) is an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached temperatures above its boiling point.”
Page 368-369 of the Emergency Response Guidebook reads as follows:
BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion)
The following section presents, in a two-page format, background information on BLEVEs and includes a chart that provides important safety-related information to consider when confronted with this type of situation involving Liquefied Petroleum Gases (LPG), UN1075. LPGs include the following flammable gases: Butane, UN1011; Butylene, UN1012; Isobutylene, UN1055; Propylene, UN1077; Isobutane, UN1969; and Propane, UN1978.
What are the main hazards from a BLEVE?
The main hazards from a propane or LPG BLEVE are:
– thermal radiation from the fire
The danger from these decreases as you move away from the BLEVE centre. The furthest reaching hazard is projectiles.
Oil Train Safety Rules Getting Rolled Back By Trump Adminstration
By Courtney Flatt, December 6, 2017
The Trump administration is rolling back a requirement for trains carrying highly explosive liquids — like the oil trains that run through the Columbia River Gorge en route to Northwest refineries.
The 2015 rule was supposed to make these hazardous trains more safe, following a number of derailments. But that was under President Obama, Now, President Trump’s Department of Transportation says railroads with trains carrying highly flammable liquids will not have to update their braking systems.
Obama-era regulations required railroad companies to install electronically controlled pneumatic brakes by 2021. Those new systems were supposed to help prevent fiery crashes, like last year’s derailment in Mosier, Oregon. ECP brakes are supposed to brake faster because they signal instantaneously throughout the train.
The current industry-standard air brake technology has been in use for more than a century and had been involved in the deadly Lac Megantic derailment in 2013.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley criticized the decision.
“Oil trains are rolling explosion hazards, and as we’ve seen all too many times—and all too recently in Mosier—it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ oil train derailments will occur. Degrading oil train safety requirements is a huge step backward and one that puts our land, homes, and lives at risk,” Merkley said in a statement.
Industry groups applauded the decision. Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, called the rollback a “rational decision.”
“While we support the use of improved safety technologies, (electronically controlled pneumatic) isn’t an improvement on other technologies currently in use, and would have imposed substantial costs to shippers,” Thompson said in a news release.
Conservation groups in the Northwest said the rollback was frustrating, but unsurprising. Dan Serres is the conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper.
“We’re definitely frustrated that the Trump administration is weakening standards that are not strong enough to begin with,” Serres said. “We saw that with the Moiser derailment, potentially if there was a better braking system in place, we wouldn’t have seen so many cars come off the tracks.”
Serres said his group is now more committed to stopping oil terminal construction in the Northwest, if the federal government isn’t “holding the rail industry’s feet to the fire to improve the safety of these shipments.”
Spokane City Council Nixes Proposed Oil And Coal Train Ballot Measure
By Emily Schwing, Northwest News Network | Aug. 16, 2016 4:45 p.m., updated 6:56 p.m.
A measure that was added to the November ballot less than a month ago would have imposed fines on rail cars transporting fossil fuels through the heart of Spokane. On Monday night, the city council opted to withdraw it.
Council President Ben Stuckart said weeks of further review raised questions about whether the measure he co-sponsored could stand, were it to face a legal challenge.
“I don’t think that’s a good use of the citizen’s dollars,” he said.
In the weeks since the measure originally passed, Stuckart said a conversation about how to more safely transport fossil fuels has become a region-wide.
“A couple other cities have contacted us and they’ve suggested that we form a regional group here in Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington to try to work through these issues and see how we can affect state and national policy,” Stuckart said.
The measure itself was prompted by a number of accidents involving oil trains since 2012. In June, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.
On a near-daily basis, oil trains pass through the heart of Spokane past two major hospitals, a handful of schools and across an aquifer that serves nearly half a million people.