Category Archives: State regulation

Tar Sands Crude Shipments Quietly Increased In Oregon, With Regulators In the Dark

Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting

Tar Sands Crude Shipments Quietly Increased In Oregon, With Regulators In the Dark

By Tony Schick, April 4, 2019 4:48 p.m. | Portland, Ore.

If oil is moving through Oregon, it’s Michael Zollitsch’s job to know about it. He oversees the state’s emergency responses to oil spills and other environmental disasters.

But last March, when Bloomberg News reported oil from Canada’s tar sands was rolling through Zenith Energy’s storage facility in Northwest Portland on its way to Asia, it caught him by surprise.

“News to me!!” he wrote to his staff at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, and to Richard Franklin, a regional spill coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Me, too!” Franklin wrote back.

It wasn’t the first time oil spill regulators were in the dark about oil shipments through Oregon, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Documents obtained by OPB under Oregon’s public records law show regulators struggled for months to get straight answers about what kind of oil was moving on trains — dubbed “rolling pipelines” by their critics — through Portland and when.

Tank cars on the train tracks outside of the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland also contain a placard warning of toxic inhalation.
Tank cars on the train tracks outside of the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland also contain a placard warning of toxic inhalation. Tony Schick/OPB

State officials resorted to tracking ships along the Columbia River and guessing how much oil they might be loading based on the amount of ballast water on board — a far cry from the 24-hour notice Washington facilities send regulators for all oil-by-rail shipments.

When DEQ did learn the chemical makeup of that oil, according to the documents, they discovered a potential risk of toxic inhalation for workers and neighbors of the facility: The oil contains enough hydrogen sulfide that the safety data sheets for the product call for spill responders to wear not just masks but fully supplied air, similar to a scuba tank.

Megan Mastal, a public relations representative for Zenith, which operates 24 facilities in the U.S. and internationally, said in an emailed statement that the company has been up front with regulators and that the oil it handles does not pose any additional hazards.

“Our customers trust us with safe and efficient storage of their critical product,” Mastal said. “Zenith provides services to some of the largest companies in the world and has passed their vigorous inspection and vetting requirements. We are proud of our employees and their dedication to our safety-first culture.”

Oregon Lags

For six years oil trains have been rolling through Oregon — including one in 2016 that derailed and exploded in the Columbia River Gorge. And yet, the government workers charged with preventing and cleaning up oil spills in Oregon remain as in the dark as ever about many of these shipments. That’s largely because of successful industry lobbying efforts and the reluctance of Oregon’s legislature to pass rules already enacted in neighboring states.

While lawmakers have passed bans on offshore oil drilling and fracking — both unlikely prospects in Oregon — they have done relatively little to regulate the real and present danger that oil could spill from trains rumbling through the state.

For the fourth session in a row, the Oregon Legislature is now considering new rules for oil trains. House Bill 2209 would require DEQ oversight of railroad oil spill planning and assesses fees on railroads to help pay for the state’s work.

Already this session, lawmakers have introduced two bills that would match the stronger requirements in Washington — and let them die without so much as a public hearing. Now, with the session in its 12th week, lawmakers are advancing a less restrictive proposal, House Bill 2209, which was developed in collaboration with Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway, among others.

This comes as oil-by-rail shipments out of Canada’s oil sands have been on the rise. Existing businesses in Oregon have quietly shifted operations to handle more of it, even as plans for brand new fossil fuel projects have been rejected up and down the Northwest.

With the loosest rules on the West Coast, environmentalists fear Oregon has become the path of least resistance for an oil that sinks in water and, they say, could devastate iconic fisheries and waterways.

On the Columbia River, a company known as Global Partners LP successfully changed its port lease to allow for heavy crude at its Clatskanie, Oregon, facility. That facility was originally built as a bio-refinery in 2009 with $36 million in green energy loans and tax tax credits from the state.

And on the Willamette River, an oil terminal owned by Zenith Energy in Northwest Portland is under construction to nearly quadruple railcar loading capacity at what used to be an asphalt plant.

“This is really troubling, to see that Oregon’s environmental laws aren’t standing up to oil trains in the way most people would expect. Particularly in the wake of the Mosier oil train disaster. It’s really alarming,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for the Columbia Riverkeeper.

DEQ’s attempts to regulate the Zenith terminal show how ill-informed and ill-prepared the state’s oil spill responders can be under the state’s current regulations for oil by rail.

Regulators In The Dark

At various points throughout 2018, Zenith’s terminal manager informed DEQ that the company was switching away from Canadian crude to a lighter oil, and that it was moving away from crude entirely, according to agency emails.

The company also switched its planned oil spill drill to prepare for diesel instead of tar sands crude — an entirely different type of response.

“He claims that over the next 3 years the facility will primarily be handling diesel and he does not expect any more shipments of the heavy crude oil for some time,” Scott Smith, who regulates the Zenith facility for DEQ, wrote in an email to colleagues.

That didn’t happen.

Zenith continued to handle heavy crude from Canada. Its current construction indicates it is increasing that business.

In an emailed statement, Mastal said Zenith never told DEQ it was shifting operations away from crude oil, only that it was switching the type of crude oil. She also said a large part of the company’s Portland business plan is now attracting renewable fuels.

“There appears to be a misunderstanding of industry terminology as it relates to various grades and types of oil,” Mastal said in the statement.

Records show it took Smith weeks to obtain the chemical data sheets telling him exactly what the terminal was handling, something he usually gets before a new product is being shipped.

“One of the most important things we look at it is, ‘What is the oil or chemical that spilled and its physical and chemical properties?’” Smith later told OPB. “They determine how we respond.”

Those sheets contained another surprise: There’s hydrogen sulfide in the dilbit crude, as the industry refers to diluted bitumen crude from the tar sands.

“I was alarmed to see that the Tar Sands they are working with now require full face air supplied respirators or SCBA’s [self-contained breathing apparatuses],” Smith wrote in an email obtained by OPB. He told fellow regulators at DEQ and the Department of Labor that the tar sands oils had other properties that call for extra precaution.

According to DEQ, the risk of toxic inhalation from hydrogen sulfide significantly reduces the number of potential responders in the event of a spill, because not all of them or trained or equipped for it. That also limits the speed of response, if people need to be evacuated and work in shifts because of limited air supply.

Depending on weather, spilled oil containing hydrogen sulfide could pose an air quality risk to neighbors, according to DEQ.

“Zenith disagrees with the implication there are additional hazards brought on by Dilbit Crude,” wrote Mastal, the Zenith public relations representative in her emailed response to questions.

Mastal said the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the crude handled on site are below federal exposure limits for workers. She said the company has emergency equipment and procedures in place, and that Zenith has extensive experience handling heavy crude, including drills in four of the past five years.

After questions from DEQ, the company hired an industrial hygienist to assess the risks from the crude oil it is stores. Zenith has since updated its official spill response plan to account for toxic inhalation risks.

Share...

    Washington Republican asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

    Repost from American Shipper

    Lawmaker asks USDOT to consider further crude-by-rail regulations

    Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., has requested the Department of Transportation study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.
    BY BEN MEYER |FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

    U.S. House Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider further regulation of freight trains carrying crude oil.

    Beutler earlier this week sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Federal Railroad Administrator Sara Feinberg and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez asking DOT to study potential methods for reducing the combustibility of crude oil trains.

    Specifically, Beutler asked DOT to consider whether interspersing oil tank cars with non-volatile commodities might make them less likely to catch fire in the event of a derailment.

    Beutler’s letter was largely prompted by a growing number of destructive derailments involving crude oil trains in recent years, the largest of which claimed the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013.

    Back in June, a Union Pacific Corp. train carrying crude oil derailed near Mosier, Ore., about 68 miles east of Portland, causing some of the tank cars to burst into flames and spill oil into an adjacent section of the Columbia River. That train was en route from Eastport, Idaho to Tacoma, Wash. carrying crude oil from the Bakken formation, which is more flammable and dangerous than other types of crude oil.

    “Although far less catastrophic than it could have been, the [Mosier] derailment highlighted the need for strong safety measures to address shipments of volatile and hazardous commodities through the Columbia River Gorge – whether related, or unrelated to oil shipments,” Beutler wrote in the letter. “Subsequently, I am writing to request information on dispersing tank cars carrying oil, or other hazardous materials, with non-volatile products throughout trains.”

    She asked DOT to consider whether continuous blocks of oil tank cars increases the risks of combustion, potential benefits of requiring disbursement of cars carrying flammable materials throughout a train, and possible effects on combustibility of use of newer DOT-117 tank cars.

    In addition, Beutler asked if federal regulators have studied speed limits reduction for oil trains as a way to mitigate the risk of combustion.

    Washington state lawmakers last month adopted new regulations surrounding the transportation of crude oil by rail and pipeline that officially take effect Oct. 1. Developed by the Washington Department of Ecology at the request of the legislature, Chapter 173-185 WAC, Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline Notification, established reporting standards for facilities receiving crude oil transported by rail and pipeline, and for the department to share information with emergency responders, local governments, tribes and the public.

    On the federal level, DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration, in August released final rules amending the federal hazardous materials regulations related to the transport of crude oil and ethanol by rail.

    The rule changes, first introduced by DOT in May 2015 as required by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, include an enhanced tank car standard and an “aggressive, risk-based” retrofitting schedule for older tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol.

    In addition, the rules require trains transporting large volumes of flammable liquids to use a new braking standard; employ new operational protocols such as routing requirements and speed restrictions; share information with local government agencies; and provide new sampling and testing requirements DOT said will “improve classification of energy products placed into transport.”

    The Senate in May unanimously passed the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act, which aims to provide additional training for first responders, specifically for handling freight train derailments that include hazardous materials such as crude oil.

    Originally sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., the legislation establishes a public-private council of emergency responders, federal agencies and industry stakeholders tasked with reviewing current training methods and prescribing best practices for first responders to Congress. The council will be co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and PHMSA. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has introduced a companion bill to the RESPONSE Act in the House of Representatives.

    “Currently, oil trains are traveling along the Columbia River Gorge, and my focus is on ensuring federal regulations are making these shipments as safely as possible,” Beutler said in a statement. “Long lines of oil cars are becoming a more familiar sight in our region, and if breaking them up into smaller blocks will better protect our citizens, the Columbia River and nearby forests, we should put a federal standard in place – quickly.”

    Share...

      Joining Trend, NY Suspends Review of Oil Train Terminal Permit

      Repost from Inside Climate News

      Joining Trend, NY Suspends Review of Oil Train Terminal Permit

      Another fight over energy infrastructure ramps up, as state regulators require company to address environmental justice, safety and climate change concerns.
      By Zahra Hirji, September 23, 2016
      New York regulators have suspended the application of a major oil-by-rail terminal project pending review of potential environmental, health and climate change impacts. Credit: STEEVE DUGUAY/AFP/Getty Images

      New York environmental regulators have suspended their review of two proposals to renew and expand operations at a Port of Albany oil terminal until Global Partners LP addresses a laundry list of concerns over environmental, public health, safety and climate change.

      Officials at the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) told the company in a letter on Sept. 16 it has three months to provide plans for the following:

      • limiting the oil terminal’s odors and emissions from toxic pollutants, such as benzene
      • addressing high noise levels and safety risks associated with oil trains coming to the facility
      • reducing the terminal’s climate footprint, among other issues.

      DEC also informed Global Partners that it is combining the company’s renewal and expansion proposals and treating it like an application for a new project. This dramatic step means even after the company provides the extra information requested by the state, the application will undergo a public comment period and be considered for a comprehensive environmental and climate impact review.

      The full review process could take years.

      Environmentalists, Albany residents and county officials celebrated the decision, having spent more than two years raising concerns about the oil terminal’s current and proposed operations and fighting it in court.

      This case joins a national trend of green and grassroots activism helping to delay and cancel dozens of proposals for new and expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, from oil sands and natural gas pipelines to oil terminals and coal mines. Earlier this month, construction of part of the Dakota Access oil pipeline was halted by the Obama administration in North Dakota, following months of protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe objecting to the project’s potential threat to its drinking water and sacred sites.

      “What is so gratifying about the DEC letter is that it requires Global to address every single issue we have raised since 2014,” said Chris Amato, an Earthjustice lawyer who represents the tenants association for Ezra Prentice Homes, a low-income housing development located next to the rail yard associated with the oil terminal. According to Amato, the community “is really, really happy that at long last Global is going to have to…examine the impacts.”

      Ezra Prentice Homes is among the communities in the south end of Albany at risk from air pollution and potential train fires. “They are literally at the fence line” of the train tracks, Amato said. “Twenty feet separate the closest homes from oil tankers on the track.”

      People in Albany’s South End, which is largely African American, had repeatedly complained to state officials about bad odors wafting from the facilities, among other concerns, since 2012.

      “This is a victory for the people of the Ezra Prentice Homes and for the people in the county who live in fear of oil trains every day,” Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said in a statement.

      In response to DEC’s recent letter, Global defended its record. “We disagree with the New York DEC’s decision and believe that we have fully complied with the required permit application process,” said Mark Horan of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, which represents the company. “Global has always been particularly vigilant about the safety of our neighbors wherever we operate and we will continue to work with the Albany community on these issues.”

      Global Partners filed a permit request to state officials in 2011 seeking to overhaul its operations to handle more oil. The facility went from handling more than 18 million gallons of oil that year to more than 460 million gallons in 2012, according to the DEC. The facility’s oil capacity peaked in 2014 at more than 1.1 billion gallons of oil, but it has since declined as the oil market has slumped.

      The source of the oil and how it traveled to the facility also changed during that time. Initially, the oil coming in was refined; it arrived from barges that came up the Hudson River and was then trucked out regionally. The company began handling unrefined, more volatile (and potentially explosive) crude arriving on trains from North Dakota.

      Global sought to expand its operations further in 2013, submitting a permit modification request to add seven boilers to the site. Boilers are critical equipment for handling and storing Canadian tar sands; the thick crude is so viscous it must be heated before it can be transferred from a train car to a storage tank.

      The company’s initial expansion plan flew under the radar of Albany residents and the environmental community. Global’s 2013 proposals, however, were loudly protested. And regulators responded by installing a permanent air monitor near the Ezra Prentice community in 2015. According to officials, the air showed elevated levels of benzene. Regulators cited these findings in their recent letter.

      “The DEC has monitored higher-than-expected benzene levels in the vicinity of the facility that may be attributable, in part, to the storage and processing of petroleum products at the Global facility,” regulators wrote. “Global must address what measures it intends to take to limit, to the maximum extent practicable, any benzene emissions attributable to the facility.”

      DEC has identified Albany’s South End, which includes Ezra Prentice Homes,as an “environmental justice” community associated with Global’s operations. In 2013, the DEC updated its environmental justice policy to include more public participation requirements for projects with potential impacts on such communities. In the recent letter, DEC specifically orders Global to take these steps.

      Another task for Global, identified by DEC, is to devise a plan to limit any climate impacts associated with the future handling of oil sands, a crude that generates especially high emissions during extraction and processing.

      “New York is the most aggressive state in the nation in pursuing action to ensure the public and the environment are protected from risks associated with the federally regulated transport of crude oil,” DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald wrote in an email.

      State officials are also conducting a more comprehensive review for the permit renewal application of Buckeye Partners, another energy companywith an Albany rail terminal.

      Share...