Category Archives: Volatility

Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB

Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

By Amelia Templeton, June 4, 2016 4:39 p.m. | Updated: June 5, 2016 9:04 a.m.
Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday.
Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday. Amelia Templeton/OPB

Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

He’s changed his mind.

After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

“I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” he said. “I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

Federal regulators say oil from the Bakken region is more flammable and more dangerous, than other types of crude. It’s been involved in a string of rail disasters, including a tragedy that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

OPB Groups join forcesShipments through the Columbia River Gorge have dramatically increased in recent years and oil companies have proposed building the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country 70 miles downstream from Mosier, at the the Port of Vancouver.

Emergency responders in communities along rail lines in the Northwest have struggled to prepare for a possible disaster. Much of the focus has been on stockpiling critical equipment needed to fight oil spills and fires, including a special type of fire suppression foam.

But Appleton said that foam was of relatively little use for the first 10 hours after the spill in Mosier. It couldn’t be directly applied to the main rail car that was on fire.

“The rationale that was explained to me by the Union Pacific fire personnel is that the metal is too hot, and the foam will land on the white-hot metal and evaporate without any suppression effect,” he said. “That was kind of an eye-opener for me.”

Appleton said crews spent 8 to 10 hours cooling down the adjacent rail cars with water before the final burning car was cool enough to be extinguished using the firefighting foam. Fire tending trucks drew water from the Columbia River using a nearby orchard supply line, and applied roughly 1,500 gallons of water per minute to the white-hot rail cars.

Other first responders described a chaotic scene, and difficulty getting to the site of the accident due to a massive snarl of traffic on Interstate 84.

“It looked like the apocalypse,” said Elizabeth Sanchey, the Yakima Nation’s environmental manager and the head of its hazmat crew. “You get into town, and there is just exhausted firefighters everywhere you look. It was quite scary.”

Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior.
Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior. Amelia Templeton/OPB

No lives were lost in the fire, and reports so far of property damage have been minimal, but an oil slick has appeared in the Columbia River, and officials said they haven’t determined for sure how oil is reaching the water. Yellow oil containment booms were stretched across the river to contain the oil.

Sanchey and several other Yakama Nation first responders were monitoring the containment effort through binoculars from a nearby overpass.

“It’s unknown how much oil is in the river, but it is in containment now, and we believe it to be relatively safe,” she said. “We currently have a sockeye run that is just starting, and lamprey live in the sediment, so that’s definitely a concern. We have endangered species at risk.”

Jim Appleton said Friday was a horrible day for his town, and he feels like he narrowly avoided a catastrophe.

“If the same derailment had happened just 24 hours earlier, there would have been 35 mph gusts blowing the length of the train,” he said. “The fire very easily could have spread to some or all of the 96 cars behind, because they were in the line of the prevailing wind. That would have been the catastrophe.”

Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend.
Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend. Emily Schwing/OPB

In a press conference Saturday, the Union Pacific Railroad apologized for the incident.

“We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest Region,” said spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza.

Espinoza said the railroad company will pay for the cost of fighting the fire. She said it has to wait for the area to cool down before it can extract the cars that remain and remove them by flatbed truck.

The company said crude oil represents less than 1 percent of its cargo, and said it has trained more than 2,300 emergency responders across Oregon since 2010.

Union Pacific set up information and health hotlines for Mosier residents. The information hotline number is 1-877-877-2567. The health hotline number is 1-888-633-3120.

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    California Reps push rail safety amendments, vote no on gutted energy security bill

    By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent, December 6, 2015

    California Reps push rail safety amendments, vote no on gutted energy security bill

    Benicia’s neighboring congressional representatives, Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and John Garamendi (CA-3) co-sponsored TWO important amendments in new legislation passed recently by Republicans in the House.  The amendments were not enough to rescue a fundamentally bad bill.  DeSaulnier, Garamendi and Benicia’s rep, Mike Thompson (CA-5), all voted against passage.  (IMPORTANT: See Reasons below.)

    1.  According to a December 3 press release, a measure to improve the safety of crude oil rail shipments across the nation, introduced by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-17),  and Congressman John Garamendi (CA-3), was passed in the House by unanimous consent and included as an amendment to the Republican sponsored North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 8).

    The amendment requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study the maximum level of volatility that is safe for transporting crude oil-by-rail within one year. Since 2008, oil traffic has increased over 5,000 percent along rail routes leading from production zones in the central continent to refineries and hubs along the coast.

    “Crude oil production is at record levels, and railroads are moving more crude oil than ever. For over 25 years, I have represented areas in Contra Costa County which include four oil refineries and two destination facilities for oil-by-rail. This initiative is a first step in addressing concerns of communities, like those in my district, that face threats of environmental degradation, injury, and loss of life due to the unsafe handling of volatile oil in our railroad system,” said Congressman DeSaulnier.

    2.  Another amendment to the bill, introduced by Rep. Garamendi, added the single word “transportation” to the section directing the Department of Energy to study “energy security valuation methods.”  According to Rep. Garamendi’s press release:

    Energy policy can’t simply focus on “generation” …. “How we transport energy deserves very careful consideration. Too often, these choices are made without consideration of strategies to achieve important policy goals like creating good manufacturing jobs and enhancing our national security. Safety must also be a top concern: oil train traffic has increased by 5,000 percent because of the shale oil boom. The risk of derailments, spills and explosions is very real, and we need a volatility standard to guarantee the safety of the communities this oil traffic passes through. Oil trains can and do pass by major residential neighborhoods and schools in my district, including Davis, Dixon, Suisun and Marysville. I want them to be as safe as possible.”

    Reasons…
    Garamendi’s press release included his reasons for voting NO on the bill as amended:

    Despite the success of his amendments, Congressman Garamendi voted against final passage of H.R. 8. The bill started out as a bipartisan compromise on energy policy before being gutted in favor of a bill that caters to the wish lists of big coal and big oil at the expense of consumers, agriculture and the environment.

    “The very same week that leaders across the globe are meeting in Paris to find a worldwide solution to climate change, our Congress is seeking to lock our country into dependence on energy sources like coal and oil that pollute our environment and contribute to climate change,” said Congressman Garamendi. “H.R. 8 would artificially subsidize coal, inhibit the development of clean energy technologies, and reverse progress on energy efficiency. With climate change threatening our planet and way of life, we need to search for new solutions, not drag our country back to the energy policy of the last century.”

    Congressman Garamendi was especially troubled by the adoption of an amendment to allow unfettered exports of crude oil without any safeguards for American motorists or industries.“If our country is seeking to become energy independent, it makes zero sense to allow unrestricted exports of our oil overseas,” he said. “It may make more profits for the oil industry, but it won’t help consumers, agriculture, or the refinery industry here at home. It’s a bad idea.”

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      New York AG calls on PHMSA to close crude-by-rail safety loophole

      Repost from Progressive Railroading
      [Editor:  See also New York Wants Oil Companies to Treat Oil Shipped on Trains – Wall Street Journal, and NYS attorney general pushes federal limit on crude oil train explosion risk – Albany Times Union.  – RS]

      New York AG calls on PHMSA to close crude-by-rail safety loophole

      December 4, 2015

      New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called on the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to limit the vapor pressure of crude oil shipped by rail.

      In a petition for rulemaking, Schneiderman asked the agency to require all crude transported by rail in the United States to achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability, according to a press release issued by Schneiderman’s office.

      In his petition, the attorney general argues that reducing crude oil vapor pressures is practical and necessary for minimizing the risk and severity of accidents involving tank cars.

      Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures — including crude produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota — have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane and other highly volatile gases, Schneiderman noted. 

      While the vapor pressure of crude involved in train accidents is often undisclosed, the vapor pressure in such accidents in which the levels were disclosed have exceeded 9 psi, including the crude train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that caused 47 fatalities.

      “Recent catastrophic rail accidents send a clear warning that we need to do whatever we can to reduce the dangers that crude oil shipments pose to communities across New York State,” Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. “In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability — which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents. … The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”

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        The U.S. Has An Oil Train Problem

        Repost from ThinkProgress

        The U.S. Has An Oil Train Problem

        By Samantha Page, Dec 3, 2015 2:43 PM
        In this Feb. 16, 2015 photo, provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, workers fight a fire after a crude oil train derailment south of south of Timmins, Ontario. CREDIT: AP PHOTO / TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD OF CANADA

        Recipe for disaster: Put a flammable substance under pressure into a metal container, then rumble it at 50 miles an hour down a metal rail, across hundreds or even thousands of miles, through towns and cities and over bodies of water. Repeat, as necessary.

        The United States is coming to the end of the costliest year on record for oil train explosions, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday, as crude oil travelling by rail has reached its highest levels ever. This past year saw a town in North Dakota evacuated after a May derailment and explosion; another major derailment and explosion in Illinois in March; and a February derailment and explosion in West Virginia, which destroyed a home, forced the evacuation of 1,000 people, and caused the governor to declare a state of emergency.

        oil-overtime

        CREDIT: EIA DATA

        At the beginning of 2010, the United States was shipping about one million barrels of oil by rail every month. By mid-2014, though, that number was around 25 million. Imports from Canada increased 50-fold during that time. The resulting surge in accidents — including a Quebec derailment in 2013 that killed 47 people — prompted the Department of Transportation to enact new safety rules in May 2015.

        But those rules didn’t prevent costs from ballooning from $7.5 million in damage in 2014 to $29.7 million in 2015, according to Department of Transportation data.

        crude by rail

        CREDIT: ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION

        Still, carloads of petroleum products have declined significantly since their peak in December 2014, and Bloomberg reporter Mathew Philips suggests that we are unlikely to see this amount of crude by rail in the future.

        The reasons for this decline are two-fold. The United States sees crude by rail mainly from two places: Alberta, Canada’s tar sands and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, which are affected by two very different scenarios. The Alberta tar sands are expensive to develop and are far from refineries and consumers. That means developers who have already invested will turn to rail as a way to recoup expenses, but it is not their first choice. Without available, low-cost transportation, new development in the tar sands is economically unfeasible, Oil Change International’s Lorne Stockman told ThinkProgress. According to his group’s report “Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands,” without more pipelines, tar sands development is going to hit a wall. (In other words, the group agrees with climate activists who say the Keystone decision really will keep more oil in the ground.

        But even though stopping pipeline expansion could inhibit oil extraction in Canada, it’s not so simple in the United States. Developing the Bakken fields is significantly less expensive than in Alberta, and producers have — for the past five years — had no problem using rail to bring their cheap crude to the coasts, where it competed with more expensive overseas oil. Now that overseas prices have dropped, producers are building out more pipeline infrastructure, but without it, they could still compete on the open market.)

        “It’s hard to say that if you don’t build the pipe, it won’t go by rail,” Stockman said. “We’ve seen in the last five years that it does go by rail.”

        He admits this is probably not what anti-pipeline activists want to hear.

        “There are local issues around [pipelines], landowner issues, and I totally sympathize with that,” he said. The answer just isn’t going to be found in infrastructure. “If you want to stop production in the Bakken, you should make the producers pay for their pollution.”

        The fact is, there is no safe way to transport oil. Studies have shown that while trains spill more often, pipelines spill more oil per incident. When the new regulations came out in 2014, environmentalists — and some legislators — criticized them as not going far enough. Because the realities of transporting an explosive material are pretty scary: while the new regulations lower allowable speeds, tests have shown that the cars can be punctured travelling at less than 20 miles an hour. The new speed limit is 50 miles an hour.

        This week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a petition to reduce the pressure of crude rail cars.

        “In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability – which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents,” Schneiderman said in an emailed statement. “The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”

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