Category Archives: Oil trains

Updates On The Threat Of Crude-By-Rail In California

Repost of an email…
[Editor: The email came with this March 2019 Mesa Refinery Watch Group Newsletter.  For much more, see  – R.S.]

 Martin Akel, March 22, 2019
Subject: Updates On The Threat Of Crude-By-Rail In California

Dear [            ]:

There’s no denying it — there are deliberate attempts to overturn regulations and policies that protect our environment, health and safety.  Therefore, regardless of the rejection of Phillips 66’s crude oil trains, we must remain educated about potential threats.  Click on the link below to read the latest MRWG newsletter, which includes …

► How Kern County followed in SLO County’s footsteps … saying “NO!” to crude oil trains.

► How the federal government used flawed data when canceling improved brakes for trains.

► How railroads have yet again missed the deadline for installing new safety technology.

► How Canada is expanding their production of dangerous tar sands and investing in crude oil trains.

► Why Phillips’ former claim of needing oil trains to gain “energy independence” was simply misleading.

► Plus — dozens of recent examples of serious railroad and oil industry safety problems.

The Mesa Refinery Watch Group


    As oil trains roll into Portland, city residents keep watch

    Repost from High Country News

    As oil trains roll into Portland, city residents keep watch

    Without state oversight, activists step up to monitor the traffic in their own backyards.

    By Carl Segerstrom March 13, 2019

    Oct. 3, 2018: No train cars. Reuters reports that oil shipments to China have “totally stopped” as a casualty of escalating trade tension.

    October 30: Twelve train cars behind the wall; 15 waiting just outside to the south. Placard number 1267: Crude oil.

    November 26: No trains.

    Jan. 16, 2019: Yes. More than 20 cars. Placard on side of train cars reads: “Toxic Inhalation Hazard.”

    At Zenith Petroleum’s Portland Terminal in Oregon, multi-story oil drums rise along the banks of the Willamette River. Backhoes scratch dirt into a dump truck as sparks fly from welders building a metal structure behind walls topped with razor wire. Trucks rumble through on the last day of February, while black cylindrical oil-train cars line the rails. To the activists who fear they will remote detonate the global carbon budget — or even explode in their community — they look like rows of bombs.

    Oil train cars park near the Zenith Energy terminal. Communities worry about the lack of documentation of potentially hazardous trains traveling by their homes and rivers.
    Samuel Wilson for High Country News

    After reports of Canadian tar sands moving through Portland surfaced last March, a small group formed to try to track local oil train shipments by visiting the terminal and writing down what they saw. Since then, the group has watched the terminal expand in front of their eyes, as Zenith adds new rail spurs and retools the facility to increase export capacity. The watchers know about the risks of oil-train spills and explosions across the Northwest. By bearing witness to the trains and their dangerous cargo, they aim to fill the gaps in public knowledge left by limited official information — and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the threats it poses to their communities, and to the climate.

    Dan Serres is the conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization that works to protect the Columbia River.
    Samuel Wilson for High Country News

    Natural light filters through a long window as Dan Serres, a train watcher and the conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper, describes the project. “You would think that we would know how much oil is moving and when,” said Serres, who grew up just outside of Portland. “This is definitely a soft spot in how states are able to address oil-train traffic.”

    The public is largely in the dark when it comes to what’s moving through their towns. In Washington, the Department of Ecology issues quarterly reports on oil trains; between October and December of last year, it said, 24,693 oil train cars and more than 16.8 million barrels of crude oil travelled the state’s rails. But that undercounts the total: Trains that merely pass through the state aren’t included. And Oregon has significantly less transparency. While the Oregon Fire Marshall publishes some information on Bakken crude oil train traffic, the state does not share comprehensive quarterly crude oil by train reports with the public. That’s because they are “security sensitive,” according to Jennifer Flynt, an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality public affairs officer.

    Since 2016, when an oil train exploded in Mosier, Oregon, along the Columbia River, some state legislators have tried to institute stronger monitoring standards and safeguards, most recently this year. But so far, their efforts have fallen short. State Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D, who represents communities in northeast Portland, sponsored oil-train safety bills in 2017 and 2018. She said part of the reason Oregon hasn’t regulated the shipments is because, unlike other states, Oregon doesn’t have in-state refineries from which to collect fees or information.

    Without comprehensive reporting, Northwest communities look to email lists, Twitter hashtags and smartphone ship-tracking apps to monitor trains. Loosely affiliated groups from Idaho, Washington and Oregon operate on a “see-something-share-something” basis, but are left putting together a puzzle with missing pieces as they try to understand what dangerous materials are rolling past their houses, schools and rivers.

    • Mia Reback, a climate justice organizer, takes pictures of new construction at the Zenith Energy terminal in Portland, Oregon.

      Samuel Wilson for High Country News

    LOOKING OUT AT THE DOZENS OF TRAINS parked outside Zenith’s terminal in Portland, Mia Reback describes how different the train watching is from her usual climate justice organizing, which she typically fuels by tapping into the energy of community gatherings and street protests. Coming to this industrial zone to bear witness to local fossil fuel infrastructure is lonelier, and isolating.

    But for Reback, the chance to have an impact is worth that discomfort. As she takes pictures to document the new construction, she recalls visiting the terminal in the summer of 2015. She had joined a crowd gathered to remember the 47 lives lost a year earlier when an oil train exploded in the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, Canada. Black-and-white placards commemorated the name and age of each person who died in the disaster: “To see the visual of children holding a sign of another child their age next to an oil-train car was incredibly, incredibly powerful.”

    Portland politics tend to favor organizers like Reback and Serres. But even in a city that has passed ordinances to prevent new oil infrastructure development, fossil fuel companies seem to have figured out a way to peek through the green curtain the city hopes to close on their industry. Reback said she hopes the watchers’ work will “re-center power in our communities, when fossil fuel companies and other polluting industries have taken power from us.”

    Carl Segerstrom is a contributing editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at  or submit a letter to the editor.


      Derailments raise questions about the surge in oil trains

      Repost from The Star, Toronto, Ontario

      Derailments raise questions about the surge in oil trains

      By Gillian Steward, Mon., March 11, 2019
      A train derailment is shown near Field, B.C., on Feb. 4. A Canadian Pacific freight train fell more than 60 metres from a bridge near the Alberta-British Columbia boundary in a derailment that killed three crew members. The westbound freight jumped the tracks at about 1 a.m. near Field, B.C.
      A train derailment is shown near Field, B.C., on Feb. 4. A Canadian Pacific freight train fell more than 60 metres from a bridge near the Alberta-British Columbia boundary in a derailment that killed three crew members. The westbound freight jumped the tracks at about 1 a.m. near Field, B.C. (JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

      Now that so much oil is being shipped by rail from Alberta to points south and west, the sight of a crumpled freight train on the banks of the Kicking Horse River high in the Rocky Mountains has taken on a new twist.

      Normally most of that oil would be shipped by pipeline but with the Trans Mountain project and other pipeline expansions stalled or abandoned, the oil industry has taken to shipping the stuff to refineries and ports by train.

      A coalition of Indigenous and environmental groups along with the B.C. government successfully stalled the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta through B.C. But is this what they wanted? Trains loaded with oil navigating narrow mountain passes, rolling through small communities?

      Three crewmen were killed in that horrific derailment in early February when a loaded, parked, Canadian Pacific train of 112 cars started to roll down the track west of Lake Louise.

      According to the Transportation Safety Board, it barrelled along for three kilometres before 99 cars and two locomotives toppled off a curve ahead of a bridge and into or near the river.

      The only saving grace from this accident is that none of the derailed cars contained bitumen, heavy oils, or other petroleum products. If they had there would have been a toxic mess that would no doubt have cost millions of dollars to clean up.

      There have been other CP derailments since. Not as deadly as the one in the Kicking Horse Pass but enough to raise questions about the dangers of shipping oil by train instead of pipeline.

      On Feb. 28, 20 rail cars went off the tracks west of Banff. Three days later rail cars carrying diesel fuel and grain went off the tracks in Golden B.C. The next day 20 cars on a CP train derailed in Minnesota. And just this past Saturday two CP trains collided in the rail yards in Calgary forcing at least a dozen cars off the tracks.

      Again, there were no dangerous goods spilled. But I have seen trains with well over 100 oil tankers roll through Calgary. During the 2013 flood a CP train carrying petroleum products derailed on a bridge and hung precariously over the surging Bow River.

      According to the National Energy Board trains are shipping record amounts of oil. Between December 2017 and December 2018 crude oil exports by rail more than doubled to 353,789 barrels a day — add on domestic shipments and the total is even higher.

      And it isn’t about to slow down.

      Alberta Premier Rachel Notley recently announced her government will spend about $3.7 billion to lease about 4,400 new rail cars to move up to 120,000 barrels per day by 2020, with shipments starting as early as July this year.

      Apparently, trains loaded with oil rolling through B.C. isn’t what John Horgan’s government had anticipated when it vowed to use all the tools in its tool box to block the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

      Because now the B.C. government wants more regulatory control over rail shipments of heavy oil even though rail transportation falls under federal jurisdiction. And it wants to know exactly how much heavy oil is being shipped by rail in B.C.

      So far that information has only been made available to federal agencies. B.C. will argue its case before the B.C. Court of Appeal on March 18.

      It’s obvious that the B.C. government and its supporters don’t want any bitumen or heavy oils transported through B.C. This is not just about the expansion of one pipeline, it’s about stopping heavy oils, a key resource in Alberta, from being shipped anywhere by any means in B.C.

      But now the B.C. government is dealing with the law of unintended consequences.

      Holding up the Trans Mountain pipeline has led to more oil trains, and heightened the possibility that one of them could derail and spill barrels of heavy oil.

      Horgan is no doubt praying that there will be no derailment of oil cars anywhere in B.C. Because if that happens he will have a lot to answer for.


        Manitoba crude oil train collides with gravel truck – 2nd incident in days

        Repost from CBC News

        Train carrying oil collides with gravel truck in western Manitoba

        RCMP says no spills detected; 2nd incident in days involving train carrying oil through Manitoba
        A CP train carrying petroleum collided with a gravel truck near Westbourne, Man., Tuesday, RCMP said. (Supplied by Greg Perkins)

        For the second time in days a train carrying oil through western Manitoba has been involved in an incident.

        Just after 2 p.m. CT Tuesday, RCMP said a CP train carrying petroleum struck a gravel truck that was trying to cross the intersection at highways 50 and 16 near Westbourne, about 110 kilometres west of Winnipeg.

        “The CP train was carrying petroleum cars at the time but no spill occurred,” RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said in an email.

        The train hit the back end of the truck, causing it to tip over and spill its gravel load. No injuries were reported to RCMP.

        Highway 50 was closed for several hours while crews removed the damaged truck and trailer, Manaigre added.

        A CP spokesperson said the train was travelling eastbound at the time of the crash.

        An investigation is underway.

        The crash comes after 37 CN train cars carrying crude oil derailed Saturday near St. Lazare, about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg. The investigation and cleanup effort is ongoing.

        A CN train carrying potash also crashed with a semi-trailer this past Friday near Headingley at the western outskirts of Winnipeg. The train didn’t derail in that case.