Category Archives: Reid vapor pressure levels

Latest ‘bomb train’ incident predictable

Repost from The Hawkeye, Burlington, Iowa

Latest ‘bomb train’ incident predictable

By Kathleen Sloan, May 11, 2015

BNSF Railway carried the Hess Corp.-owned rail car, which carried highly volatile Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and appears to have followed the law.

President Barack Obama weighed and rejected using executive authority to curb the transport of this explosive crude oil, rich in butane and propane, because he decided North Dakota state law should be the controlling authority. But the law North Dakota passed in December and went into effect just last month, only requires less than 13.7 pounds-per-square-inch vapor pressure inside the tanker, despite explosions at lower pressures.

That’s almost 40 percent more than the average vapor pressure among the 63 tanker cars that exploded July 6, 2013, at Lac-Megantic, Quebec. That disaster killed 47 people, some of whom could not be found because they were vaporized, and is driving recent federal and state rail car regulations.

According to an Albany, N.Y., Times Union investigation, the average vapor pressure among 72 tanker cars in the Lac-Megantic train was 10 psi.

Hess Corp. tested the crude just before loading at 10.8 psi, according to Associated Press reporters Matthew Brown and Blake Nicholson, in their follow-up story about the derailment at Heimdal, N.D.

While federal regulations only require flash point and boiling point to be measured, North Dakota now requires vapor pressure be measured. But measuring and labeling the danger does not make transporting it safe.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s two divisions, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, are the regulating authorities overseeing railway transport of crude oil. Generally, the FRA is responsible for train car and rail safety, while the PHMSA inspects the proper testing of the oil. That determines the oil’s proper classification and its proper “packaging” in pressurized cars and their labeling.

Other PHMSA duties include checking shipping documents to see if the shipper has self-certified the procedures properly as well as employee safety and handling training.

The U.S. DOT initiated “Operation Safe Delivery” in August 2013, in reaction to the Lac-Megantic incident, although the Bakken oil boom dates to 2008.

A federal rule-making process also began in August 2013. Those rules went into effect last week.

PHMSA, as part of Operation Safe Delivery, took several samples of Bakken crude oil from rail-loading facilities, storage tanks and pipelines used to load rail cars. Several also were collected from cargo tanks.

The first set of samples were taken August through November 2013 and the second set February through May 2014.

The first set showed psi vapor pressure among a dozen samples ranging from 7.7 psi to 11.75 psi.

A second set of 88 samples showed vapor pressure ranging from 10.1 psi to 15.1, with the average at about 12 psi.

Only six of the 88 samples were at or exceeded North Dakota’s 13.7 psi. This means shippers are not required to treat most of the crude generated from the Bakken oil formation before loading it onto cars.

The “Operation Safe Delivery Update,” available on the PHMSA website, also gives test results for propane, sulphur, hydrogen sulfide, methane and butane content.

The conclusions in the Operations Safe Delivery Update, which was not dated, are:

“Bakken crude’s high volatility level — a relative measure of a specific material’s tendency to vaporize — is indicated by tests concluding that it is a ‘light’ crude oil with a high gas content, a low flash point, a low boiling point and high vapor pressure …

“Given Bakken crude oil’s volatility, there is an increased risk of a significant incident involving this material due to the significant volume that is transported, the routes and the extremely long distances it is moving by rail… These trains often travel over a thousand miles from the Bakken region to refinery locations along the coasts…”

And although the report states, “PHMSA and FRA plan to continue … to work with the regulated community to ensure the safe transportation of crude oil across the nation,” the new rules that went into effect last week did nothing about regulating vapor pressure.

Instead, the rules phase out weaker and older pressurized tanker cars, the DOT-111, by 2020, and phase in CPC-1232 cars.

So far, at least four derailments of CPC-1232 cars carrying Bakken oil have exploded:

    • March 5 in Galena, Ill.;
    • Feb. 1 in Mount Carbon, W.Va.;
    • Feb. 15 near Timmons, Ontario; and
    • Last year in Lynchburg, Va.

Experts in various news articles and public comment submitted during the federal rule-making stated the way to make transport safe is to refine the crude before shipping. That would involve building refineries near the extraction point, which experts pointed out would be expensive.

In a Sept. 26, 2014, story, Railway Age contributing editor David Thomas applauded North Dakota for “using state jurisdiction over natural resources to fill the vacuum created by the federal government’s abdication of its constitutional responsibility for rail safety and hazardous materials.”

But Thomas admitted the state law on crude treatment would reduce the danger only slightly.

“Simply put, North Dakotan crude will have to be lightly pressure-cooked to boil off a fraction of the volatile ‘light ends’ before shipment,” Thomas said. “This conditioning lowers the ignition temperature of crude oil — but not by much. It leaves in solution most of the culprit gases, including butane and propane. Even the industry itself says conditioning would not make Bakken crude meaningfully safer for transportation, though it would make the state’s crude more consistent from one well to another.”

“The only solution for safety is stabilization, which evaporates and re-liquifies nearly all of the petroleum gases for separate delivery to refiners,” Thomas said.

He points out owners and shippers in the Eagle Fork formation in Texas, voluntarily stabilize their crude before shipping. It’s more volatile than Bakken crude.

“So far, stabilized Eagle Fork crude has been transported by tank car as far away as Quebec City, without the fireballs that have plagued the shipment of unstabilized Bakken crude,” Thomas said. “The Texan gases are liquefied and piped underground to the state’s Gulf Coast petrochemical complex for processing and sale.”

Keeping the volatile gases in solution during shipping, while dangerous, is profitable.

Thomas said North Dakota has no nearby petrochemical plants, which “explains the oil industry’s collective decision not to extract the otherwise commercially valuable gases from North Dakota crude oil. Instead, most of the explosive gases remain dissolved in the unstabilized Bakken oil for extraction after delivery to distant refineries.”

The PHMSA, however, requires butane and propane be removed from the crude before it is injected into pipelines, Thomas said.

Comments to the federal rule-making pointed out Bakken oil is made more dangerous still by corrosive chemicals used in the fracking process. The crude is further treated with chemicals to make the molasses-like consistency easier to pump.

Severe corrosion to the inner surface of the tanker cars, manway covers, valves and fittings have been recorded in various incidents, commentators said.

The lack of federal regulations is not the only problem. Enforcement is minimal because there are only 56 inspectors, according to PHMSA spokesman Gordon Delcambre.

Ten of those have been assigned to the North Dakota Bakken oil formation region, he said.

In the PHMSA 2013 annual enforcement report, 151 cases were prosecuted and 312 civil penalty tickets were issued, resulting in $1.87 million in fines. The largest fine was $120,200.

The report did not mention what the hazardous material was in 173 of the 463 enforcement actions.

Only one enforcement action appeared to result from an inspection of “fuel oil” transport, which resulted in a $975 fine for incorrect “packaging” and failure to prove, through documents, employees had been given the required safety and hazardous material handling training.

According to BNSF Railway’s report to the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management, required by a U.S. DOT emergency order since May 2014, a range of zero-to-six trains carrying at least 1 million gallons (30,000 gallons per car or about 35 cars or more) pass through Burlington each week.

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    IMMEDIATE BAN ON DOT-111 tank cars: Crude-By-Rail Safety Act

    From Rep. Mike Thompson’s website
    [Editor:  Read the bill on Rep. McDermott’s website.  Track the bill on GovTrac.us.   Authenticated version of the bill is here.    HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT:  Sec. 4. Requires the Secretary of Transportation to immediately prohibit the shipment of oil in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars.  Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service.  Requires the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit, after 2 years, the shipment of ethanol in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars.  Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service.  – RS]

    THOMPSON INTRODUCES CRUDE-BY-RAIL SAFETY ACT

    Apr 15, 2015, Press Release

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) today co-authored and introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act which establishes comprehensive new safety and security standards for the transport of crude oil by rail. The legislation is designed to help protect communities along the nation’s railway networks. The legislation comes amid growing concerns that current standards do not address the threat posed by transporting crude oil by rail. Representatives Jim McDermott (WA-7), Doris Matsui (CA-6) and Ron Kind (WI-3), and Nita Lowey (NY-17) introduced the legislation with Thompson.

    “Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” said Thompson. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today  puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”

    In recent months, the large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to increased rail traffic and a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the US and Canada in under a month earlier this year underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.

    The Crude-by-Rail Safety Act would establish new, commonsense federal safety standards for railcars transporting oil across the country.  This legislation:

    • Establishes a maximum volatility standard for crude oil (propane, butane, methane, and ethane) transported by rail
    • Prohibits use of unsafe DOT-111 tank cars, including the removal of 37,700 unsafe cars off the rail network
    • Establishes the strongest tank car standards to-date
    • Requires comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies
    • Increases fines for violating volatility standards and hazmat transport standards
    • Requires disclosure of train movements through communities and emergency response plans
    • Requires railroads to implement a confidential close-call reporting systems

    Congressman Mike Thompson is proud to represent California’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all or part of Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties.  He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Thompson is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and chairs the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Wine Caucus.

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      Davis Enterprise: Garamendi calls for greater Bakken oil-by-rail safety

      Repost from The Davis Enterprise
      [Editor:  Significant quote: “‘DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol,’ the letter reads.  ‘Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.'”   That said, Mayor Wolk joined the long list of officials who say they don’t want to STOP oil trains, only make them “safer.”  Good luck.  More photos here.  – RS]

      Garamendi calls for greater Bakken oil-by-rail safety

      By Dave Ryan, April 9, 2015
      Rail1W
      Davis Mayor Dan Wolk speaks at a news conference Wednesday organized by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, to promote the congressman’s legislation that aims to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil. As many as 100 tank cars filled with the volatile oil could come through Davis every day if a proposed Valero oil refinery expansion is OK’d. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

      Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, called for less volatile Bakken crude oil — which is transported across the country by rail — on Wednesday morning, using the backdrop of the Davis Amtrak station to drive his point home.

      Garamendi introduced the Bakken Crude Stabilization Act on March 26 in a bid to protect what he said are 16 million Americans living and working near railroad shipment lines. If approved, the bill will require lower vapor pressure for transported Bakken crude to reduce its volatility, a practice currently required in Texas and to some degree in North Dakota.

      An oil tanker rumbles past the Davis train depot at Second and H streets Wednesday morning, interrupting a news conference organized by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, to address oil-by-rail safety. Sue Cockrell/ Enterprise photo

      Vapors like propane and butane add to the unstable nature of Bakken crude during train derailments.

      On Wednesday, Garamendi and other government officials explained why requiring more safety for railroad tank cars is essential to communities along rail lines like Davis and Fairfield, should there be an explosion. As if on cue, freight trains carrying black tank cars rumbled by as Garamendi spoke.

      “You’d wipe out downtown Davis and possibly hundreds of people,” he said, adding that stripping out volatile vapors would prevent a fireball rising what he said was a hundred feet in the air.

      Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson said there are refineries and pipelines in his county, but also populations along rail lines and an environmentally sensitive marshland.

      “If we de-gas the oil, that is a huge thing for safety,” Thomson said. “We need to ask that legislation be passed. … We need to move this quickly.”

      Environmental groups say Bakken crude oil is transported through Yolo and Solano counties along Union Pacific Railroad lines that run through Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City on their way to the Valero oil refinery in Benicia. A proposal is pending before the Benicia City Council that could increase the number of rail tank cars moving through those cities, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments.

      So-called “up-rail” community groups are fighting the proposal, and local governments in Yolo and Solano counties are working for better safety and oversight of the Valero project, which is still in the environmental review process.

      Davis Mayor Dan Wolk said local agencies’ goal in the Valero project is not to stop commerce, but to ensure that adequate safety measures are in place.

      Meanwhile, at the state level, a warren of rules protecting rail commerce prohibit states and localities from enacting restrictions on rail traffic, leading to calls for the federal government to step in.

      However, laws protecting railroads, some more than a century old, ensure that railroads have a strong hand in approving any new regulations that the federal Department of Transportation or the Federal Railroad Administration may impose on their industry. Most regulations are created by consensus with the railroads.

      Garamendi said a legislative approach is the quickest way to get the railroads to implement safety standards.

      “Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil by rail, lives and communities are at risk,” the congressman said in a prepared statement released at the news conference.

      “We need the federal government to step in and ensure that the vapor pressure of transported crude oil is lower, making it more stable and safer to transport. We also need to upgrade and ensure the maintenance of rail lines, tank cars, brake systems and our emergency response plans.”

      Getting railroads to help beef up local safety planning is a big part of what state and local governments are trying to wring out of the rail industry. One key demand is to get the railroads to disclose to emergency first responders what is inside their tank cars.

      In a March 3 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation written by Garamendi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D- Sacramento, the pair said the need for safer train cars has long been documented and is overdue.

      “DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol,” the letter reads.

      “Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.”

      Asked Wednesday what the chances are of a railroad safety bill passing through a Republican-controlled Congress, Garamendi said “excellent,” evoking some chuckles from other government officials standing by.

       

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        Federal, state and local officials gather in Davis California to discuss oil train safety legislation

        Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
        [Editor:  Thanks to Rep. Garamendi for his sponsorship of HR1679 to require Bakken oil stabilization before it is loaded onto oil trains.  But you can add Garamendi’s name to the long list of officials who show little interest in stopping bomb trains, who operate under the illusion that “safer” is ok.  Quote: “He added that the push isn’t to stop transportation of oil by rail, but to make it safer….”  – RS]

        Crude oil-by-rail safety focus of proposed bill

        By Melissa Murphy, 04/08/15, 10:05 PM PDT
        U.S. Congressman John Garamendi, D-Solano, pauses as a freight train passes during a press conference at the Davis Amtrak Depot on Wednesday to highlight the need for state and federal action to improve the safety of crude oil-by-rail transports. Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter
        Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson expresses his concerns about rail safety as he participates in a press conference on the issue Wednesday in Davis. Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter

        Transportation of crude oil by rail was a hot topic Wednesday as federal, state and local government officials gathered at the train depot in the city of Davis.

        Congressman John Garamendi, D-Solano, addressed media during a press conference about his legislation, H.R. 1679, which would prohibit the transport of crude-by-rail unless authorities have reduced the volatile gases in the oil prior to transportation.

        Specifically, maximum Reid vapor pressure of 9.5 psi, the maximum volatility permitted by the New York Mercantile Exchange for crude oil futures contracts.

        “Further analysis and debate is warranted, and H.R. 1679 is intended to move debate forward and stress the urgency of action before more lives are needlessly lost,” Garamendi said. “It doesn’t have to be explosive.”

        He added that the push isn’t to stop transportation of oil by rail, but to make it safer and that the federal government needs to get its “train in gear” to adopt regulations.

        Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said even though the issue is complicated, they’re working on a comprehensive approach.

        She explained that there has been a 4,000 percent increase in the amount of crude by rail. It continues to be transported by rail, pipeline and truck.

        While it will take a long time to create and pass new regulations and standards, interim steps have been taken, including additional emergency regulations, speed reductions, increased inspections and more emergency equipment.

        “We’ll continue to do more,” she said.

        Standing next to photos of two fiery oil car train explosion, one that occurred as recently as February in West Virginia, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk said the trains go through the heart of the city, and there is a high risk if crude-by-rail starts moving through the corridor.

        “It could have catastrophic effects in our community,” he said. “Garamendi’s legislation is in perfect alignment with city objectives. Safety is the priority.”

        Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson agreed and added that the legislation needs to be passed as soon as possible.

        Other steps have been taken by the California Office of Emergency Services.

        Eric Lamoureux, inland regional administrator for OES, said six hazardous materials vehicles stand ready to respond throughout the state and within the next few months local exercises will test the systems and procedures in place.

        Lamoureaux also explained that explosions are a concern, but there also is a risk to water supply. He shared that a derailment in November sent eight train cars and loads of corn into Feather River Canyon near Lake Oroville.

        He added that it could have been a bigger issue if it was crude oil.

        Garamendi also explained that the process of removing volatile gases isn’t new, but a regular standard for refineries in Texas.

        Meanwhile, the city of Benicia is considering an application that would allow Valero Refinery to receive and process more crude oil delivered by rail. The proposed crude by rail project would be a third means to deliver crude oil. So far, Valero receives the crude oil by marine deliveries and pipeline.

        According to the city of Benicia website, the city has determined that sections of the Draft Environmental Impact Report, when it comes to the Valero project, will need to be updated and recirculated. The anticipated release of the Recirculated Draft EIR for public comment is June 30. The Recirculated Draft EIR will have a 45-day comment period. After the comment period on the Recirculated DEIR closes, the city will complete the Final EIR which will include responses to all comments on the original Draft EIR and the Recirculated Draft EIR.

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