Tag Archives: Albany County NY

Crude Oil on Derailed Train Contained High Level of Gas

Repost from The Wall Street Journal
[Editor: This is a MUST READ.  Highly significant findings, with life-and-death implications for all regulators, first responders, rail and oil industry workers and executives, and for every town and country along the rails.  – RS]

Crude on Derailed Train Contained High Level of Gas

Cargo would have violated new vapor-pressure cap that goes into effect in April

By Russell Gold, March 2, 2015 6:54 p.m. ET
The scene of a CSX crude-oil train burning after derailment in Mount Carbon, W. Va. Photo: Marcus Constantino/Reuters

The crude oil aboard the train that derailed and exploded two weeks ago in West Virginia contained so much combustible gas that it would have been barred from rail transport under safety regulations set to go into effect next month.

Tests performed on the oil before the train left North Dakota showed it contained a high level of volatile gases, according to a lab report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The oil’s vapor pressure, a measure of volatility, was 13.9 pounds per square inch, according to the Feb. 10 report by Intertek Group PLC.

That exceeds the limit of 13.7 psi that North Dakota is set to impose in April on oil moving by truck or rail from the Bakken Shale. Oil producers that don’t treat their crude to remove excess gas face fines and possible civil or criminal penalties, said Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

The state introduced new rules on shipping oil in December, after a series of accidents in which trains carrying crude from the Bakken erupted into fireballs after derailing. As the Journal has reported, oil from shale formations contains far more combustible gas than traditional crude oil, which has a vapor pressure of about 6 psi; gasoline has a maximum psi of about 13.5.

The company that shipped the oil,  Plains All American Pipeline LP, said it follows all regulations governing the shipping and testing of crude. “We believe our sampling and testing procedures and results are in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements,” said Plains spokesman Brad Leone.

New information about the West Virginia accident is likely to increase regulators’ focus on the makeup of oil being shipped by train. Federal emergency rules adopted last year imposed new safety requirements on railroad operators but not on energy companies.

“The type of product the train is transporting is also important,” said Sarah Feinberg, the acting head of the Federal Railroad Administration. “The reality is that we know this product is volatile and explosive.”

Ms. Feinberg has supported requiring the energy industry to strip out more gases from the crude oil before shipping it to make the cargo less dangerous, but such measures aren’t currently included in current or proposed federal rules.

In the wake of the West Virginia accident, members of Congress have called on the White House to expedite its review of pending safety rules developed by the U.S. Transportation Department. Timothy Butters, the acting administrator of the department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said the new regulations were being vetted as quickly as was practical, given what he called their complexity.

Some critics are calling for lower limits on the vapor pressure of oil moving by rail.

The train that derailed in Mount Carbon, W.Va., in mid-February included 109 tanker cars loaded with about 70,000 barrels of Bakken crude. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The lower the vapor pressure, the less explosive the oil and “the less chance of it blowing up—that should be the common goal here,” said Daniel McCoy, the chief executive of Albany County, N.Y., which has become a transit hub for Bakken crude heading to East Coast refineries.

The train that exploded in West Virginia included 109 tanker cars loaded with about 70,000 barrels of crude. It traveled from Western North Dakota across Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio before derailing in Mount Carbon, W. Va. Nearly two dozen tanker cars full of crude oil were engulfed in flames, some exploding into enormous fireballs that towered over the small community and burned a house to the ground.

The cause of the derailment remains under investigation. State and federal officials have said the train was traveling well under speed limits imposed last year on trains carrying crude oil. The train was made up of relatively new tanker cars built to withstand accidents better than older models.

A couple hours after the derailment, CSX and Plains All American Pipeline turned over paperwork about the crude to first responders and state and federal investigators. The testing document was included; the Journal reviewed it after making an open-records request.

A spokesman for  CSX Corp. , the railroad that carried the oil at the time of the crash, said it had stepped up its inspections of the track along this route, a procedure that railroads voluntarily agreed to last year.


“Documentation provided to CSX indicated that the shipments on the train that derailed were in compliance with regulations necessary for transportation,” said Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman. “We support additional measures to enhance the safety of oil shipments, and continue to work cooperatively with regulators, oil producers, tank car manufacturers and others to achieve ever higher safety performance.”

A spokesman for BNSF Railway Co., which hauled the crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois, where it was handed off to CSX, declined to comment on the derailment.

Intertek, the testing company, said it is abreast of the regulatory changes and “working closely with authorities and our clients to assure compliance.”

The U.S. Transportation Department is testing samples of crude that didn’t spill or burn and says it plans to compare its findings with the North Dakota test.

The fire burned for three and a half days. “If it is burning hard, you can’t put it out,” said Benny Filiaggi, the deputy chief of the Montgomery Fire Department, who responded to the West Virginia derailment. He said he received training from CSX about oil-train fires in October.

“We concentrated on evacuating everyone nearby before the first explosion,” Mr. Filiaggi said.

Albany County enlists top legal firm for oil train fight

Repost from Capital Playbook, Albany, NY
[Editor: Significant quote: “The county has placed Mintz Levin on retainer….  The firm will help with a potential legal battle with Global Partners, which has threatened to sue after the county placed a moratorium on expanding crude-handling facilities at the Port of Albany.”  (emphasis added) – RS]

Albany County enlists top legal firm for oil train fight

By Scott Waldman  |  Aug. 22, 2014
First responders are familiarized with tank cars on the CSX Safety Train next to the Hudson River in the Port of Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY—Albany County has hired a high-powered Boston environmental law firm to help with its battle against a Fortune 500 company that’s bringing in millions of gallons of crude oil every day.

The county has placed Mintz Levin on retainer, county attorney Tom Marcelle said. The firm will help with a potential legal battle with Global Partners, which has threatened to sue after the county placed a moratorium on expanding crude-handling facilities at the Port of Albany. Marcelle said Albany County has subpeona power and Mintz Levin could be used to enforce the county’s right to question top Global officials if they withhold information the county is seeking.

“The county executive wanted to ensure the people of Albany County had the best to represent their health and safety,” he said.

The county will probably spend up to $100,000 with the firm, Marcelle said.

The firm, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, can also help the county submit comments to the federal Department of Transportation over its proposed new regulations for oil trains. Those federal regulations call for a phasing out of rail cars that transport a certain type of crude. Those cars are more likely to rupture and leak if they derail.

County officials are not happy with the federal proposal because it would still allow those older cars to transport the type of heavy crude Global Partners wants to bring to Albany. That crude from the oil sands of western Canada, also known as tar sands, is nearly impossible to clean up from waterways like the Hudson River because it sinks to the bottom.

The Boston law firm specializes in environmental law and employees about 500 attorneys. It has offices in London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere. Attorneys at Mintz Levin helped draft the state’s Brownfield pollution mitigation legislation and has defended enforcement actions in federal and state court, according to its website.

Global, which is based in Waltham, Massachusetts and is a Fortune 500 company, threatened legal action against the county shortly after the moratorium was issued, but has yet to file suit.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy has taken a more aggressive approach to oil train enforcement than city and state officials and has also proposed a law that would fine oil train operators who fail to quickly report spills. McCoy has appointed a health and safety panel that is examining Global’s crude-handling facilities.

Global wants to build a series of boilers at the port that would allow it to bring in heavy crude oil, like from the oil sands of western Canada.

Albany has become one of the nation’s largest hubs from crude oil from the Bakken formation of North Dakota. The proposed boiler facility would effectively turn New York into a major oil-by-rail pipeline for another type of crude and has generated strong opposition.