Tag Archives: Butane

Emergency Moratorium Stops All Unrefined Oil, Coal, and LNG Export Infrastructure Projects in Whatcom County, WA

Repost from the Bellingham Herald
[Editor: Here is the Whatcom County ordinance.  See also Eddie Scher’s statement from STAND.  – RS]

Whatcom County puts new unrefined fossil fuel exports on hold

By Samantha Wohlfeil, August 10, 2016
[NOTE from your Benicia Independent Editor: The Bellingham Herald story inserts a video here, which amounts to a 2-minute public relations piece for BP Cherry Point with no apparent relation to the story about Whatcom County’s August 9 emergency action. Regardless, the video is an interesting look at an industry attempt at reassuring the public that oil trains are safe. I am choosing NOT to embed this commercial video here. View it at the Bellingham Herald.]

BELLINGHAM  >  No new applications to ship unrefined fossil fuel through Cherry Point can be approved for at least the next two months after Whatcom County Council passed an emergency moratorium Tuesday night, Aug. 9.

The council unanimously passed the moratorium to address concerns about potential public health and safety risks that could come with the increased transportation of unrefined fossil fuels, such as crude oil traveling by rail through the county to two refineries at Cherry Point.

The moratorium does not impact the current refining and shipment of products through the BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries.

In July, the council directed the Planning Commission to study changes to the county’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan that could prevent any future export of unrefined fossil fuels from Cherry Point.

The council gave the commission until January to take testimony, study the issue, and make a recommendation on whether the changes should be made.

Until Tuesday night, the question of whether new applications for exports might be submitted in the meantime, in order to get ahead of any ban, was still up in the air.

In December 2015, Congress lifted a 40-year ban on exporting domestic crude oil to other countries. That created a concern for some that local refineries could shift to shipping unrefined materials abroad, eliminating local refinery jobs.

Effective immediately, the emergency moratorium prohibits the filing and acceptance of applications for county permits for new or expanded facilities that would facilitate the increased shipment of unrefined fossil fuels out of Cherry Point.

It defines unrefined fossil fuels as including, but not limited to, “all forms of crude oil whether stabilized or not; raw bitumen, diluted bitumen, or syncrude; coal; methane, propane, butane and other ‘natural gas’ in liquid or gaseous formats; and condensate.”

Environmental groups lauded the council’s move.

“It shows bold leadership that protects our community and responds to concerns that have been expressed by thousands of people throughout this process about the dangerous risks that coal, crude oil and natural gas exports pose to public health and safety in Whatcom County,” said Matt Petryni, clean energy program manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources was one of several environmental organizations rallying people to comment on the proposed unrefined fossil fuel export ban.

Alex Ramel, field director for Stand’s Extreme Oil Campaign, said the moratorium showed Whatcom County was ahead of the curve in policy making.

“This is nation-leading and proactive that the council acted to protect the community from unrefined fossil fuel transport,” Ramel said.

Council members specifically wanted to ensure the moratorium and its wording recognize the positive impact existing industry and the refineries have on the community.

“I find the moratorium helpful. I particularly find it helpful because of the discussion that differentiates between raw materials like crude oil and finished products,” said Steve Garey, a former refinery worker and union president who represented workers at the refineries in Anacortes.

Earlier in the evening, when the council was taking public comment on the rest of the Comprehensive Plan update, Garey told the council that when refineries are converted into exporting facilities, most of the workers lose their jobs.

“It’s important to recognize that refineries need to move finished products, but none of us would be served if they were to shut those plants down and export crude oil,” Garey said in an interview after the moratorium was passed.

The council must hold a public hearing on the emergency moratorium within 60 days. After that, an interim emergency moratorium could be put in place for up to six months, which would allow enough time for the Planning Commission to make its recommendation in January, council member Carl Weimer said. Weimer is the member who first proposed the changes.

“That was key,” Weimer said. “I was scratching my head about whether I was going to support the whole comp plan because I felt we should support the Cherry Point amendments, but I’m fine with passing it while we have this protection in place.”

Brad Owens, president of the Northwest Jobs Alliance, said the moratorium was premature.

“The public deserves their due process through the Planning Commission, and pending the outcome of the Planning Commission’s evaluation, the council should respond accordingly,” Owens said.

The moratorium states that under the Washington State Constitution, the county has authority to provide regulation of land uses within the county.

The council also “recognizes the limits to its authority over transportation of certain goods imposed by federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution, and finds that this action is within its authority.”

If any part of the moratorium is found to be unconstitutional or invalid by a court, the rest of it will remain in effect, the ordinance states.

This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

SACRAMENTO BEE: State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

State seeks fee on dangerous chemicals crisscrossing California

By Tony Bizjak, July 22, 2016 6:00AM

• California officials say the state isn’t prepared to handle hazardous materials spills
• A new $45 fee on every rail car carrying dangerous substances will help beef up spill response

LATEST DERAILMENT: Baltimore MD hazardous materials train, no spill, no explosion

Repost from the Baltimore Sun

Work begins to clear derailed Howard Tunnel train; expected to take more than 24 hours

BSun_video_2016-06-13By Colin Campbell & Michael Dresser, June 13, 2016, 8:00PM EDT

CSX crews began uncoupling and removing train cars Monday evening from the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, starting the process of clearing a derailment that shut down freight traffic through the city earlier in the day.

The Cumberland-bound train was carrying a volatile, flammable chemical when 13 cars went off the rails Monday morning, but authorities said there were no reports of leaks or injuries.

Work to clear the tunnel was expected to take more than 24 hours.

“This is going to be a long operation,” said Bob Maloney, the city’s emergency management director. “The Fire Department identified there was not an immediate threat to the public. We still consider that to be the case. We’re prepared if that changes.”

The 124-car train went off the rails near the tunnel’s north entrance at the Mount Royal Station in Bolton Hill about 5:45 a.m. Monday, authorities said. But they waited until after the evening rush hour to begin clearing the tracks.

In the event of a chemical spill during the clearing of the derailed cars, authorities said, the Fire Department would use a reverse 911 system to tell residents who live within a quarter-mile radius of the incident to shelter in place, officials said.

“Our meters show there’s no immediate danger,” Assistant Fire Chief Mark Wagner said.

Authorites are investigating the cause of the derailment. It started about one-third of the way through the train at car 47, one of the 18 that were carrying loads, authorities said.

The front of the train had entered the tunnel when the cars derailed just north of the tunnel, Maloney said. The derailed cars continued into the tunnel, where they stopped, he said.

The Philadelphia-to-Cumberland run “is a regular, routine route for this train,” said Brian Hammock, resident vice president of CSX.

Hammock said he did not know when the tunnel was last inspected. He said CSX has full confidence in all of its tracks throughout the city.

A day after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Wagner called the FBI to help investigate the derailment. “With everything going on, especially in Orlando, I asked the FBI to be here because we want to rule out foul play,” Wagner said.

Investigators determined it was not caused intentionally.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said his department, too, was assisting. “We want to be on the ground at the very, very beginning in case a twist or turn occurs,” Davis said. “Twists and turns have not occurred, but we’re nonetheless involved right now in this critical incident.”

Several roads were closed near the tunnel Monday. They included a stretch of Howard Street between North Avenue and John Street.

The Maryland Transit Administration announced it was suspending light rail service between the Camden Yards and North Avenue stations after 10 p.m. Monday, and would use buses to ferry passengers between the two stops until midnight.

Freight rail traffic was stopped in the area Monday. The line running through the tunnel is used only by CSX freight trains; Amtrak and MARC service was not affected.

The Howard Street Tunnel is considered to be the most troublesome bottleneck for north-south freight train traffic on the East Coast.

For many years, transportation planners have discussed replacing the tunnel, but the estimated cost — $1 billion to $3 billion — has stymied progress.

In April, the Hogan administration and CSX announced a stripped-down, $425 million plan to expand the tunnel so that double-stacked trains could pass through.The state and the railroad pledged to kick in $270 million for the project and applied for a $155 million federal grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FASTLANE program.

Matthew A. Clark, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the state is waiting for a decision on its application. Federal officials are expected to announce awards this summer.

Since the spectacular tunnel derailment and fire of 2001 halted freight traffic in the corridor for almost a week, there have been a series of smaller-scale incidents along the approaches to the tunnels.

In 2005, a three-car derailment near the site of the 2001 incident prompted then-Mayor Martin O’Malley to call for a federal inspection.

Two years later, 12 cars derailed near M&T Bank Stadium. The next month, a CSX tanker left the rails in Locust Point.

Deadlier CSX derailments have occurred elsewhere in Maryland. In August 2012, two young women who were on railroad property in Ellicott City were killed when a train went off the tracks and spilled a load of coal on them. In 2000, a train left the tracks in the Western Maryland town of Bloomington, crashed into a home and killed a 15-year-old boy.

The last major CSX derailment in Maryland took place in May 2014, when three locomotives and 11 cars left the tracks while crossing a culvert blocked by debris in Prince George’s County. There were no injuries, but the mishap caused more than $300,000 in damage, federal records show.

Environmental advocates and city residents have long voiced concern about freight trains carrying hazardous chemicals through and underneath Baltimore’s neighborhoods. The City Council held a two-hour public hearing last summer on the safety of shipping crude oil through Baltimore.

Keisha Allen, president of the Westport Neighborhood Association, said her home is within a block of freight tracks — well within the “blast zone,” should a derailment cause an explosion.

“That’s the issue, the fact that it’s highly flammable,” she said.

Allen said she and her neighbors want the city to require CSX and Norfolk Southern to disclose what’s being shipped on the freight trains and when.

“There needs to be a clear indication of what’s coming through,” she said. “If it’s something that flammable, that volatile, there needs to be notification, at a minimum. … We would sleep better knowing there’s a process.”

Lawrence Mann, a Washington attorney who specializes in railroad liability cases, said the industry has generally been lax about track inspections.

“The railroads have either fired or furloughed thousands of track inspectors around the country,” he said. “They just don’t have the manpower to do the job that’s required.”

The country’s major railroads spent $28 billion on capital expenditures and maintenance in 2014, the Association of American Railroads reported Monday.

That investment increased to $30 billion last year and is expected to hover around $26 billion this year, said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the trade industry group.

That has increased from the roughly $20 billion in annual infrastructure investment between 1983 and 2011, as carriers work to keep up with customer demands for reliability and service, including new double-stack containers, he said.

The investments have also improved safety, Hamberger said. The association recently reported a 79 percent decline in train accidents since 1980.

“A well-maintained railroad is a safer railroad,” he said. “The fact that we can spend this amount of money to put in new tracks, all-new technologies, and maintain it is really a point that needs to be driven home.”

He said some carriers have been reluctant to participate in public-private partnerships because public money typically comes with constraints and major projects often get bogged down in lengthy public permitting procedures.

“It’s never fast enough, but we’re trying to do the best we can,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Natalie Sherman contributed to this article.

New York AG calls on PHMSA to close crude-by-rail safety loophole

Repost from Progressive Railroading
[Editor:  See also New York Wants Oil Companies to Treat Oil Shipped on Trains – Wall Street Journal, and NYS attorney general pushes federal limit on crude oil train explosion risk – Albany Times Union.  – RS]

New York AG calls on PHMSA to close crude-by-rail safety loophole

December 4, 2015

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called on the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to limit the vapor pressure of crude oil shipped by rail.

In a petition for rulemaking, Schneiderman asked the agency to require all crude transported by rail in the United States to achieve a vapor pressure of less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi). Vapor pressure is a key driver of the oil’s explosiveness and flammability, according to a press release issued by Schneiderman’s office.

In his petition, the attorney general argues that reducing crude oil vapor pressures is practical and necessary for minimizing the risk and severity of accidents involving tank cars.

Crude oils with the highest vapor pressures — including crude produced from the Bakken Shale formations in North Dakota — have the highest concentrations of propane, butane, ethane and other highly volatile gases, Schneiderman noted. 

While the vapor pressure of crude involved in train accidents is often undisclosed, the vapor pressure in such accidents in which the levels were disclosed have exceeded 9 psi, including the crude train accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that caused 47 fatalities.

“Recent catastrophic rail accidents send a clear warning that we need to do whatever we can to reduce the dangers that crude oil shipments pose to communities across New York State,” Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. “In New York, trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil routinely travel through our cities and towns without any limit on its explosiveness or flammability — which makes crude oil more likely to catch fire and explode in train accidents. … The federal government needs to close this extremely dangerous loophole, and ensure that residents of the communities in harm’s way of oil trains receive the greatest possible protection.”