Category Archives: Washington State

Six States’ Attorneys General To Trump Administration: Close Loophole Allowing Trains To Carry Explosive Crude Oil Through Communities

Press release, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
[Editor: Six state attorneys general, including California’s Xavier Becerra, are asking federal regulators to place new restrictions on crude oil trains that pass through their states.  – RS]

A.G. Schneiderman, Fellow AGs To Trump Administration: Close Loophole Allowing Trains To Carry Explosive Crude Oil Through Communities

Eric T. Schneiderman Press Release, May 22, 2017

“Bomb Trains” Carrying Millions Of Gallons Of Crude Oil Routinely Travel Through Cities And Towns In NY And Across Country, Without Any Limits On Explosiveness And Flammability 

Six-State Coalition Calls For Immediate Action To Set National Limit On Vapor Pressure Of Crude Oil To Minimize Threat Of Explosions And Uncontrollable Fires From Rail Accidents 

Schneiderman: It’s Time For The Federal Government To Close This Dangerous And Nonsensical Loophole

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of six state Attorneys General, is urging the Trump Administration to immediately close a loophole that allows highly flammable, highly explosive crude oil to be shipped by rail through communities in New York and across the country. These 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 New York alone, these trains cover roughly 700 miles of the state.

In comments filed in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the coalition calls on the agency to take immediate steps to require that all crude oil transported by rail in the U.S. achieve a vapor pressure – a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability– of less than 9.0 pounds per square inch (psi). The comments were filed by the Attorneys General of New York, California [Attorney General Xavier Becerra], Illinois, Maryland, Maine, and Washington

**Click here to read the comments filed by the Attorneys General.**

“Because of a regulatory loophole, these trains can carry crude oil through some of our most densely populated areas without any limit on explosiveness or flammability – creating ticking time bombs that jeopardize the safety of countless New Yorkers and Americans,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “It’s time for the federal government to put New Yorkers’ safety first and take immediate action to close this dangerous and nonsensical loophole.”

In December 2015, Attorney General Schneiderman filed a petition for rulemaking with PHMSA to set the national limit on vapor pressure of crude oil transported by rail at less than 9.0 psi . In December 2016, specifically citing the Attorney General’s petition, the agency announced that it would issue an ANPRM in order to gather public comment on vapor pressure limits and the safety benefits of utilizing such a limit in regulating the transport of crude oil and other dangerous materials.

Accidents of trains carrying crude oil have resulted in devastating explosions and uncontrollable fires – including the 2016 train derailment in Mosier, Oregon, where the resulting fire caused the evacuation of nearly one-quarter of the town’s residents, and the infamous 2013 Lac-Mégantic, Quebec accident, where a derailed train burst into flames, destroyed the downtown area, and killed 47 people.  Despite the catastrophic impacts that these and other rail accidents have had on communities, currently there is no federal limit on the vapor pressure of crude oil transported by rail. In the comments filed with PHMSA on Friday, the Attorneys General argue that reducing crude oil vapor pressures to levels below 9.0 psi is not only practical, but is necessary for minimizing the explosion and fire danger involved in transporting crude oil by rail.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 requires PHMSA and the federal Department of Energy to report the results of a multi-year study conducted by Sandia National Laboratories to assess the volatility of crude oil and make recommendations on improving the safety of its transport. The completion of this study and the development of accompanying recommendations may take years. For this reason, the coalition is urging PHMSA to recognize the substantial present danger that oil trains pose to communities by taking immediate action to set a vapor pressure standard less than 9.0 psi until a final standard is promulgated.

It has been reported that up to 44 “unit trains” – chains of 70 to 120 tank cars – travel on rail routes that bisect New York each week, each carrying from 2 to 3.5 million gallons of crude oil.  These trains cover approximately 700 miles of the state, passing through small communities as well as the heart of population centers such as Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Plattsburgh, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Kingston, and Newburgh, and within a few miles of New York City.  An oil train accident along these routes of the size and intensity of those seen in Quebec and other locations, could endanger the safety of thousands of New Yorkers who live, work, travel, and recreate along the trains’ paths.

Vapor pressure is a key contributor to crude oil’s explosiveness and flammability.  Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures – such as those produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota – have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane, and other highly volatile gases.  While the vapor pressure of the crude oil involved in train accidents is frequently not disclosed, in the limited number of instances it is known – including the Mosier (Oregon) and La-Mégantic (Quebec) accidents – vapor pressures have exceeded 9.0 psi.

PHMSA’s stated mission is to protect people and the environment from the risks associated with the transportation of hazardous materials, including crude oil.  In July 2015, in response to concerns raised by rail accidents involving crude oil shipments, the agency adopted a new rule that sought to enhance the structural integrity of train cars that ship crude oil, and lessen the chances of train derailments.  Although the new rule imposed new regulations on the design and operation of train cars, it did nothing to increase the safety of the highly combustible liquids carried by these cars.  Because of this, under federal law, crude oil can still be shipped through some of New York’s most densely populated communities without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability.

According to the Association of American Railroads, crude oil shipments by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 493,126 carloads in 2014, representing an increase of over 5,000 percent.  While rail shipments of crude oil have dipped somewhat in recent years, rail is expected to continue to be an important mode of transporting the resource in the future, particularly as crude oil prices and total U.S. production rebound as expected.

“No one should have to live with dangerously explosive materials rumbling through their backyards,” said Congresswoman Nita Lowey. “In Rockland County, trains carry crude oil directly through towns and neighborhoods where children and families live, work, and play. The risk of a crude oil tragedy in New York and across the country is far too great, and I am pleased Attorney General Schneiderman is fighting for this important step to protect our communities. As Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will continue working with partners at all levels of government to prevent a crude transport disaster.”

“I join and commend Attorney General Schneiderman in his call for immediate action at the federal level to mandate a safer vapor pressure standard of 9.0 or lower for crude oil transported by rail. The Capital Region remains a major hub for oil train traffic and as long as volatile crude oil is permitted to be transported through the area, residents remain at risk. Almost two dozen Assemblymembers wrote the Administration last fall supporting this safety change,” said Assemblymember Patricia A. Fahy.

“I join Attorney General Schneiderman in calling on the Trump administration to take immediate action to protect our community by reducing the volatility of crude oil shipped by rail to mitigate the impact of accidents involving oil trains,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “I believe the lower threshold would reduce the possibility of explosions and go a long way toward holding rail shippers accountable for the risks we face every day. I have called for lower thresholds since 2014 after we found out that the Bakken crude in the Lac Megantic disaster had a psi between 9 and 9.3 and my Expert Advisory Committee on Crude Oil Safety Issues made the same recommendation that I sent to the former Secretary of Transportation.  As we near the fourth anniversary of that disaster, we must take every precaution necessary to protect our residents. I applaud the Attorney General for pursuing this requirement and offering his comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on behalf of New Yorkers.”

“I fully support Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts to improve the safety of crude oil that is transported by rail through cities like Albany every day,” said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “Improving vapor pressure standards will help to protect our communities from the harm that can occur if a derailment or accident occurs.  I applaud the Attorney General’s leadership on this important issue.”

“The City of Plattsburgh cares deeply about the movement of the most volatile crude oil products by train through our dense urban core and along our lake. Reducing the permissible vapor pressure for crude oil and chemical containers reduces both the potential for explosions and for chemical inhalation should an accident or puncture occur. I fully support the OAG’s effort to keep our population safe by restricting the allowable vapor pressure of these volatile chemical cars,” said Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read.

“In the past 10 years, U.S. production of crude oil has nearly tripled—and most of it is now being shipped by rail.  The frequency of related deadly fires and explosions has also skyrocketed across the country,” said Kimberly Ong, Staff Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council.  “Communities nationwide urgently need the Department of Transportation to put existing safety technology to use to limit crude oil vapor pressure and greatly reduce the likelihood of these dangerous incidents nationwide.  We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman and his colleagues for pushing for immediate action on this critical matter of public safety.”

“Until the state achieves its goal of 100% clean, renewable energy powered economy, an oil train tragedy in New York is sadly a matter of when, not if,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “The federal government should immediately act on Attorney General Schneiderman’s call for less volatile oil on the rails in our communities.  It could be a real life saver.”

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Mihir Desai, Environmental Scientist John Davis, and Policy Analyst Jeremy Magliaro under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chiefs Lisa Burianek and Monica Wagner of the New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Lemuel M. Srolovic and is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

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Washington state requires railroads to show they could afford ‘worst case’ oil train spill

Repost from the Bellingham Herald

Washington asks if railroads could afford $700M oil train spill

By Samantha Wohlfeil, February 13, 2016 6:28 AM
Smoke rises from railway cars carrying crude oil that derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013. A large swath of the town was destroyed and 47 people killed in what became the worst oil train derailment in North America.
Smoke rises from railway cars carrying crude oil that derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013. A large swath of the town was destroyed and 47 people killed in what became the worst oil train derailment in North America. Paul Chiasson Associated Press

HIGHLIGHTS
•  Three new rail safety rules scheduled to take effect March 11
• Railroads must show they have means to pay for a ‘reasonable worst case spill’
• Railroads disagree with new rule methods and question state authority

Railroads that haul oil trains through Washington state will need to report whether they could afford around $700 million to pay for a derailment and spill, under a recently finalized state rule.

As announced Feb. 9, the requirement is one of three oil train safety rules the state Utilities and Transportation Commission crafted as required under legislation that state lawmakers passed in 2015.

The new rules, which take effect March 11:

▪ Require signs with basic safety information be posted at private rail crossings along routes that carry full or empty oil trains.

▪ Allow certain cities such as Bellingham, Aberdeen, Spokane, Tacoma, and Richland to opt into a state rail crossing inspection program to get free assistance with inspections.

▪ Require railroads to include financial information in their annual report to the UTC to show if they could address a “reasonable worst case spill” of oil.

Reasonable worst case

The portion of the rule most heavily scrutinized during a months-long comment process was the requirement to show financial ability to pay for a reasonable worst case spill. The rule required commission staff to first define what a “reasonable” worst case spill looks like, and second, calculate what cleaning that up might cost.

THEY DIDN’T WANT THE WORST CASE. THEY WANTED SOMETHING REASONABLE.
Jason Lewis, Utilities and Transportation Commission transportation policy adviser

Railroads objected to the proposed spill scenarios, and argued that the requirement to show whether they could afford cleanup was pre-empted by federal law.

Johan Hellman, on behalf of BNSF, wrote Sept. 21, 2015, that the company was concerned with a draft that had defined the reasonable worst case spill as half the train’s contents, and had set minimum cleanup costs at $400 per gallon.

“We find both the definition and the minimum cost to be greatly exaggerated,” Hellman wrote.

The worst case calculation was refined to be based on the fastest speed an oil train travels, but both BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad continued to object to the requirement.

In a Dec. 7 letter to the commission, Melissa Hagan argued on behalf of Union Pacific that requiring the railroad to detail the insurance it carries, along with its ability to pay for the reasonable worst case cleanup, would “compromise the integrity of Union Pacific’s confidential business records” and was “blatantly discriminatory.”

Other people who commented said the rule didn’t go far enough in its estimates for how much oil could spill and how much those damages could cost.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, told the commission she thought the reasonable worst case spill amount was “far too conservative” and the estimated cleanup cost seemed “excessively low.”

Dale Jensen, spill prevention preparedness and response manager for the state Department of Ecology, also wrote to say an estimated $400 per gallon cleanup cost would cover only a “portion of the overall costs of an oil spill” and “in the event of a worst case spill, the true cost of damages incurred could certainly exceed the level established within the proposed rule.”

The commission agreed with Jensen but said the legislation refers to a “reasonable” worst case, not an absolute worst case spill.

Calculating the reasonable worst

In crafting the rule, commission staff looked to federal rule-making by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration, and to the actual worst derailment of ethanol or crude oil in North America, which happened in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

“Quebec was a terrible tragedy that really put a lot of these types of regulations more in the public eye,” said Jason Lewis, who helped craft the rule as transportation policy adviser for the commission.

In Quebec, a parked, unmanned 72-car train loaded with Bakken crude oil rolled downhill, reaching 65 mph before crashing into the downtown and killing 47 people in July 2013. Sixty-three cars derailed and about 1.6 million gallons of oil leaked.

THE WORST OIL TRAIN DERAILMENT IN NORTH AMERICA OCCURRED IN LAC-MEGANTIC, QUEBEC, WHERE 63 CARS OF A 72-CAR BAKKEN CRUDE OIL TRAIN DERAILED AT 65 MPH, KILLING 47 PEOPLE.

Although Quebec is the worst oil train derailment to date, Washington state legislators specifically asked the commission to find a “reasonable” worst case scenario for the financial reporting requirement, Lewis said.

“They didn’t want the worst case. They wanted something reasonable,” Lewis said. “It’s an ambiguous term that we really had to work to define.”

The commission looked to other state rules and used PHMSA and FRA logic to scale down from the incident in Quebec, Lewis said.

The final rule says to take the maximum oil train speed (usually 45 to 50 mph), divide it by 65 (the speed in Quebec), and account for kinetic force to get the estimated percentage of the train’s cargo they should be prepared to clean up.

To illustrate, assume the longest BNSF crude oil unit train transported in 2015 was 110 tank cars and that those trains go 45 mph at their fastest.

Under the new formula, the railroad needs to show whether it has the means to pay for a theoretical spill of 47.9 percent of that oil.

Each tank car has a maximum volume of 30,000 gallons, so the train could carry at most about 3.3 million gallons.

At a cleanup cost of $400 per gallon, the new guidelines want to know if the railroad could pay $632.3 million.

If that train were to go 50 mph at its fastest, the reporting amount would be closer to $781 million.

$632.3 million to $781 million
Amount railroads need to show they could pay for a spill in Washington state if their fastest 110-car oil train goes 45 to 50 mph

UTC staff also took into account that supertanker vessels that can carry 84 million gallons of oil through Puget Sound are required to get certificates of financial responsibility through Ecology that cap out at $1 billion, Lewis said.

“If we went much higher in terms of total release or cost of cleanup, it would be difficult to justify a higher cap,” Lewis said.

BNSF challenged similar legislation in California, claiming in court that federal rules pre-empt state laws that try to regulate rail.

When asked whether BNSF would similarly challenge Washington’s rules or still had concerns about the worst case scenarios, BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace wrote that BNSF was committed to work in good faith with Washington to promote safety.

WE HAVE NEVER EXPECTED TAXPAYERS TO ASSUME THE EXPENSE OF A CLEANUP AFTER A DERAILMENT, AND WE STAND BY THE PRACTICES THAT HAVE ALLOWED US TO KEEP THAT RECORD TO DATE.
Courtney Wallace, BNSF spokeswoman

“Nothing is more important to us than safely moving all of the commodities we carry, including crude oil. BNSF is a common carrier and our operations are governed by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, which generally pre-empts state and local regulations of railroads,” Wallace wrote to The Bellingham Herald.

“BNSF has a strong record of corporate responsibility,” Wallace wrote. “We have never expected taxpayers to assume the expense of a cleanup after a derailment, and we stand by the practices that have allowed us to keep that record to date. BNSF is financially sound with a long history, substantial assets and a track record of being a responsible corporate citizen.”

Because the rule only requires railroads to show whether they could afford that level of spill in their annual report to the commission, rather than requiring they carry a certain level of coverage, the commission believes the rule does not conflict with federal laws.

Annual reports from the railroads are due to the UTC in May.

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Oil tanker spill in English Bay (Vancouver BC) – wake-up call for port…and for us all

Repost from CBC News
[Editor: Spokesperson John Hill has publicly stated that Valero Benicia Refinery shipped Bakken crude on a barge through our beautiful Carquinez Strait.  Presumably this barge came from the Pacific Northwest.  Canadian dilbit and North Dakota Bakken crude are increasingly making their way to the Pacific, either for refining or for transfer to ships bound for more southerly destinations.  Marine transport is clearly an expanding threat for bringing dangerous and dirty North American crude to Northern and Southern California.  English Bay in Vancouver this year; is San Francisco Bay next?  Oh, and imagine if you will: volatile Bakken crude spilled and burning in our waters.  – RS]

Toxic fuel spill in English Bay is wake-up call for port, says marine expert

Critics of pipeline expansion say response proves Vancouver isn’t ready for heavy tanker traffic
By Jason Proctor, Apr 10, 2015 9:10 AM PT
Critics say the response to an oil spill in English Bay raises serious questions about proposed pipeline expansion increasing tanker traffic.
Critics say the response to an oil spill in English Bay raises serious questions about proposed pipeline expansion increasing tanker traffic. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Joe Spears calls it a wake-up call.

An international shipping expert, Spears says Canada is supposed to be a world leader at dealing with maritime emergencies.

But he says the response to an oil spill into Vancouver’s English Bay on Thursday [April 9, 2015] was anything but world class.

“We’ve got to do better,” he said.

“We’re Canada’s largest port. We’ve lost our way.”

Expansion fears

Spears joined a chorus of critics who said the spill reinforces fears about proposed pipeline expansion, which could bring increased oil tanker traffic into the B.C.’s coastal waters.

The City of Vancouver has repeatedly questioned the potential impact of a proposal by Kinder Morgan to twin the TransMountain pipeline that carries oil to Burrard Inlet.

And the province has set a “world-leading marine oil spill response” as one of five requirements for the approval of any heavy pipeline proposal.

But even as critics pointed to perceived problems, Coast guard assistant commissioner Roger Girouard claimed the response was textbook.

Kinder Morgan protest
Opponents of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion fear the plan will increase the chance of oil spills in Burrard Inlet. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

“From where I sit, from an operational perspective, this has gone in accordance with the doctrine,” Girouard said.

“Port Metro is the largest port in Canada. They have a very solid team. They saw a problem, they called in the partners and we’ve put together a unified command centre to be able to take a look at this and do it the right way.”

‘More than words’

But Spears says responders should have tracked the movement of the spill with buoys and drones within minutes of becoming aware of oil on the water.

He also questions a perceived lack of communications that saw City of Vancouver officials alerted to the spill 13 hours after Port Metro Vancouver first learned about it at 5 p.m. PT Wednesday.

“To make a world-class response means more than words,” said Spears.

“We’ve got to bring all the players together. This is a glimpse of the future. If we can’t handle a small bunkering spill, how are we going to deal with a major tanker?”

Vancouver City Coun. Geoff Meggs raised similar concerns about the failure to notify the city immediately.

Spencer Chandra Herbert
B.C. NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, Official Opposition environment critic, says citizens were unaware of the dangers posed by the oil spill in English Bay. (CBC)

“What may seem like a small spill to an offshore mariner is very, very significant to the people of Vancouver. These are some of our most precious public assets,” he said.

“So it’s in that context that we probably need to have a further conversation, so that they understand what’s important to us.”

‘It could have been better’

The NDP’s Spencer Chandra Herbert, the Official Opposition’s environment critic, said citizens should be part of that discussion.

The MLA for the Vancouver-West End/Coal Harbour represents a riding that sits directly in the path of the spill.

“People were out there last night, playing with their dogs, having fun in the water. Meanwhile, we were having bunker fuel oil — they still can’t tell us what it is — in our water, potentially causing harm,” he said.

“I think it’s a huge wake-up call.”

Girouard acknowledged the public’s concerns.

“In an absolute sense, it could have been better,” he said.

“One of the challenges with this many jurisdictions and partners is, ‘Who’s got what piece?’, and it took us a little while to get through that.”

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