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Baltimore City Council holds hearing on crude oil transport

Repost from The Baltimore Sun

City Council holds hearing on crude oil transport

By Christina Jedra, July 8, 2015, 9:57pm
Crude oil train in Maryland
Port Deposit, MD — A Norfolk-Southern train transporting crude oil heads north through Port Deposit past a railroad crossing near the U.S. Post Office. Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

The City Council held its first public hearing Wednesday on the safety of shipping crude oil through Baltimore, with environmental advocates expressing concern about the practice.

“Right now, we are in a blast zone,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “City Hall is in a blast zone.”

According to advocates, 165,000 Baltimore residents live within a one-mile radius of train routes that are potentially vulnerable to explosions from crude oil train derailments.

City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said the informational hearing was called to evaluate the threat the shipments pose to the city.

Reisinger said recent derailments — such as one in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people in a massive explosion — are cause for concern. He also pointed to an April 2014 derailment in Lynchburg, Va., that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the James River.

The hearing Wednesday evening at City Hall lasted about two hours. Dozens of advocates — many from the climate action network and Clean Water Action — held a rally outside earlier.

“It’s not a matter of if another oil train will derail … it’s only a question of when,” said the Rev. Amy Sens of six:eight United Church of Christ.

The Maryland Department of the Environment recently denied an application by a Houston-based company to ship crude oil through Baltimore’s port terminal near Fairfield. A Connecticut-based company, Axeon Specialty Products, ships tens of millions of gallons of crude oil through the terminal.

It’s not known how much crude oil is shipped through the city or state. Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the state agency to prevent it from releasing the information.

Tidwell said the “No. 1 thing” advocates want is transparency — knowing the quantities, routes and times that hazardous materials are transported in local areas.

Trisha Sheehan, the regional field manager of Moms Clear Air Force, said she would like to see trains rerouted away from “vulnerable populations,” such as hospitals and schools, and a transition to renewable energy sources.

City emergency management officials answered questions for council members. Executives from rail companies, including Norfolk Southern and CSX, also were invited to attend.

Jon Kenney, a community organizer for the climate action network, said the hearing was necessary to raise public attention.

“Residents of Baltimore want [the council] to take action on oil trains in their communities,” Kenney said. “We have been talking to community members who live along the rail routes, and they are concerned. The rail companies are keeping everyone in the dark.”

Reisinger said the council can take little action to influence the sorts of shipments made along rail lines. Still, he said, it is important to discuss how prepared the city and the companies are to safeguard communities from future accidents.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said company officials recognize that communities like Baltimore look to them to operate the rail lines safely. He said Norfolk Southern has long had a record of safe delivery of hazardous materials.

“This country depends on the railroads to operate safely,” he said. “That is something we have to shoulder.”

He declined to say how much crude oil Norfolk Southern transports through Baltimore, citing safety concerns, among other reasons. Crude oil makes up less than 2 percent of the company’s total traffic, he said.

He said the company works to make sure the shipments it delivers are carried on tank cars that meet the strictest safety standards.

“We have no choice,” Pidgeon said. “We have to haul hazardous material, including crude oil. If a customer gives us a tank car that meets safety standards, we have to haul it. There’s no question.”

State denies permit for Baltimore crude oil terminal

Email from John Kenney, Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

Great news out of Baltimore: Maryland puts proposed crude oil terminal on hold

Great news out of Baltimore! Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) put the permits for the proposed crude oil terminal that we’ve been fighting on hold! MDE actually listened to our public comments saying that crude oil trains were way more dangerous than they previously thought, so they asked more questions for the company before issuing a final permit in the future. There will be plenty of opportunities to comment if the company decides to proceed with their plan to ship crude oil.

For now, the expansion of crude by rail in Maryland is on hold.

However, the fight isn’t over. Advocates throughout our region are continuing to organize. Crude oil still runs through Maryland, is still shipped out of Baltimore, and we still don’t have route transparency. Our goal is to continue pushing city and state legislators to take action, and will send updates along the way. Please see article [at right] for more details.

Repost from the Baltimore Sun

State denies permit for Baltimore crude oil terminal

By Jeff Barker, June 3, 2015 8:24 P.M.
Targa Resources
Targa Terminals, located at 1955 Chesapeake Avenue along the Patapsco River, has applied for an air-quality permit with the Maryland Department of Environment to begin handling crude oil at the Baltimore facility. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

The state Department of the Environment has denied, for now, a Houston-based company’s application to permit crude oil to be shipped through its port of Baltimore terminal in Fairfield — a proposal that nearby residents say poses a safety threat.

The agency said it needs more information from Targa Resources, a Houston-based firm that handles and stores oil, natural gas and petroleum products.

MDE “is not moving forward with any further review of the crude oil related application submitted in February until the department receives additional information from the company,” it said in a summary of its decision.

A bill that would have required a study of crude oil rail shipments in Maryland, such as the one above in Cecil County, has stalled.

A bill that would have required a study of crude oil rail shipments in Maryland, such as the one above in Cecil County, has stalled. (Photo by Amy Davis)

“Before any decision is made on a crude oil related project at the Targa facility, there will be additional public review opportunities beyond the public meeting already held,” the agency said.

If MDE had approved the permit, Targa would have become the second Fairfield-area terminal to handle crude oil shipments. Axeon Specialty Products, based in Stamford, Conn., ships tens of millions of gallons of crude oil through its nearby terminal just north of Interstate 895.

Axeon brings crude oil in by rail from the west and ships it by barge to refineries in the Northeast. But even those shipments are relatively new. While it moved nearly 57 million gallons of crude through Baltimore in the fiscal year that ended June 30 and 53 million gallons the year before, it handled none the previous two years, according to data from MDE’s Oil Control Program.

Substantially more crude oil passes through the state, much of it through Cecil County, but is not captured by the oil-control program because it is not unloaded.

Shipments of domestic crude oil have boomed in recent years because of the surge in production from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. So much oil is coming out of the ground there and from the Canadian oil sands that a global glut has suppressed prices.

Another derailment of a train carrying Bakken crude in Lynchburg, Va., in April 2014 caused an explosion and an evacuation and spilled thousands of gallons of crude into the James River, but no one was injured.

Other incidents have occurred in West Virginia and North Dakota.

While it denied the crude oil permit, MDE did grant Targa an air-quality permit May 26 allowing other products to be transported through the terminal. The permit will enable the company to offload fuel oils, noncrude oils and distillates from rail cars onto tanker trucks.

At Targa’s request, MDE considered the crude oil request separately. The agency said in its decision that Targa asked it to split the application “in order to meet current customer demand for storage and transport of the other types of fuel oils and distillates.”

Vincent DiCosimo, Targa’s senior vice president for petroleum logistics, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

He has said previously that the company takes safety seriously and has the record to prove it.

“Targa is just as interested in safety as you are,” he said in December at a public hearing hosted by the department and attended by about 25 residents and environmentalists.

But residents have expressed concerns and environmental advocacy organizations said the new facility would increase the threat crude oil shipments pose to the Chesapeake Bay’s fragile ecosystem, since Targa would transfer the oil from trains onto barges for transport to East Coast refineries.

The company purchased the Fairfield terminal, previously owned by Chevron, in 2011.

“This decision by the Maryland Department of the Environment is good news,” said Leah Kelly, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, in a statement Wednesday.

“Shipping crude oil through this terminal in Baltimore could have increased the risk of accidents and potentially explosions, such as have happened in Virginia, West Virginia and Canada,” she said. “Targa Terminals’ application for the crude oil permit was full of holes. MDE has said that it will not move forward with the crude oil permit unless the company provides more information about the air pollution that would be created by its operations.”