Category Archives: Propane

Derailment explosion – 3rd accident in North America involving upgraded DOT-117R tank cars

Repost from DeSmog

Ethanol Train Derails and Burns in Texas, Killing Horses and Spurring Evacuation

By Justin Mikulka, April 25, 2019
Fort Worth ethanol train fires
Screen shot of emergency personnel watching an ethanol train burn near Fort Worth, Texas. Credit: Glen E. Ellman

Early in the morning on April 24, an ethanol train derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly destroying a horse stable, killing three horses, and causing the evacuation of nearby homes. According to early reports, 20 tank cars left the tracks, with at least five rupturing and burning.

While specific details have not yet been released, it appears to be a unit train of ethanol using the federally mandated DOT-117R tank cars, based on the images showing tank car markings. This is now the third accident in North America involving the upgraded DOT-117R tank cars, all resulting in major spills of either oil or ethanol.

This latest fiery derailment highlights the dangers to the estimated 25 million people living within the blast zone along rail lines across North America. While this incident had no human fatalities, the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people, devastating the small Canadian town. As I’ve exhaustively reported, the same risk factors for hauling oil by rail, and increasingly, ethanol, are still in place years after the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

In Texas, first responders were quickly on the scene and able to contain the fire, preventing the situation from worsening. When ethanol rail tank cars are involved in fires, the unpunctured tanks can explode as the fire increases the temperature and pressure in the full tanks.

For example, after a BNSF train derailed in Montana in August 2012, eight of the 14 cars carrying ethanol caught fire, resulting in an explosion and the signature “bomb train” mushroom cloud–shaped ball of fire.

Video: Fort Worth ethanol train derailment. Credit: Glen E. Ellman

Ethanol Industry Adopting Risky Oil Train Practices

In 2016 DeSmog published a series of articles analyzing why oil trains were derailing at over twice the rate of ethanol trains. Likely contributing factors included the fact that the derailing oil trains were longer and heavier than ethanol trains.

The oil industry was moving oil using “unit trains,” which are long trains dedicated to a single commodity, while the ethanol industry was using shorter trains. The majority of ethanol was shipped as part of manifest trains, carrying multiple types of cargo and not just ethanol.

As part of the analysis, DeSmog found that derailing ethanol trains tended to be longer trains of 100 or more cars.

However, longer trains are more profitable, and in 2016 the ethanol industry noted it intended to follow the lead of the oil industry and begin to move more ethanol via long unit trains. This announcement led to the following conclusion in the 2016 DeSmog series:

“Based on the ethanol industry’s interest in using more unit trains for ‘efficiency,’ and the fact that it is allowed to transport ethanol in the unsafe DOT-111 tank cars until 2023, perhaps it won’t be long before ethanol trains are known as bomb trains too.”

And while the DOT-111 tank cars are less robust than the DOT-117R tank cars, both have a history indicating neither are safe to move flammable liquids in unit trains. And DOT-117R tank cars are heavier than DOT-111s, adding another factor that increases chances for train derailment.

Bomb Train Risks Continue to Grow

After a string of oil trains filled with volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale derailed and exploded in 2013 and 2014, there was a push for new safety regulations for trains carrying flammable materials including crude oil and ethanol.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation released new regulations, which, as DeSmog noted at the time, were a big win for the oil and rail industries and their lobbyists. While touted as increasing safety, these watered-down rules did not address the trains’ known risk factors or require the oil and rail industries to implement proven safety technologies. The one requirement in the new 2015 regulations that would have greatly improved safety mandated that railroads transition to modern braking systems. That requirement has since been repealed.

The rail industry frequently calls the upgraded tank cars, which include DOT-117Rs and were required by federal regulators, a safety improvement. However, in the first two derailments involving the new cars, those purportedly safer tank cars led to major oil spills. One of those occurred in February in Manitoba, Canada, and now the Fort Worth derailment appears to represent a third example of these upgraded rail cars’ failed safety.

In 2014 during rail safety discussions, the rail industry was recommending using much more robust tank cars — known as “pressure cars” — to move the volatile crude oil implicated in oil train explosions, but federal regulators did not incorporate the recommendation into the final rules. That is why oil and ethanol continue to be moved in rail cars that fail and lead to large leaks and fires during derailments.

In Utah a train carrying propane in pressure cars recently derailed, highlighting the risk of even those more robust tank cars. That derailment caused a propane leak, and hazmat experts decided the safest thing to do was detonate the tank cars, a situation possible when in rural Utah. However, health experts were concerned about the impact on air quality for local residents.

Despite the many examples of the risks of moving these flammable materials by rail, President Trump recently issued an executive order mandating federal regulators allow moving liquefied natural gas (LNG) by rail as soon as next year.

These risks are why a group of people were just arrested for blocking oil train tracks in Oregon. And why legislators in the state of Washington have passed legislation requiring oil be stabilized — to make it less volatile and likely to ignite — prior to its loading on rail tank cars for shipment. Several states also are looking at passing laws requiring two-person crews for freight trains to improve safety. One of the factors cited in the deadly Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster was that the train was operated by a single person.

States are moving to address these very real, well-documented, and preventable risk factors because the U.S. federal government has fallen short in mitigating those risks to American communities from the oil and rail industries. These regulatory shortcomings, which began under President Obama’s administration, have only intensified under the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory approach. With the prospect of LNG trains in the near future — along with record amounts of oil trains coming from Canada to U.S. ports and refineries — the risks of “bomb train” accidents (the nickname bestowed by nervous rail operators) continue to grow.

Share...

    LPG Tank Cars derail in Martinez – could have been a catastrophic event

    Derailment in Martinez: the nightmare no one wants

    By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent – 05/01/2018
    LPG tank car derailment Martinez 2018-05-01 (KTVU Fox 2 News)

    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.

    LPG tank car derailment Martinez 2018-05-01 (KTVU News)

    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:

    Butane, Butylene Isobutane, Isobutylene, Liquefied petroleum gas, LPG, Petroleum gases, liquefied Propane Propylene.

    This is EXTREMELY dangerous.  On p. 170 of the Emergency Response Guidebook, emergency responders are cautioned:

    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:
    – fire
    – thermal radiation from the fire
    – blast
    – projectiles
    The danger from these decreases as you move away from the BLEVE centre. The furthest reaching hazard is projectiles.

    Share...

      DERAILMENT: Callaway MN train semi-truck collision leads to propane explosion, evacuation

      Repost from FOX 9, Eden Prairie MN
      [Editor:  It was the truck carrying propane that exploded, not the train. Firefighters let it burn into the night.  Derailed train cars ended up very near another stationary propane tank, but did not hit it.  – RS]

      Railroad: Video shows propane truck never stopped for train in Callaway, Minn.

      POSTED: MAR 25 2016 02:29PM CDT, UPDATED: 02:38PM CDT

      CALLAWAY, Minn. (KMSP) – Canadian Pacific Railway says its onboard video shows a propane tanker truck never stopped and pulled out in front of the train before Thursday’s fiery crash in Callaway, Minnesota. The northwestern Minnesota town of 200 people was evacuated as a precaution until the order was lifted at 10 a.m. Friday morning.

      The crash happened at approximately 12:25 p.m. Thursday near Highway 59. Canadian Pacific said 11 empty train cars and one locomotive derailed as a result of the crash. None of the cars were carrying hazardous materials and none of the train cars caught on fire. The railroad said its train crew sounded the locomotive’s horn as the train approached the crossing.

      Railroad: Video shows propane truck never stopped for train in Callaway, Minn.

      Two members of the train crew sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were both taken to Essentia Hospital in Detroit Lakes, where they were treated and released Thursday afternoon.

      Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will travel to Callaway on Saturday to visit the crash site and meet with railroad and community leaders.

      Overnight explosion

      Shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, the propane tank at the scene exploded, sending a fireball into the air. No injuries were reported. According to the Becker County sheriff: “On March 24 at approximately 10:17 p.m., fire department crews were tending the propane tanker fire on the south side of the city of Callaway, Minn. At this time the tank failed causing immediate evacuation of all contents. All personnel at the scene were accounted for and uninjured.”

      Cleanup progress

      Canadian Pacific said its crews were able to access the site starting Thursday evening and began the process of clearing the rail line. Six railcars were moved to the side, while 5 were re-railed. Early Friday morning, engineering personnel began replacing track, and the first train passed through the site at 10:15 a.m. Friday.

      Share...

        BUFFALO NEWS: The next train derailment could be far more disastrous

        Repost from the Buffalo News

        Another Voice: The next train derailment could be far more disastrous

        By Jean Dickson & Larry Brooks, March 24, 2016 – 12:01AM

        The March 1 train derailment in Ripley should serve as a warning to all residents of Western New York, and especially to those living close to the rail lines.

        Many people give no thought to the passing freight trains that run along the Lake Erie shore, through our suburbs, and around the Beltline, which runs through Buffalo’s dense Black Rock, North, East Side and South neighborhoods with tracks crossing the Buffalo River in several places.

        A century ago, there were even more tracks through the city, but the trains carried passengers and freight, which was mostly heavy and inert, such as grain, coal and lumber. If a car derailed, the only people hurt were those standing along the tracks. Now the freight includes huge quantities of hazardous chemicals, including chlorine gas, hydrochloric acid, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas, propane and petroleum crude oil.

        In Ripley, residents were very lucky that no spark lit up the ethanol and propane tank cars that derailed. In Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013, people were not so lucky: 47 people died when petroleum crude oil exploded and a large part of the town was burned. The downtown area is not yet habitable almost three years later, due to soil and water contamination.

        Firefighters in Ripley knocked on doors to evacuate residents, but this took some time. The cars derailed at 9:30 p.m.; a resident interviewed by WBFO said he was awakened and evacuated at 11 p.m. If the cars had exploded, as in Quebec, this would have been much too late. In Buffalo, the number of people to evacuate would greatly exceed the 50 or so households evacuated in Ripley.

        Ripley residents were also lucky that no tank cars of poisonous gas derailed. If one car of chlorine gas had burst open, it would have killed people for miles around, depending on wind conditions, even without a fire.

        In Buffalo, this hazardous freight crosses more than 30 bridges, most of which are 100 or more years old. They belong to companies such as CSX and are used by many railroad companies. Some are in decrepit condition, rusty and dropping chunks of concrete on our roads as they fall apart.

        While this railroad infrastructure is in corporate hands, the public has little influence on its condition. Before a deadly derailment occurs, we must do everything possible to inspect and repair bridges and to reroute the hazardous freight away from populated areas.

        In the long run, we should make every effort to decrease the use of such hazardous chemicals.

        Jean Dickson and Larry Brooks live adjacent to Beltline tracks in Buffalo.
        Share...