[Today’s news is welcome. Rep. Garamendi doesn’t represent Benicia, but he does represent uprail cities that would have been affected by Valero’s dangerous and dirty proposal to bring oil trains across California. Garamendi’s bill, HR 5553, has 4 co-sponsors, but does not include Benicia’s representative Mike Thompson. Let’s hope Mike will get behind this effort! – R.S.]
John Garamendi introduces crude-by-rail safety bill
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, introduced legislation Wednesday to ensure safer standards for the transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials by train.
House Resolution 5553, also known as the “Crude By Rail Volatility Standards Act,” aims to establish a safety standard for the maximum volatility for crude oils and similar materials transported by rail. It also requires that all crude by rail in America adhere to the New York Mercantile Exchange’s maximum Reid vapor pressure for crude-oil futures contracts of 9.5 pounds per square inch, Garamendi’s office wrote in a news release.
The current industry standard would remain in place until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) completes the rule setting a maximum volatility standard that was first announced in 2017 after the attorneys general of six states, including California, petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation and PHMSA to finalize the regulation nationwide.
“Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil-by-rail, lives are at risk,” Garamendi said in a statement. “My bill simply requires oil companies to decrease the volatility to market levels, rather than carrying unstable products through communities. I am committed to enacting this legislation into law this year as part of the surface transportation reauthorization.”
Garamendi, who is a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has been trying to get legislation passed since 2015 to prohibit crude oil from being transported by rail unless it adheres to the New York Mercantile Exchange’s maximum Reid vapor pressure. Garamendi’s office wrote that the actions were influenced by numerous crude-by-rail derailments in previous years, including an accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013 which killed 47 people and led to changes in operations for Canadian railways.
The topic of crude by rail became a hot-button issue in Solano County in 2013 when the Valero Benicia Refinery announced plans to extend rail lines to have crude-oil delivered to its plant by train rather than by boat. The project — which would have passed through Dixon, Suisun City and Fairfield — was met with opposition and was subsequently voted down by the Benicia Planning Commission and then the City Council.
Garamendi’s co-sponsors on the bill are Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Bill Foster, D-Ill.; Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.; and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, as part of a multistate coalition, filed a comment letter to the Department of Transportation in support of the State of Washington and in opposition to an attempt by North Dakota and Montana to preempt Washington laws that create a limit on the level of vapor pressure allowed when transporting highly-flammable crude oil by freight rail.
These trains are often known as “bomb trains” because of the high intensity fires and violent explosions that can result from accidents and derailments. These trains travel through California, passing through both highly populated communities and areas adjacent to California’s most sensitive ecological areas.
The state asserts that Washington’s rules are both permissible and necessary in light of the risks of crude-by-rail in Washington and the EPA’s inaction on establishing protective standards, putting communities at risk.
“States play an important role in protecting the health and safety of their citizens,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Millions of Californians live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of railroad tracks. We can’t afford to wait for the next disaster before taking action on the transport of dangerous and flammable oil moving through our communities. A derailment or explosion in California could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways. This risk is simply unacceptable.”
California supports Washington’s efforts to protect the public health and safety of its residents and its environment while the federal government dithers over adopting necessary regulations. The attorneys general underscore that their paramount concern will remain protecting the health and safety of citizens, first responders, and the environment within the parameters of the state’s existing authority.
Attorney General Becerra filed the comment letter with the attorneys general of New York, Maryland, and New Jersey.
Federal Government Foot-Dragging Helps Oil Industry Delay Oil-by-Rail Rules
By Justin Mikulka, April 5, 2019 – 13:18
In an attempt to reduce the risk of fiery oil train accidents, the state of Washington is working to pass a bill that would limit the vapor pressure of oil on trains to below 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a measure of the volatility of flammable liquids and correlates to their likelihood of igniting. Higher vapor pressure means an oil is more volatile and more likely to ignite and burn when a train derails.
“If the federal government won’t act to protect public safety and adopt a safer nationwide standard, we will adopt our own,” state Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) said of the bill he sponsored. “There is just too much to lose — for people and our environment.”
Billig’s comments point to the federal government’s repeated failure to address the volatility of the oil moving by rail in America.
The Obama administration specifically left this issue out of the Department of Transportation’s 2015 regulations on moving oil by rail. In May 2017, half a dozen state attorneys general petitioned the federal government to regulate vapor pressure, which resulted in a proposed rule at the end of the Obama administration.
This oil train vapor pressure rule has gone nowhere in the Trump administration.
The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, North Dakota. Credit: U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration
Unsurprisingly, the state of North Dakota, where much of the highly volatile crude oil moved by rail in America is produced, opposes Washington state’s rule and is preparing to sue the state over it.
However, in a surprising moment of honesty, North Dakota’s top oil regulator didn’t bother pretending this opposition was about safety and instead revealed the real motivation: money.
The crude coming out of oil fields like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale is rich in natural gas liquids such as propane and butane, which make the oil more dangerous to transport but also more valuable. A value the industry and its allies in government aren’t willing to relinquish.
However, this isn’t really news. I wrote about a similar message from a North Dakota oil producer in 2014 when he too was opposing regulations to reduce the vapor pressure of Bakken oil before rail transport.
“The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.
North Dakota Using Federal Government Delays to Avoid Regulation
Once trains carrying volatile oil from the Bakken Shale started blowing up on a regular basis in 2013, it became clear that the oil itself was part of the problem. Its high amounts of natural gas liquids make the oil more volatile and therefore more likely to catch fire and explode.
Which is true. But crude oil mixed with lots of propane and butane, such as the Bakken’s crude oil, does explode like that. And trains carrying oil from the Bakken continued to explode like that after derailing again and again.
The Obama administration argued that it couldn’t regulate oil vapor pressure because the issue was disputed scientifically and required more study. More than three years ago, I wrote that this was simply a delay tactic and that claiming the oil industry didn’t understand the fundamental science of crude oil was absurd:
“The oil industry and the government regulators in charge of regulating the industry don’t understand the basic science of oil. This is the core of the argument used to justify why they continue to run dangerous trains filled with Bakken oil through communities across North America. Do you believe them?
Despite the audacity of this position, it is being used to delay any new regulations and to support the idea that the mystery of why Bakken crude oil explodes must be studied for years before it would be possible to make any regulatory decisions.”
“The notion that this requires significant research and development is a bunch of BS,” Krishnamoorti wrote in an email response to Al Jazeera. “The science behind this has been revealed over 80 years ago, and developing a simple spreadsheet to calculate risk based on composition and vapor pressure is trivial. This can be done today.” [emphasis added]
The Departments of Energy and Transportation announced the start of a study that was supposed to resolve this issue — four years ago — in April of 2015. At the time, regulators referred to it as a two-year study.
In late 2016, at the Energy by Rail Conference in Arlington, Virginia, Suzanne Lemieux of the American Petroleum Institute gave a presentation on crude oil volatility and stabilization. While arguing once again that there wasn’t clear evidence that stabilizing oil reduces its volatility and risk, Lemieux noted that the federal study on the issue had been delayed. She said now it was expected to conclude sometime in 2018.
The explanation for the delay was that the researchers at Sandia National Laboratories were still collecting samples of the oil in late 2016 — almost a year and a half after the “two-year” study was announced.
And now, four years later, according to The Bismarck Tribune, North Dakota oil regulator Lynn Helms “encouraged [Washington] legislators to wait for the results of a Sandia National Laboratories study that was commissioned by the U.S.Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy.”
North Dakota’s top oil regulator is trying to convince legislators in Washington state that a proposal they’re considering to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil transported by rail is not supported by science.https://t.co/J0v3BNaiqh
Attorney General Becerra Calls on Trump to Close Loophole that Exposes Vulnerable California Communities to “Bomb Trains”
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Contact: (415) 703-5837, email@example.com
Without Action, California Could Be Exposed To Freight Trains Carrying Highly Flammable, Highly Explosive Crude Oil
San Bernardino-Riverside And San Luis Obispo Among Regions Bearing Greatest Potential Risks
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is urging the Trump Administration to immediately close a loophole to prevent highly flammable, highly explosive crude oil from being shipped by freight rail via so-called “bomb trains” through communities in California, including the highly populated San Bernardino-Riverside and San Luis Obispo regions. High hazard areas for derailments would exist along every freight rail route in California. Many of these areas are also adjacent to California’s most sensitive ecological areas.
“Millions of Californians live, work, and attend school within the vicinity of railroad train tracks,” said Attorney General Becerra. “A derailment or explosion in California could put countless lives at risk and cause major damage to our land and waterways. This risk is simply unacceptable. I urge the Trump Administration to act immediately.”
So-called “bomb trains” are responsible for several catastrophic rail accidents in recent years, including the 2013 explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.
In comments submitted to federal regulators, Attorney General Becerra called for immediate action that would require all crude oil transported by rail in the U.S. achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability. Attorney General Becerra joined attorneys general from Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York and Washington in calling for this requirement.
The comments were filed in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Earlier this month, as part of his efforts to protect vulnerable California communities, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit in federal court that seeks to protect state residents from dangerous pollution that results from coal mining. Coal mined on public lands is transported by train through California and exported from ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Richmond and Stockton — areas next to several vulnerable communities. The transport of coal in open-top rail cars, as well as its storage and handling at export terminals, emits dangerous pollution. These emissions can result in a wide variety of serious health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, cardio-vascular diseases and cancer.