Fourth Department of Transportation Warning, Stricter Safety Standards

Repost from E2 WIRE – The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog

Emergency DOT order mandates rail crude oil tests

By Laura Barron-Lopez

The Department of Transportation on Tuesday issued an emergency order mandating stricter standards for shippers transporting crude oil by rail.

The order, which requires shippers to test the crude oil coming from the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota, warns against improperly classifying the oil before it is transported by train.

This is the fourth warning by the department on safety concerns over crude oil in the last seven months.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide — if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement.

“And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups. From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude.”

Effective immediately, those transporting crude must properly test the oil and classify it according to federal safety regulations.

Earlier this month, the Transportation Department hit three companies with notices of possible violations for improperly labeling crude coming from the Bakken. The fines totaled $93,000.

In January, officials warned that Bakken crude could pose a greater flammability risk than previously thought.

In the last seven months there have been roughly four derailments of trains carrying crude oil. The accidents prompted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue an alert in January warning the public, emergency responders and carriers that Bakken crude oil may be more likely to set off an explosion than other types of crude.

Canada: get rid of the dangerous DOT-11A tank cars!

Repost from The Montreal Gazette

Opinion: Railways should just refuse to accept dangerous DOT-111A cars

By Jerry Dias, The Gazette February 23, 2014
Opinion: Railways should just refuse to accept dangerous DOT-111A carsDOT-111 tanker cars

When tragedy strikes, we are first overcome by emotion. In the case of Lac-Mégantic, the severity of the tragedy now requires us to take action so that such a catastrophe cannot occur again.

There has been no shortage of such discussions since the derailment last summer, when 47 people were killed and the heart of this small Quebec community was destroyed by the crash of rail cars carrying volatile fuel.

Much of that discussion has focused on the DOT-111A cars that were involved. These tank cars were made before more strict manufacturing standards were put in place. Cars made today must be safer, but companies are free to keep using the old DOT-111A cars, rather than replace them.

The result is that while we now have higher standards, the less-safe DOT-111A cars are still rolling through our communities filled with volatile fuels. And that has many worried that another tragedy is inevitable.

Speaking in Calgary last week to a crowd of business people, the chief executive of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. was blunt in his assessment of the situation, and suggested that the DOT-111A cars be banned.

“So what should we do with them? Stop them tomorrow. Don’t wait to study. We know the facts,” Hunter Harrison said. “You know what this comes down to? And I hate to tell you this: The almighty dollar. Who is going to pay for this?”

This is encouraging, but we need to see more. Some companies, including Irving Oil, are already moving to take the old DOT-111A cars out of use, but we need the big rail companies to act to really ensure the safe movement of oil through our towns and cities.

Speaking publicly about a getting rid of the DOT-111A is one thing — actually pursuing a ban on using such dangerous rail cars is quite another. Unifor is eager to work with Harrison and the rail companies to win a total and immediate elimination of the use of the DOT-111A cars.

Since Lac-Mégantic, the rail companies have imposed a $325-per-car surcharge on any oil company using DOT-111A cars. The idea is that the extra costs will serve as a deterrent to companies using the cars. I am not convinced. With a capacity on the cars of some 114,000 litres, the surcharge works out to just a fraction of a cent per litre. The surcharge, then, won’t be a deterrent. And with both big rail companies charging it, the surcharge will simply become part of the cost of doing business.

Unifor encourages Harrison to make a formal proposal to Lisa Raitt, the federal minister of transport, for an immediate moratorium on the use of DOT-111A cars. As Harrison says, don’t wait for a study. We know the facts.

Better still, Harrison should be telling the oil companies that his rail line will no longer put the safety of its workers and the communities through which it operates in danger, by hauling the DOT-111A and will from this point forward refuse to accept the cars.

The announcement by Irving last week that it will no longer use, as of April 1, old DOT-111A cars made before October 2011 shows that the rail companies need not wait for the Harper government to ban the cars. They can act now.

Jerry Dias is the national rail president for Unifor, Canada’s largest union in the private sector with 300,000 members, including 9,000 in the railway sector.

Martinez City Council and public invited to forum on Big Oil

Repost from the Martinez News-Gazette

Big Oil In Our Midst forum scheduled

Dear Editor,

In 2013, Lac Megantic, Quebec, a town in Canada structured much like Martinez with a railway running through its downtown, suffered a devastating explosion and fire from derailed tank cars destroying much of the downtown and killing 47 people. Three proposed petrochemical projects along the Carquinez Strait from Benicia to Pittsburg to Rodeo will increase rail tank car traffic through Martinez.

I invite Mayor Rob Schroder, Councilmembers Mark Ross, Michael Menesini, Lara DeLaney and Anamarie Avila Farias and the public to attend a Community Forum: “Big Oil In Our Midst: From Canada to the Carquinez Strait,” Wednesday, Feb. 26, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 930 Ward St., Martinez. There will be a panel of experts and activists to educate local residents on Big Oil’s plans locally, regionally, and globally to expand refineries and increase the transportation of crude oil by rail and pipeline through our communities.

Speakers will include: Marilaine Savard, spokesperson for a citizen’s group in the region of Lac Megantic, Quebec; Antonia Juhasz, an oil industry analyst, journalist and author; Diane Bailey, senior scientist at the National Resource Defense Council; Marilyn Bardet, Valero Refinery watchdog activist and founding member of Benicia’s Good Neighbor Steering Committee; Nancy Reiser, spokesperson from the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group; and Kalli Graham, Pittsburg Defense Council.

This forum is sponsored by the Sunflower Alliance, in partnership with the Sierra Club, 350bayarea, Pittsburg Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, ForestEthics, The Good Neighbor Steering Committee, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, and the Crockett-Rodeo-Hercules Working Group.

Please join the panelists for presentations, questions and answers.

– Jim Neu

Wall Street: Bakken Crude Carries Higher Risks

Repost from Wall Street Journal

Bakken Crude Carries Higher Risks

Data Show Oil From North Dakota, Mostly Carried by Rail, Is More Combustible Than Other Types

Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation contains several times the combustible gases as oil from elsewhere, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, raising new questions about the safety of shipping such crude by rail across the U.S.
Federal investigators are trying to determine whether such vapors are responsible for recent extraordinary explosions of oil-filled railcars, including one that killed several dozen people in Canada last summer.The rapid growth of North Dakota crude-oil production—most of it carried by rail—has been at the heart of the U.S. energy boom. The volatility of the crude, however, raises concerns that more dangerous cargo is moving through the U.S. than previously believed.Neither regulators nor the industry fully has come to terms with what needs to be done to improve safety. But debate still rages over whether railcars need to be strengthened, something the energy industry has resisted.”Given the recent derailments and subsequent reaction of the Bakken crude in those incidents, not enough is known about this crude,” said Sarah Feinberg, chief of staff at the U.S. Transportation Department. “That is why it is imperative that the petroleum industry and other stakeholders work with DOT to share data so we can quickly and accurately assess the risks.”

The Journal analyzed data that had been collected by the Capline Pipeline in Louisiana, which tested crude from 86 locations world-wide for what is known as vapor pressure. Light, sweet oil from the Bakken Shale had a far higher vapor pressure—making it much more likely to throw off combustible gases—than crude from dozens of other locations.

Neither federal law nor industry guidelines require that crude be tested for vapor pressure.  Marathon Petroleum Corp., which operates Capline, declined to elaborate on its operations except to say that crude quality is tested to make sure customers receive what they pay for.

According to the data, oil from North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas had vapor-pressure readings of over 8 pounds per square inch, although Bakken readings reached as high as 9.7 PSI. U.S. refiner Tesoro Corp., a major transporter of Bakken crude to the West Coast, said it regularly has received oil from North Dakota with even more volatile pressure readings—up to 12 PSI.

By comparison, Louisiana Light Sweet from the Gulf of Mexico, had vapor pressure of 3.33 PSI, according to the Capline data.

Federal regulators, who have sought information about vapor pressure and other measures of the flammability and stability of Bakken crude, have said the industry hasn’t provided the data despite pledges to do so.

The industry’s chief lobbying group said it was committed to working with the government but that historically it hadn’t collected the information. The energy industry has resisted the idea that Bakken Shale oil’s high gas level is contributing to oil train explosions, but the American Petroleum Institute is revisiting the question.

David Miller, head of the institute’s standards program, said a panel of experts would develop guidelines for testing crude to ensure it is loaded into railcars with appropriate safety features.

The rapid growth in transporting oil by rail was rocked by several accidents last year. Last summer a train loaded with 72 cars of crude exploded, leveling downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killing 47 people. Later in the year, derailed trains exploded in Alabama and North Dakota, sending giant fireballs into the sky.

Most oil moving by rail comes from the Bakken Shale, where crude production has soared to nearly a million barrels daily at the end of last year from about 300,000 barrels a day in 2010.

The rapid growth in Bakken production has far outpaced the installation of pipelines, which traditionally had been relied on to move oil from wells to refineries. Most shale oil from Texas moves through pipelines, but about 70% of Bakken crude travels by train.

Bakken crude actually is a mixture of oil, ethane, propane and other gaseous liquids, which are commingled far more than in conventional crude. Unlike conventional oil, which sometimes looks like black syrup, Bakken crude tends to be very light.

“You can put it in your gas tank and run it,” said Jason Nick, a product manager at testing-instruments company Ametek Inc. “It smells like gasoline.”

Equipment to remove gases from crude before shipping it can be hard to find in the Bakken. Some Bakken wells are flowing so quickly that companies might not be able to separate the gas from the oil, said Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources. “At a really high flow rate, it is just much more difficult to get complete gas separation,” he said.

There also is a financial benefit to leaving gaseous liquids in the oil, because it gives companies more petroleum to sell, according to Harry Giles, the retired head of quality for the U.S. Energy Department’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The federal government doesn’t spell out who should test crude or how often. Federal regulations simply say that oil must be placed in appropriate railcars.

There are three “packaging groups” for oil, based on the temperatures at which it boils and ignites. But these tests don’t look at how many volatile gases are in the oil, and that is the industry’s challenge, according to Don Ross, senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Without clear guidance, some oil producers simply test their crude once and generate a “material safety data sheet” that includes some broad parameters and characteristics.

Much of the oil industry remains resistant to upgrading the 50,000 railcars that are used to carry crude oil, saying it would be too time consuming and expensive. The problem, they argue, isn’t the cargo but a lack of railroad safety.

—Laura Stevens and Tom McGinty contributed to this article.

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