Category Archives: Tank car retrofit

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Rail Industry Requests Massive Loophole in Oil-by-Rail Safety To Extend Bomb Trains Well Beyond 2025

By Justin Mikulka, July 21, 2016 – 13:00

In the most recent oil-by-rail accident in Mosier, Oregon the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) concluded that the tank cars involved — the jacketed CPC-1232 type — “performed as expected.” So an oil train derailing at the relatively slow speed of 25 mph should be “expected” to have breached cars resulting in fiery explosions.

Current regulations allow those tank cars to continue rolling on the track carrying volatile Bakken crude oil and ethanol until 2025 with no modifications.

Yet industry lobbying group the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) has now requested the Federal Railroad Administration to essentially allow these jacketed CPC-1232 tank cars to remain on the tracks for decades beyond 2025.

This was just one of the troubling facts that came to light at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) roundtable on tank car safety on July 13th, and perhaps the one of greatest concern to anyone living in an oil train blast zone like Mosier, Oregon.

Just Re-Stencil It and Call It a DOT 117

One of the biggest risks with Bakken oil train accidents is that often the only way to deal with the fires is to let them burn themselves out. This can result in full tank cars becoming engulfed in flames for hours or days in what is known as a pool fire. This can lead to a “thermal tear” in the tank and the signature mushroom cloud of fire so often seen with these derailments.

The new regulations address this issue by requiring tank cars to have a layer of ceramic insulation covering the entire tank car to prevent the oil from heating up to the point of creating a thermal tear (ceramic shown in pink in the image below.)


Image credit: NTSB

However, the RSI has requested the FRA to allow the existing jacketed CPC-1232 cars, like the ones in the Mosier accident, to not require the ceramic thermal protection.

The industry’s argument is that the current fiberglass insulation on the CPC-1232 is sufficient protection. However, the fact that the fiberglass insulation was not designed to protect the contents of a tank car from fire does not seem to bother the RSI.

At the same time the RSI is arguing against thermal protection for CPC-1232s, the RSI has helpful videos on its website explaining the new safety features for DOT-117 tank cars — including “thermal protection.”

The NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt summed up what this request would mean in one simple statement at the July 13 round table event saying, “the same type of cars as in Mosier can be re-stenciled as DOT-117R with nothing more than a new bottom outlet valve.” [R stands for retrofit.]

So, they are essentially asking to paint over the CPC-1232 label on the tank cars with a DOT-117 while doing nothing more than changing the bottom outlet valve. Which means we should expect many more accidents like Mosier in the future since most of these CPC-1232 cars are only a few years old and they have an expected working life of 30-40 years.

As Robert Sumwalt said in his opening statement explaining why we should expect many more fiery oil train derailments with the existing tank car fleet, “just do the math.”

Industry Arguments Laughable If Not For the Consequences

Would you believe that one of the arguments made at the roundtable in favor of not requiring thermal protection on these cars was that the oil itself acts as a heat sink? Which is true. Until the point where the oil absorbs so much heat from the fire that the tank car explodes.

However, the reason this argument is given credibility is that the regulations only require a tank car to endure sitting in a pool fire for 100 minutes without exploding. Forget the fact that many of the Bakken oil train accidents have involved fires that burned for days.

This 100-minute limit was the same reasoning used to justify the fiberglass insulation on the current jacketed CPC-1232 as offering sufficient protection, as per the industry request. Which led to the following exchange between the NTSB’s Sumwalt and RSI representative John Byrne.

Byrne: “In our own modeling the fiberglass insulation system met the federal requirement for thermal protection.”

Sumwalt: “But in reality in the fiberglass situation, doesn’t the fiberglass all just melt… doesn’t it also melt and all end up pooling down in the bottom in the void between the blanket and the shell?”

Byrne: “Basically yes…but at the same time, that whole system acts as a thermal protection system in that it meets the requirement based on the federal law.”

Sumwalt: “Ok, thanks. So it meets the requirements.”

So, along with the oil itself being offered as adequate thermal protection, we also get fiberglass that melts in a fire being offered as protection for anyone in the blast zone.

So what did the regulators have to say about this absurd argument?

FRA’s Karl Alexy made it clear that “industry” concerns were receiving serious consideration saying, “we’re not taking it lightly, we understand what it means to industry… be certain that we are taking this very seriously.”

Well, we do understand what it means to the industry. Adding ceramic thermal protection would cut into profits. And one thing that was made clear repeatedly during the day’s discussion was that this was all about the money and that safety was only for people worried about “risk.”

As usual when there is a discussion about oil train safety, the oil industry lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute had a seat at the table. API representative Susan Lemieux cut to the heart of the issue with some actual honesty.

“In the industry we don’t see transportation as a risk, it is just a function of business.”

Why try to improve the situation when you don’t see any risk?

The FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have informed DeSmog that they will issue a formal response to the industry’s request to allow the fiberglass to qualify as thermal protection in the near future.

The Ground Rules – Profits Over Safety

In the above slide shown of the DOT-117, there is one other important thing to note. The shells on those tank cars are 9/16th of an inch thick. The shells of the jacketed CPC-1232 are 7/16th of an inch thick. This difference has safety implications as the thinner shells rupture more easily.  The RSI points out this fact in a video on its website about the advantages of the thicker shells on the DOT-117 which they say are “less prone to puncture.”

But the more important difference, as we have pointed out repeatedly at DeSmog, is that safer car designs are heavier, which means they can transport less oil per car. That lower capacity again cuts into profits. This point was made by ExxonMobil in a slide they presented to regulators arguing against thicker tank shells.

While Exxon was not at the roundtable, plenty of oil and rail industry representatives were, and they made this point very clear.

Gabe Claypool, President of oil train operators Dakota Plains, explained why it made economic sense to use CPC-1232s over DOT-117s.

“A lot of it’s economics as well…we were just having a conversation around the sizing of the car, the 1232 car type is very much in abundance and it is also a larger car. In the current category of still trying to be profitable, if I can get that extra volume in a larger car that is still regulatorally [sic] compliant, they’re [sic] gonna stick with that.”

Richard Kloster of rail consulting firm Alltranstek was one of the more vocal participants during the roundtable and he repeatedly made points about the economics of retrofitting the CPC-1232 over buying the new DOT-117 saying, “The retrofit is always going to win economically.”

Kloster also made it clear where the industry put its priorities when it came to safety versus profit saying, “There has got to be a balance between safety and the economic viability of moving these products by rail” and that there were a “lot of cases, you know, where economics wins all the time but risk trumps economics in some cases.”

Economics wins all the time.

There was one representative from labor at the roundtable who did not offer a comment until the final closing segment, but he also shared the reality of what was driving the decisionmaking when he discussed the need for safety but stated, “I know it’s about money.”

ExxonMobil Wins Again

So, in the end, ExxonMobil and the oil industry have won again. Watching this roundtable and the many congressional hearings and previous NTSB events in the past few years and seeing the lack of progress on real safety improvements, it almost seems like this all was orchestrated from the start.

In the years leading up to the latest tank car rulemaking, the industry essentially ordered a whole new fleet of CPC-1232 cars which they are currently using. The CPC-1232 cars have the thinner tank shells which makes them more prone to puncture and also more profitable. And they are ok to use, unchanged, until 2025. If the industry request is approved, those cars will just need new bottom outlet valves after 2025.

Regardless, they will always have the thinner tank shells, like Exxon wanted.

At the end of the July 13 event, Robert Sumwalt made an interesting statement. He said, “some of us met yesterday to go over the ground rules.”

The meeting where they went over the ground rules was not open to the public or media. If one were to hazard a guess as to what the first and foremost ground rule set was, it would be a safe bet to posit it was that “economics wins all the time.”

Blog Image Credit: Dawn Faught via NTSB

 

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NY TIMES / AP: Slow Progress Seen on Faulty Rail Cars

Repost from the New York Times (AP)

Upgrades to Unsafe Tank Cars Could Take 15 Years, Board Says

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press, July 13, 2016, 2:30 A.M. E.D.T.
Oil Train Accidents
FILE–In this June 3, 2016, file frame from video provided by KGW-TV, smoke billows from a Union Pacific train that derailed near Mosier, Ore., in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. U.S. safety officials say they’ve seen slow progress in efforts to upgrade or replace tens of thousands of rupture-prone rail cars used to transport oil and ethanol, despite a string of fiery derailments. (KGW-TV via AP, file)

BILLINGS, Mont. — Accident-prone tank cars used to haul crude oil and ethanol by rail could remain in service for another 15 years under federal rules that allow companies to phase in upgrades to the aging fleet, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Transportation officials and railroad representatives have touted the rules as a key piece of their efforts to stave off future disasters, following a string of fiery derailments and major spills that raised concerns about the crude-by-rail industry.

Yet without mandatory, periodic benchmarks for meeting the requirements, the decision to upgrade to safer tank car designs “is left entirely to tank car fleet owners, and may be driven by market factor influences, not safety improvements,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Tom Simpson with the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car manufacturers and owners, said the industry is committed to putting stronger cars in place. Members of the group will meet deadlines for replacing or upgrading the cars, he said, noting that demand for rail cars has eased after crude-by-rail shipments decreased over the past two years in response to lower oil prices.

“The need to modify or install new cars isn’t as urgent as when the rule was issued,” Simpson said.

In recent years, accidents involving the older cars have occurred in Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Illinois, West Virginia and Canada.

The most notable was in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway oil train derailed in 2013. During the most recent accident last month in Oregon, 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled, sparking a massive fire that burned for 14 hours near the small town of Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge.

Cars built before the rule was enacted do not have to be fully replaced until 2029, although most would have to come off the tracks sooner.

Just over 10,300 stronger tank cars mandated by the new rules are available for service, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press from the Association of American Railroads.

That’s equivalent to roughly 20 percent of the 51,500 tank cars used to haul crude and ethanol during the first quarter of 2016.

Transportation Department Press Secretary Clark Pettig said in response to the NTSB’s criticism that the schedule to retrofit older cars was locked in by Congress in a transportation bill approved last year. The Congressional deadline represents “the absolute last moment” to meet the new standards, Pettig said.

“We agree with NTSB that industry should work to beat those deadlines,” he said.

A Wednesday meeting was planned in Washington, D.C., where government and industry officials were set to update the safety board on progress addressing the issue.

Safety board member Robert Sumwalt told the Associated Press that federal regulators need to set milestones to hold the industry accountable.

“There’s been 28 accidents over the past 10 years. That’s almost three accidents a year,” Sumwalt said. “Unfortunately, history shows we probably will have more accidents involving flammable liquids.”

A bill from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and other Democratic lawmakers would offer tax credits for companies that upgrade their cars during the next several years.

“Communities near train tracks, like Mosier, Oregon, must be confident that companies are using the safest tank cars possible,” Wyden said.

The railroad association said only 700 of the least resilient model of the older-style tank cars remain in service. Most of the cars in current use have at least some improvements, such as shields at either end of the car to help prevent punctures during derailments.

Transportation officials cautioned, however, that thousands of idled “legacy cars” could quickly come back online if oil prices rise and shipment volumes rebound.

Most tank cars are owned or leased by companies that ship fuel by rail, not the railroads themselves.

“Every tank car carrying crude or ethanol needs to be upgraded or replaced,” said railroad association spokesman Ed Greenberg.

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BENICIA HERALD: City Council hears public comments on crude by rail

Repost from the Benicia Herald Online
[Editor: For Tuesday’s comments on Valero Crude By Rail by Marilyn Bardet and Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Steve Young, skip down to the red bullet.  – RS]

Council hears about crude by rail, water infrastructure and EMS costs Tuesday

By Elizabeth Warnimont, July 7, 2016

BeniciaHerald_logoAt its regular meeting Tuesday, Benicia City Council had a busy meeting with lots of activity. First, the Council recognized the Parks and Community Services Department with a proclamation declaring July, 2016 as “Parks Make Life Better Month,” in conjunction with the statewide designation. Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission member Rich Payne accepted the proclamation from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the City Council.

The Council also confirmed Johanna Ely as Benicia’s sixth poet laureate. Ely spoke briefly about the activities and aims of the laureate program and read a selection of poetry including one titled, “Ode to the Library.”

The final item preceding the council’s consent calendar was a presentation by Assistant Public Works Director Christian Di Renzo on advanced metering infrastructure. Di Renzo provided an overview of the systems currently being considered by the city, outlined the benefits of acquiring a new, electronic metering system, and answered questions posed by the council and a member of the public.

Public comment

Marilyn Bardet
Marilyn Bardet

During the public comment period, Marilyn Bardet showed the council photos of both the aftermath of the recent Mosier, Ore. train derailment and explosion as well as some of the Union Pacific track and refuse currently visible in Benicia that she felt were of concern. One photo showed piles of black powder that Bardet referred to as coke dust that has spilled from hopper cars on railroad tracks near Bayshore Road in Benicia, and one showed warped track rail near the trestle towers, among other photos of concern. Bardet pointed out that the discarded railroad ties in one photo presented a fire hazard due to their creosote content.

Bardet suggested that these items be considered for remediation.

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council
Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young also addressed the Council, as a resident, about the June 23 preliminary findings concerning the recent Oregon crude oil train derailment.

The Federal Railroad Administration report is titled, “Preliminary Factual Findings Report, Derailment of Union Pacific’s Unit Crude Oil Train Transporting Bakken Crude Oil for U.S. Oil, Mosier, Oregon.” Young read from the report’s executive summary. A complete copy of the report is available at the city of Benicia website at ci.benicia.ca.us.

The involved, Dot-111 tank cars, modified to 1232 standards, were equipped with full height head shields and metal jackets with insulation. These cars are commonly referred to as jacketed 1232s. During the derailment, a coupler struck one car, mechanically puncturing it. This puncture allowed crude oil to come in contact with an ignition source, leading to a fire that burned for approximately 14 hours.

The four cars involved in the fire were the punctured car and three additional tank cars, two that had their bottom outlet valves sheared off by the derailment and one car with the gasket melted out from under the manway cover.

The Valero proposal, Young pointed out, calls for the use of non-jacketed 1232 cars. These have no full-height head shields and no jackets with insulation. Another concern is the bottom release valves, a common source of ignition in derailment incidents. These valves shear off, causing a leak and then the subsequent fire. The more advanced tank cars have the valve located on top.

Young reminded the Council that Valero is proposing to buy or lease these tank cars. If safety is truly Valero’s first priority, he suggested, then the added expense of choosing safer cars would certainly seem to be worth any added expense. He asked that the Council consider these issues when it addresses the proposal again in September. He added that an even safer car, the Dot-117, will be required by federal law by the year 2020, and suggested that again, in the interest of safety, Valero might consider opting for that model.

SONET
The Council approved a resolution to accept a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Solano County Sheriff’s Office regarding the Benicia Police Department hiring of a full time Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Enforcement Team (SONET) officer, who would report to the SONET sergeant. The officer’s salary would be provided by the sheriff’s office. A resolution approving the MOU was approved by unanimous vote.

First responder fee overview
Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon presented the Council with a report on the option for the fire department to begin assessing fees for services provided by its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team. The department would collect insurance coverage information from patients at the point of service and hand them a notice stating that they would be contacting their insurance companies on their behalf.

Chief Lydon emphasized that the department would utilize compassionate billing, which means that the insurance portion of any incurred costs would be considered payment in full, and that fees would only be assessed for services and not for transportation, which is currently provided by an outside ambulance company. He also noted that no patients would be billed directly from the fire department, regardless of their insurance coverage status.

Councilmember Tom Campbell expressed concern over the legality of the compassionate billing procedure and Chief Lydon agreed to investigate that topic further, though he noted that Bay Area cities already following that procedure have not yet encountered problems, to his knowledge.

The presentation was intended to be strictly informational. The fire department desired direction from council as to whether or not to pursue the idea, and council indicated that they should proceed.

PG&E exit fees
Councilmember Alan Schwartzman provided the Council with some information pertaining to a proposal to submit a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA) fee, essentially an exit fee, charged by Pacific Gas & Electric to customers who have switched to Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) providers such as Marin Clean Energy (MCE).

Schwartzman, an MCE board member as it happens, began by reading from the staff report accompanying the City Council agenda, a complete copy of which is available by visiting the city of Benicia web site under Agendas and Minutes, or by calling the city at 746-4200. Schwartzman’s reading is paraphrased here:

MCE has requested that the city of Benicia submit a letter to the CPUC regarding the PCIA charge increase. The CPUC has consistently denied adequate public input to discuss the fee. Earlier this year, PG&E increased this fee by 95 percent. The proposed letter asks the CPUC to provide a venue for public input. The charge is assessed by PG&E on a per-kilowatt basis to cover power generation costs acquired prior to a customer’s change in service provider.

Schwartzman explained that PG&E procures energy based on anticipated need, so that when customers switch away from PG&E, the company is left with the cost burden of the energy it has already acquired, without corresponding reimbursement from customers.

The CPUC approved the increases at a public meeting, but without allowing CCAs access to the data they would need in order to effectively predict the amount of the fee, information which they would like to be able to pass along to their customers. All CCAs are currently working with the CPUC and Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), in order to inform customers how the PCIA fees are calculated and to remain cost competitive.

MCE is asking the city of Benicia to request that the CPUC allow a workshop for public input in order to fairly deal with the PCIA fee.

A motion to approve the submittal of the letter was approved by unanimous vote.

More information
A complete copy of the meeting agenda is available at the city of Benicia website at ci.benicia.ca.us or by calling the city at 746-4200. Minutes of the meeting are typically available about two weeks after the date of the meeting. The next City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, July 19 at Council Chambers, City Hall, 250 East L St., beginning at 7 p.m.

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