NTSB: Oil Train Crash Risks ‘Major Loss of Life’

Repost from Associated Press

Jan 23, 12:51 PM EST
AP Photo
AP Photo/Bruce Crummy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Warning that a “major loss of life” could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil, U.S. and Canadian accident investigators urged their governments Thursday to impose new safety rules.

The unusual joint recommendations by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada include better route planning for trains carrying hazardous materials to avoid populated and other sensitive areas.

They also recommended stronger efforts to ensure hazardous cargo is properly classified before shipment, and greater government oversight to ensure rail carriers that transport oil are capable of responding to “worst-case discharges of the entire quantity of product carried on a train.”

Last month an oil train derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., creating intense fires. The accident occurred about a mile outside the town, and no one was hurt. Rail lines run through and alongside the town.

In July, a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, near the U.S. border. Forty-seven people were incinerated and 30 buildings destroyed.

The NTSB noted that crude oil shipments by rail have increased by more than 400 percent since 2005. Some oil trains are more than 100 cars long.

“The NTSB is concerned that major loss of life, property damage and environmental consequences can occur when large volumes of crude oil or other flammable liquids are transported on single train involved in an accident,” NTSB said.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx met with oil and railroad executives last week, pressing them to come up voluntary changes in the way oil is transported to increase safety. He asked industry officials to report back to him within 30 days.

Edward Hamberger, president of the railroad association, reaffirmed the freight rail industry’s commitment to moving oil safely by train in a speech Thursday to energy and financial industry executives.

“We share the secretary’s sense of urgency and want to help instill public confidence in rail’s ability to meet the demand for moving more energy resources in this country,” Hamberger said in a summary of his speed provided by the rail association.

U.S. crude oil production is forecast to reach 8.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2014 – up from 5 million barrels per day in 2008. The increase is overwhelmingly due to the fracking boom in North Dakota’s Bakken region.

U.S. freight railroads transported nearly 234,000 carloads of crude oil in 2012, up from just 9,500 in 2008. Early data suggest that rail carloads of crude surpassed 400,000 in 2013, according to the Association of American Railroads.

“The large-scale ship of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”

Freight rail lines across the U.S. frequently run through densely populated areas, from small towns to large cities. Many of the lines were laid out in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The NTSB noted that it is still waiting for final action from government regulators on recommendations made in 2009 regarding improving the safety of tank cars used to transport oil and other hazardous materials.

Washington SB-3589 calls for state regulations

Repost from Kitsap Sun.  …California senators and assembly members please note!  The Washington House version HB-2347 can be found here.

Rolfes’ bill addresses future of oil transport

By Christopher Dunagan
Kitsap Sun
Posted January 22, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

OLYMPIA — Methods of moving crude oil to market are changing rapidly, and the state must respond just as deftly to protect sensitive water and upland habitats as well as people, according to state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

Rolfes recently introduced a bill known as the Oil Transportation and Safety Act. If approved, the legislation would build upon existing regulations dealing with oil transport by tanker and barge. It also would launch important conversations about transport by rail and pipeline, she said.

“The tricky part to rail,” Rolfes said, “is that we have little regulatory authority at the state level. Railroads are mostly regulated by the federal government.”

Nevertheless, she said, residents of the state have every right to know the amount and types of oil traveling through their communities — especially with increased shipments of the more explosive Bakken oil coming out of Montana and North Dakota and recent train derailments, some resulting in severe fires.

Rolfes’ bill, SB-3589. would require the owner of oil-shipment facilities to report information about oil transport. State officials would aggregate all the information and report quarterly figures. Armed with such information, communities could decide whether federal protections are adequate, she noted.

The bill also calls on the Washington Department of Ecology to evaluate emergency response plans, identify vulnerable areas and propose ideas to increase safety.

The bill also calls on Ecology to consider whether additional tug escorts are needed for large tankers in Puget Sound, where one tug currently is required. Consideration would be given for possible tug escorts on the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor, where tug-escort rules do not apply.

Alaska requires two tug escorts for tankers moving on Prince William Sound, according to officials testifying Wednesday on a companion bill in the House.

As proposed, the legislation would triple the penalties for spilling oil from a barge if the operator acted negligently. The operator would be excused from any negligence claims if at least two qualified people were posted on the bridge of the tug during the duration of the trip.

Rolfes’ bill and the companion House bill, HB-2347, have been declared the top priority this legislative session by the Environmental Priorities Coalition, made up of more than 20 environmental groups working together as a lobbying force.

“The bill doesn’t seek to have answers,” Clifford Traisman, lobbyist for the coalition, said during Wednesday’s hearing. “It seeks to ask questions. What jurisdictions do we have? What needs to be studied? What does not need to be studied? The bill raises lots of questions and sets up processes for the answers to come.”

Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline, a member of the coalition, said the state is not prepared for the expected increases in oil shipments by rail. News of train derailments and explosions adds new urgency to the problem, he said.

Frank Holmes of the Western States Petroleum Association said Washington already has some of the most stringent oil-spill regulations in the country. With no clear showing that more regulations are needed, the Legislature should delay action until studies of the risks, benefits and economic impacts are completed, he said.

Holmes also was concerned about the release of public information regarding oil transport. Some information could give one company a competitive advantage over another, he said. To protect proprietary information, California has passed a law that spells out what can and cannot be disclosed, he said. The law allows companies to challenge public disclosure in advance, he noted, urging Washington legislators to take a similar approach.

Denise Clifford, governmental relations director for Ecology, said the bill has some good ideas, but her agency cannot officially support it without funding — and none has been provided in the governor’s budget.

Rolfes said she would support some money for Ecology to begin the critical evaluation. Some discussions should include Canada, which is proposing increased tanker traffic through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, she said.

“I don’t believe they are as advanced as we are in preventing oil spills,” she said. “If they (oil tankers) stay in Canadian waters, they can avoid our regulations.”

Rolfes said the Legislature should support prevention of oil spills over cleanup after environmental damage has occurred.

“Every preventive measure we’ve ever taken has been a hard-fought battle,” she said. “A lot of the (existing) laws are really old. We need to talk about whether we need more protection for our waterways, given the huge increase in overwater traffic that is coming.”

Rail safety not improved, expert says

Repost from Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Rail safety not improved, expert says

 By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix January 22, 2014 8:00 PM
Rail safety not improved, expert says
Derailed CN rail cars are seen near Gainford Alberta in this undated handout photo provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. Photograph by: HO , THE CANADIAN PRESS

First responders in Saskatoon now have access to more information about the dangerous goods coming through the city, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people living here are any more or less safe, according to one expert.

At the request of the federal government, and with the blessing of a host of Canadian mayors, Canada’s two Class 1 rail companies — Canadian Pacific and Canadian National — are now required to provide municipalities with quarterly updates about the nature and volume of dangerous goods transported through their areas.

But that information only arrives after the rail cars carrying the goods have already passed through the city.

“Is it really going to change anything? No. Is it going to make people more paranoid? Probably, yeah,” said James Nolan, a University of Saskatchewan professor who studies rail transportation.

The data about what is being shipped will not be made public and will only be in the hands of first responders. Still, Nolan says it’s not going to change anything or stop rail companies from transporting dangerous chemicals or crude oil through the city.

“They are going to say, ‘We are moving all these dangerous chemicals through Saskatoon.’ Well, sure. But they have been doing that flawlessly for the past ten years,” Nolan said.

Mayor Don Atchison has been part of a chorus of municipal leaders across the country lobbying the federal government to strengthen railway regulation in the wake of the July 6 train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. He’s a member of the Federation of Canadian of Municipalities’ (FCM) rail safety committee, which met with Transport Minister Lisa Raitt Wednesday.

“We are dealing with the most pressing issue, and that is knowing what the goods are that are moving through the city,” Atchison said in an interview from Ottawa after the meeting.

Like always, first responders will have access to rail manifests in the event of a major derailment, he said. Now, however, they will also know in advance when something unusual is passing through. The two major railway companies still have no plans to move their lines out of the city, he said.

Nolan said the massive increase in the amount of crude oil being shipped by rail nationwide means derailments are more likely to result in oil spills. And after the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, the public is more conscious of rail safety.

“The railways are no less safe they were two years ago. They are just moving way more oil,” he said.

Shipments of crude by rail in Canada surged last year to 140,000 carloads, or about 260,000 barrels a day, from about 500 carloads in 2009, according to the Railway Association of Canada. There is no specific data on how much oil is being shipped by rail in Saskatchewan.


Yet another derailment – in central Philadelphia

Repost from Philadelphia-based Protecting Our Waters.  Pay close attention to paragraph 2 … “Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area…in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.”

A Near Miss from Disaster: Oil Train Derails in Philadelphia

January 20, 2014


Bakken Shale oil train derailed over the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on January 20th, 2014. Photo: NBC Chicago/SkyForce

Philadelphia’s wake-up call is here. A few months ago, Protecting Our Waters started warning people about the dangers of the fracked oil trains coming to Philadelphia from the Bakken Shale formation out west. We’ve reported on multiple oil train explosions and derailments across North America, one of which, in Lac Megantic, Canada killed 47 people. As of this morning, the threat of an accident here in Philadelphia is no longer hypothetical.

Just after 1 a.m. this morning, seven cars of a 101-car CSX train from Chicago derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad bridge over the Schuylkill River. Six were carrying crude oil, and one was carrying sand. ABC 6 Action News and Fox Philadelphia have short videos on the derailment, although the AP story they include incorrectly states that the accident occurred around 1 p.m. The bridge runs just south of the South Street Bridge from University City to Grays Ferry. It also runs over the heavily-trafficked Schuylkill Expressway, which was shut for two hours following the derailment. Unlike in previous U.S. explosions, this is a densely-populated area. It’s also in close proximity to large institutions, among them Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania medical complex, including Children’s Hospital; and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge over the University of Pennsylvania's fields, the Schuylkill Expressway, and the Schuylkill River. From Google Maps

As the trains were carrying oil from out west and following a route we know that the Bakken oil trains take on their way to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, it’s a safe bet that these were the same trains that have derailed and exploded four times in the last eight months and whose construction and contents are becoming notorious for their safety hazards. Of course, it doesn’t help that the trains were crossing a 100-year-old bridge that now sees two mile-long oil trains each day. Fortunately, none of the cars fell off the bridge, nor have authorities found any leaks. News photos show the cars almost dangling from the narrow two-track bridge, precariously close to falling into the river. As of 9 a.m. this morning, they were still there.

As with pipeline explosions and leaks, it seems like oil train derailments and explosions are becoming business as usual. Also as usual, authorities aren’t sure what may have caused the train to derail. That’s a question that needs to be answered before any more of these trains run. Will it be? That’s partly up to us– and to you.

So Philadelphians, or anyone else living in the path of these “bomb trains”: write and call your elected officials and ask them if they have an evacuation plan for if disaster occurs. Urge them to make sure the trains are stopped to ensure residents’ safety; join our regional letter-writing campaign (contact powinquiries@gmail for fact sheets and more information), and tell your neighbors about the threat chugging right through our backyards.

For safe and healthy communities…