Category Archives: Oil spill

Washington: New rule requires railroads to show they can handle oil spills

Repost from the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
[Editor: Significant quote: “…California and Minnesota have implemented similar laws for railroads.”  – RS]

Washington: Railroads must show they can handle oil spills

By the Associated Press, September 1, 2016 2:16 PM

HIGHLIGHTS
Washington’s Department of Ecology has adopted a new rule requiring that railroads shipping oil through the state demonstrate that they can immediately respond to any spills.

FILE - This June 6, 2016, file aerial video image taken from a drone shows crumpled oil tankers lying beside the railroad tracks after a fiery June 3 train derailment that prompted evacuations from the tiny Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Ore. Federal investigators on Thursday, June 23, 2016, blamed Union Pacific Railroad for the derailment along the Oregon-Washington border, saying the company failed to properly maintain its track. Preliminary findings on the derailment raise questions about why the company didn't find the broken bolts that triggered the wreck when it inspected the tracks right before the derailment.
FILE – This June 6, 2016, file aerial video image taken from a drone shows crumpled oil tankers lying beside the railroad tracks after a fiery June 3 train derailment that prompted evacuations from the tiny Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Ore. Federal investigators on Thursday, June 23, 2016, blamed Union Pacific Railroad for the derailment along the Oregon-Washington border, saying the company failed to properly maintain its track. Preliminary findings on the derailment raise questions about why the company didn’t find the broken bolts that triggered the wreck when it inspected the tracks right before the derailment. Brent Foster AP

OLYMPIA, WASH.  |  Washington’s Department of Ecology has adopted a new rule requiring that railroads shipping oil through the state demonstrate that they can immediately respond to any spills.

The department said Thursday the rule takes effect Oct. 1, and it brings railroads into line with rules for companies moving oil by pipeline and by vessel.

Railroads will have to provide Ecology with contingency plans detailing steps the railroad will take if oil spills or a substantial risk of a spill occurs during transport. Officials say they’ll review each plan and require that they be tested through appropriate drills.

The state says California and Minnesota have implemented similar laws for railroads.

This fall, Washington is also beginning to require that facilities receiving shipments of crude oil by rail notify Ecology, which will share notice of those plans with local first responders.

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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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Oil industry desperate: claims oil spills are good for wildlife and the economy

Repost from Hazmat Magazine

Testimony Implies Oil Spills Are Good For Wildlife and the Economy

By J Nicholson, August 11, 2016

As reported in thinkprogress.org, the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been holding hearings on the matter of a proposed oil-by-rail terminal that could be built in Vancouver, Washington.  If approved, it would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country, handling some 360,000 barrels of crude oil, shipped by train, every single day.  It would also greatly increase the number of oil trains that pass through Washington, adding a total of 155 trains, per week, to the state’s railroads.

Environmentalist activists worry that an increase in oil trains could lead to an rise in oil train derailments, like the kind seen in early June when a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude derailed outside the Oregon town of Mosier, spilling 42,000 gallons of oil near the Columbia River.

But according to witnesses that testified before the EFSEC on behalf of Vancouver Energy – the joint venture between Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. and the entity behind the Tesoro-Savage terminal proposal – oil spills might not actually be that bad for the environment.

“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement identifies many economic impacts arising from an accident associated with Project operations, but fails to recognize economic activity that would be generated by spill response,” Todd Schatzki, vice president of Analysis Group — a consulting group that released an economic report on the terminal commissioned by Tesoro Savage — wrote in pre-filed testimony.  “When a spill occurs, new economic activity occurs to clean-up contaminated areas, remediate affected properties, and supply equipment for cleanup activities. Anecdotal evidence from recent spills suggests that such activity can be potentially large.”

Schatzki’s pre-filed testimony also includes references to both the Santa Barbara and BP oil spills’ role as job creating events.  He notes that the Santa Barbara oil spill created some 700 temporary jobs to help with cleanup, while the BP spill created short term jobs for 25,000 workers.  Schatzki does not mention that BP has paid individuals and businesses more than $10 billion to make up for economic losses caused by the spill.  Nor does he mention that California’s Economic Forecast Director predicted that the 2015 Santa Barbara oil spill would cost the county 155 jobs and $74 million in economic activity.

For the Columbia River region, the impacts of an oil spill could be equally economically devastating — a report from the Washington Attorney General’s office found that an oil spill could cost more than $170 million in environmental damages.

Keystone Pipeline (Credit: cfact.org)

Schatzki also argued that an oil spill would not necessarily have a large impact on commercial and recreational fisheries.  The Columbia River, which cuts between Oregon and Washington and borders much of the oil-train route, is one of the most important fisheries for both states.  In 2015, the total economic value of Columbia River salmon was $15.5 million, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Those fisheries, however, would not necessarily be impacted by an oil spill, Schatzki argued, because fishermen would simply avoid the areas where the spill had taken place, moving their operations elsewhere.  During cross examination, however, Schatizki said that he did not look at other fishermen’s responses to oil spills when crafting this analysis, nor did he specifically look at the length of fishing seasons or the geographic extent of various fisheries within the Columbia River.

In testimony given on July 7th, another Tesoro-Savage-associated witness, Gregory Challenger, argued that oil spills could actually have benefits for fish and wildlife.  Challenger, who worked with Vancouver Energy to analyze potential impacts and responses in the event of a worst-case discharge at the facility and along the rail line, told the committee that when oil spills cause the closure of certain fisheries or hunting seasons, it’s the animals that benefit.

“An oil spill is not a good thing.  A fishery closure is a good thing.  If you don’t kill half a million fish and they all swim upstream and spawn, that’s more fish than were estimated affected as adults,” Challenger said during his testimony.  “The responsible party is not going to get credit for that, by the way.”

 To prove his point, Challenger cited National Marine Fisheries Service data that showed that 2011, the year after the BP oil spill, had been a record year for seafood catch in the Gulf of Mexico.  And while that’s true, Shiva Polefka, policy analyst for the Center for American Progress’s Ocean Policy program, cautioned against trying to make sweeping statements for how all ecosystems would respond to an oil spill.  Following the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, researchers discovered that crude oil had soaked into the rocky beaches near the spill site, emitting toxic compounds for years that had long-term adverse impacts on salmon and herring populations.

“Does cutting fishing effort benefit fish?  Absolutely,” Polefka said.  “Enough to mitigate the horrible effects of large oil spills in every case?  Absolutely not.”

During his testimony, Challenger also brought up the Athos 1 oil spill, which sent 264,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River in 2004.  The spill, Challenger said, took place during duck hunting season, and forced an early closure for recreational hunting in the area.

“There were an estimate of 3,000 birds affected by the oil, and 13,000 birds not shot by hunters not shot by hunters, because of the closed season,” he said.  “We don’t get any credit for that, but it’s hard to deny that it’s good for birds to not be shot.”

According to U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), seabirds are especially vulnerable to oil spills, because of the way that oil affects their usually-waterproof feathers — when those feathers become matted with oil, a seabird loses its ability to regulate its temperature.  Often, it will try to preen itself to remove the oil, which only forces the oil into its internal organs, causing problems like diarrhea, kidney and liver damage, and anemia.  Oil can also enter into a seabird’s lungs, leading to respiratory problems.

Opponents of the terminal were quick to dismiss Schatzki and Challenger’s testimony as “hollow,” especially in the face of the recent derailment and oil spill in Mosier.

oil spill07“We see Tesoro moving towards these more desperate arguments to try to downplay the risk of the project,” Dan Serres, conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper, told ThinkProgress. “It’s hard to imagine that EFSEC will buy the argument that oil spills pose anything other than a grave risk to the Columbia River estuary.”

Following the EFSEC hearings, the committee will submit a recommendation to Washington Governor Jay Inslee to approve, conditionally approve, or deny the project.

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