Category Archives: Let it burn

BenIndy editorial – Benicia fire chief leaving

(See story below from the Vallejo Times-Herald)

Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon

Editorial comment:
Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon is leaving Benicia. Jim’s the guy who stood up for Valero Crude by Rail, and who hedged – publicly and on the record – claiming that oil train explosions are not “left to burn themselves out.” He seemed to think that mobilizing and evacuating folks and setting up perimeters and throwing water on nearby tank cars to keep more cars from exploding, etc. – was reason enough to dispute the widely understood knowledge that first responders to oil train explosions are REQUIRED to keep a safe distance from the burning cars, letting them burn for days until they burn themselves out.  His disingenuous comments during hearings was one of the lowest moments in my 3-year opposition. I’ve tried to be forgiving, understanding how tough the firefighters’ jobs are when facing disasters, and how a Chief must stand up for his crew. But Lydon’s blind support for Valero’s proposal was in stark contrast to public comments by Fire Chief Jim Appleton in Mosier Oregon following the derailment and explosion there.   The Benicia Independent wishes Jim and the people of Coronado well, but we hope for an impartial understanding of public safety issues in the next Chief here in Benicia.  – RS

Benicia fire chief leaving department for Coronado

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Katy St. Clair, 09/07/17, 4:37 PM PDT

BENICIA > > Fire Chief Jim Lydon will be leaving Benicia and heading down to Coronado to lead the fire department of the suburb of San Diego, he confirmed.

Lydon has over 40 years of experience but served Benicia for four years, where he often wore several hats, including interim city manager for a bit.

Lydon was also in charge of coordinating the town’s emergency response during the Valero flaring that began on May 5 of this year.

According to reports, Lydon underwent a rigorous hiring process and beat out 47 other candidates. His last day will be October 6 and his new job begins on October 10, he said.

“Benicia’s been a great opportunity for me and I think I’ve learned a lot through the process of being here,” he said. “I’m certainly going to miss some of the contacts and relationships that I’ve built here, but it’s time for new challenges and new opportunities.”

Lydon said that the City Manager hasn’t yet determined who will take his place until a permanent chief is hired.

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Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

By Justin Mikulka, July 21, 2016 – 13:00

In the most recent oil-by-rail accident in Mosier, Oregon the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) concluded that the tank cars involved — the jacketed CPC-1232 type — “performed as expected.” So an oil train derailing at the relatively slow speed of 25 mph should be “expected” to have breached cars resulting in fiery explosions.

Current regulations allow those tank cars to continue rolling on the track carrying volatile Bakken crude oil and ethanol until 2025 with no modifications.

Yet industry lobbying group the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) has now requested the Federal Railroad Administration to essentially allow these jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars to remain on the tracks for decades beyond 2025.

This was just one of the troubling facts that came to light at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) roundtable on tank car safety on July 13th, and perhaps the one of greatest concern to anyone living in an oil train blast zone like Mosier, Oregon.

Just Re-Stencil It and Call It a DOT 117

One of the biggest risks with Bakken oil train accidents is that often the only way to deal with the fires is to let them burn themselves out. This can result in full tank cars becoming engulfed in flames for hours or days in what is known as a pool fire. This can lead to a “thermal tear” in the tank and the signature mushroom cloud of fire so often seen with these derailments.

The new regulations address this issue by requiring tank cars to have a layer of ceramic insulation covering the entire tank car to prevent the oil from heating up to the point of creating a thermal tear (ceramic shown in pink in the image below.)


Image credit: NTSB

However, the RSI has requested the FRA to allow the existing jacketed CPC-1232 cars, like the ones in the Mosier accident, to not require the ceramic thermal protection.

The industry’s argument is that the current fiberglass insulation on the CPC-1232 is sufficient protection. However, the fact that the fiberglass insulation was not designed to protect the contents of a tank car from fire does not seem to bother the RSI.

At the same time the RSI is arguing against thermal protection for CPC-1232s, the RSI has helpful videos on its website explaining the new safety features for DOT-117 tank cars — including “thermal protection.”

The NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt summed up what this request would mean in one simple statement at the July 13 round table event saying, “the same type of cars as in Mosier can be re-stenciled as DOT-117R with nothing more than a new bottom outlet valve.” [R stands for retrofit.]

So, they are essentially asking to paint over the CPC-1232 label on the tank cars with a DOT-117 while doing nothing more than changing the bottom outlet valve. Which means we should expect many more accidents like Mosier in the future since most of these CPC-1232 cars are only a few years old and they have an expected working life of 30-40 years.

As Robert Sumwalt said in his opening statement explaining why we should expect many more fiery oil train derailments with the existing tank car fleet, “just do the math.”

Industry Arguments Laughable If Not For the Consequences

Would you believe that one of the arguments made at the roundtable in favor of not requiring thermal protection on these cars was that the oil itself acts as a heat sink? Which is true. Until the point where the oil absorbs so much heat from the fire that the tank car explodes.

However, the reason this argument is given credibility is that the regulations only require a tank car to endure sitting in a pool fire for 100 minutes without exploding. Forget the fact that many of the Bakken oil train accidents have involved fires that burned for days.

This 100-minute limit was the same reasoning used to justify the fiberglass insulation on the current jacketed CPC-1232 as offering sufficient protection, as per the industry request. Which led to the following exchange between the NTSB’s Sumwalt and RSI representative John Byrne.

Byrne: “In our own modeling the fiberglass insulation system met the federal requirement for thermal protection.”

Sumwalt: “But in reality in the fiberglass situation, doesn’t the fiberglass all just melt… doesn’t it also melt and all end up pooling down in the bottom in the void between the blanket and the shell?”

Byrne: “Basically yes…but at the same time, that whole system acts as a thermal protection system in that it meets the requirement based on the federal law.”

Sumwalt: “Ok, thanks. So it meets the requirements.”

So, along with the oil itself being offered as adequate thermal protection, we also get fiberglass that melts in a fire being offered as protection for anyone in the blast zone.

So what did the regulators have to say about this absurd argument?

FRA’s Karl Alexy made it clear that “industry” concerns were receiving serious consideration saying, “we’re not taking it lightly, we understand what it means to industry… be certain that we are taking this very seriously.”

Well, we do understand what it means to the industry. Adding ceramic thermal protection would cut into profits. And one thing that was made clear repeatedly during the day’s discussion was that this was all about the money and that safety was only for people worried about “risk.”

As usual when there is a discussion about oil train safety, the oil industry lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute had a seat at the table. API representative Susan Lemieux cut to the heart of the issue with some actual honesty.

“In the industry we don’t see transportation as a risk, it is just a function of business.”

Why try to improve the situation when you don’t see any risk?

The FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have informed DeSmog that they will issue a formal response to the industry’s request to allow the fiberglass to qualify as thermal protection in the near future.

The Ground Rules – Profits Over Safety

In the above slide shown of the DOT-117, there is one other important thing to note. The shells on those tank cars are 9/16th of an inch thick. The shells of the jacketed CPC-1232 are 7/16th of an inch thick. This difference has safety implications as the thinner shells rupture more easily.  The RSI points out this fact in a video on its website about the advantages of the thicker shells on the DOT-117 which they say are “less prone to puncture.”

But the more important difference, as we have pointed out repeatedly at DeSmog, is that safer car designs are heavier, which means they can transport less oil per car. That lower capacity again cuts into profits. This point was made by ExxonMobil in a slide they presented to regulators arguing against thicker tank shells.

While Exxon was not at the roundtable, plenty of oil and rail industry representatives were, and they made this point very clear.

Gabe Claypool, President of oil train operators Dakota Plains, explained why it made economic sense to use CPC-1232s over DOT-117s.

“A lot of it’s economics as well…we were just having a conversation around the sizing of the car, the 1232 car type is very much in abundance and it is also a larger car. In the current category of still trying to be profitable, if I can get that extra volume in a larger car that is still regulatorally [sic] compliant, they’re [sic] gonna stick with that.”

Richard Kloster of rail consulting firm Alltranstek was one of the more vocal participants during the roundtable and he repeatedly made points about the economics of retrofitting the CPC-1232 over buying the new DOT-117 saying, “The retrofit is always going to win economically.”

Kloster also made it clear where the industry put its priorities when it came to safety versus profit saying, “There has got to be a balance between safety and the economic viability of moving these products by rail” and that there were a “lot of cases, you know, where economics wins all the time but risk trumps economics in some cases.”

Economics wins all the time.

There was one representative from labor at the roundtable who did not offer a comment until the final closing segment, but he also shared the reality of what was driving the decisionmaking when he discussed the need for safety but stated, “I know it’s about money.”

ExxonMobil Wins Again

So, in the end, ExxonMobil and the oil industry have won again. Watching this roundtable and the many congressional hearings and previous NTSB events in the past few years and seeing the lack of progress on real safety improvements, it almost seems like this all was orchestrated from the start.

In the years leading up to the latest tank car rulemaking, the industry essentially ordered a whole new fleet of CPC-1232 cars which they are currently using. The CPC-1232 cars have the thinner tank shells which makes them more prone to puncture and also more profitable. And they are ok to use, unchanged, until 2025. If the industry request is approved, those cars will just need new bottom outlet valves after 2025.

Regardless, they will always have the thinner tank shells, like Exxon wanted.

At the end of the July 13 event, Robert Sumwalt made an interesting statement. He said, “some of us met yesterday to go over the ground rules.”

The meeting where they went over the ground rules was not open to the public or media. If one were to hazard a guess as to what the first and foremost ground rule set was, it would be a safe bet to posit it was that “economics wins all the time.”

Blog Image Credit: Dawn Faught via NTSB

 

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HUFFINGTON POST: Top 5 Reasons To Ban Oil Trains Immediately

Repost from the Huffington Post

Top 5 Reasons To Ban Oil Trains Immediately

By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, Stand.Earth (formerly ForestEthics), 06/29/2016 01:32 pm ET

On Friday, June 3rd, a crude oil train traveled through the scenic Columbia River Gorge, a national treasure and one of the most beautiful spots in a country blessed with some of the most stunning places on Earth. It went slowly through the small town of Mosier, Ore. Children sat in class, no doubt looking forward to the weekend, people stopped by the post office, enjoying the rituals of small town life. Then the ground shook. Explosions rocked the area and a plume of thick black smoke snaked its way into the sky. The oil train had derailed a few hundred yards from that school, a few hundred yards from the city center. Four railcars spilled and caught fire — and tens of thousands of gallons of burning North Dakota Bakken crude created an inferno.

This disaster occurred as Stand and our many allies in the Crude Awakening Network were preparing for the third annual Stop Oil Trains Week of Action, planning dozens of events across the US and Canada between July 6-12 to mark the solemn anniversary of the tragic Lac Megantic oil train disaster on July 6, 2013. The Mosier derailment drove home, once again, why oil trains are too dangerous for the rails. And why Stand is asking President Obama for an immediate ban on oil trains.

Here are the top five reasons Stand, joined by hundreds of groups, community leaders, and elected officials, are calling for a ban on deadly oil trains.

1. 25 million Americans live in the oil train “blast zone”.
The US rail system was built to connect population centers, not move millions of gallons of toxic, flammable crude oil. But the oil industry is doing exactly that, sending explosive crude down the tracks right through our cities and by the homes of 25 million Americans. At Stand, we have mapped oil train routes with our Blast Zone map. You can use the map to see if your home, school, or office is inside the dangerous one-mile evacuation area. One clear finding from analyzing America’s blast zone: vulnerable populations like environmental justice communities and school children are clearly in harm’s way.

2. Oil trains can’t be operated safely.
Federal safety standards won’t improve oil train safety. Federal legislation, promises by the railroads, and federal regulations- weakened by years of interagency battles between the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board — have all come to very little. Former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Jim Hall, in a June 2016 op-ed advocating a ban on crude oil trains, put it simply: “Carrying crude oil by rail is just not a good idea.” That’s because it cannot be done safely. Period.

Thorough reporting by DeSmog Blog on the weak existing federal regulatory standards and the oil and rail industry’s failure to meet them demonstrates there have been no improvements on the safety of the 100,000 unsafe tank cars in the US fleet. Only a few hundred of these 100,000 dangerous tank cars have been retrofitted, and cars updated to the newest tank car standard will still puncture at just a few miles an hour faster than the current tank cars.

After 2025, there may be marginal improvements in the tank cars and procedures associated with oil trains. But trains will still derail, and crude will still leak and ignite.

3. Oil train fires can’t be controlled.
When an oil train derails at any speed over the puncture velocity of roughly 10 miles an hour a dozen or so cars typically come off the tracks, decouple and are thrown from their wheels. Tank cars are easily punctured, and the crude (either Bakken or diluted tar sands, both highly volatile) can either self-ignite or be sparked by a nearby ignition source.

Once the spilled oil from an oil train disaster ignites, the primary task of emergency responders is to evacuate the area due to toxic plumes, fire, and potential explosions. We write more about the difficulties here, but Bruce Goetsch, a county emergency manager in Iowa, had this advice: “Make sure your tennis shoes are on and start running.” Or listen to the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, which delivered a letter to Washington Governor Inslee on June 8 demanding an immediate halt to crude rail movement and stating that, “these fires are exceedingly difficult to extinguish, even under unusually ideal circumstances.”

4. We don’t need the oil these dangerous trains carry.
Oil trains in North America carry extreme fracked crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, or diluted bitumen from tar sands deposits in Alberta. We don’t need any of this crude oil. According to the most recent information from the US Energy Information Administration, shipments of crude by rail represent only 2.5 percent of the 19 million barrel daily US oil demand. At the same time, the US exports more than five million barrels of oil per day. So the US is exporting ten times more than the 513,000 barrels of crude that is moving by rail each day. The crude moving by train contributes nothing to our energy supply. If we stopped all oil trains tomorrow Americans would never notice the difference at the gas pumps – but we would all be safer, especially the 25 million Americans living in the blast-zone.

5. Oil trains are taking us in the wrong direction.
The dangerous, unnecessary, carbon-intensive crude oil moving by train through North American cities and towns is a new phenomenon. Before 2008, crude oil rarely, if ever, moved by train. Oil companies see this oil as the future. We see a future where we leave extreme crude oil in the ground and use decreasing amounts of conventional oil as we transition to 100 percent clean energy.

The climate accords in Paris followed by the April 2016 United Nations resolution put the United States and the rest of the world on a clear, inevitable path toward reducing fossil fuels from our energy supply. These dangerous oil trains carrying extreme oil are, quite simply, not part of that future: they fail the public safety test, the energy security test, and the climate test.

Forty-seven people died in the Lac Megantic oil train disaster three years ago. Only incredible luck prevented Mosier, OR from being another Lac Megantic. It was a dead-calm day in one of the windiest part of the US, otherwise the fire could have spread quickly to more derailed cars, to surrounding forests, homes, and even to the nearby school. This was another close call, one of more than a dozen major oil train disasters over the last three years that could have been much worse. We need to end this unnecessary and unacceptable threat before our luck runs out.

This is not a radical request. In fact, the Governors of Oregon and Washington have asked for a moratorium on oil trains. Join them — and Stand: Please join us in asking President Obama for an immediate ban on oil trains.

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