Tag Archives: Friends of the Columbia Gorge

Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards

Press Release from ForestEthics

Groups Sue Obama Administration Over Weak Tank Car Standards

The new safety standards issued by the Department of Transportation take too long to get dangerous tank cars off the tracks and contain loopholes that leave too many vulnerable
May 14, 2015, Eddie Scher, ForestEthics, (415) 815-7027, eddie@forestethics.org

San Francisco – In the wake of a spate of fiery derailments and toxic spills involving trains hauling volatile crude oil, a coalition of conservation organizations and citizen groups are challenging the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) weak safety standards for oil trains. Less than a week after the DOT released its final tank car safety rule on May 1, a train carrying crude oil exploded outside of Heimdal, North Dakota. Under the current standards, the tank cars involved in the accident would not be retired from crude oil shipping or retrofitted for another 5 to 8 years.

Earthjustice has filed suit in the 9th Circuit challenging the rule on behalf of ForestEthics, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Spokane Riverkeeper, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Department of Transportation’s weak oil train standard just blew up in its face on the plains of North Dakota last week,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney. “Pleas from the public, reinforced by the National Transportation Safety Board, to stop hauling explosive crude in these tank cars have fallen on deaf ears, leaving people across the country vulnerable to catastrophic accidents.”

Rather than immediately banning the most dangerous tank cars — DOT-111s and CPC-1232s — that are now used every day to transport volatile Bakken and tar sands crude oil, the new standards call for a 10-year phase out. Even then the standard will allow smaller trains — up to 35 loaded tank cars in a train — to continue to use the unsafe tank cars.

The new rule fails to protect people and communities in several major ways:

• The rule leaves hazardous cars carrying volatile crude oil on the tracks for up to 10 years.

• The rule has gutted public notification requirements, leaving communities and emergency responders in the dark about the oil trains and explosive crude oil rumbling through their towns and cities.

• New cars will require thicker shells to reduce punctures and leaks, but retrofit cars are subject to a less protective standard.

• The standard doesn’t impose adequate speed limits to ensure that oil trains run at safe speeds. Speed limits have been set for “high threat urban areas,” but very few cities have received that designation.

Click here for a close analysis of the hidden dangers buried in the federal tank car rule

“Explosive oil trains present real and imminent danger, and protecting the public and waterways requires an aggressive regulatory response,” said Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Instead, the Department of Transportation has finalized an inadequate rule that clearly was influenced by industry and will not prevent more explosions and fires in our communities. We hope our challenge will result in a rule that puts the safety of people and their waterways first.”

“We’re suing the administration because these rules won’t protect the 25 million Americans living in the oil train blast zone,” says Todd Paglia, ForestEthics Executive Director. “Let’s start with common sense – speed limits that are good for some cities are good for all communities, 10 years is too long to wait for improved tank cars, and emergency responders need to know where and when these dangerous trains are running by our homes and schools.”

LEGAL DOCUMENT: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/petition-for-review-groups-sue-obama-administration-over-weak-tank-car-standards 


The National Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly found that the DOT-111 tank cars are prone to puncture on impact, spilling oil and often triggering destructive fires and explosions. The Safety Board has made official recommendations to stop shipping crude oil in these hazardous tank cars, but the federal regulators have not heeded these pleas. Recent derailments and explosions have made clear that newer tank cars, known as CPC-1232s, are not significantly safer, and the Safety Board has called for a ban on shipping hazardous fuels in these cars as well.

The recent surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production, much of it from Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands, led to a more than 4,000 percent increase in crude oil shipped by rail from 2008 to 2013, primarily in trains with 100 to 120 oil cars that can be over 1.5 miles long. The result has been oil spills, destructive fires, and explosions when oil trains have derailed. More oil spilled in train accidents in 2013 than in the 38 years from 1975 to 2012 combined.

ForestEthics calculates that 25 million Americans live in the dangerous blast zone along the nation’s rail lines.


Q&A: The Challenge To The Federal Tank Car Standards

Map: Crude By Rail Across the United States

Quote Sheet By Officials On The Dangers of Shipping Bakken Crude in Hazardous Tank Cars

ForestEthics Map: Oil Train Blast Zone


Report shows increase in Central Oregon oil trains

Repost from The Bulletin (Serving Central Oregon)
[Editor: Significant quote: “The company’s (BNSF) most recent report shows a change in data format.  In the first two reports, BNSF reported the actual number of trains passing through Central Oregon during a specific week. While the new report still focuses on a specific week, the company is now giving a estimated number of oil trains.”  – RS]

Report shows increase in Central Oregon oil trains

BNSF: 100-car Bakken trains passing through Bend

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / Oct 14, 2014 

While a state-released report by BNSF Railway about the number of large Bakken crude oil trains passing through Central Oregon shows a potential notable increase, a company spokesman said Monday the actual number of trains is less than detailed in the report.

Following relatively new federal rules about reporting oil trains, BNSF Railway Co . sent a Sept. 30 report to the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal showing that an estimated zero to three oil trains carrying more than 1 million gallons of crude oil each pass through Deschutes and Jefferson counties per week.

A report earlier this year showed one such train passed through Central Oregon weekly.

“The real number is one every 12 days,” said Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF. That works out to three or four of the trains per month going through Redmond, Bend and beyond. He said the trains are carrying the oil to refineries in California.

The trains going through Central Oregon and the Columbia River carry crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, oil that has proved to be more volatile than other crude oil. Bakken oil train derailments have led to dramatic explosions in Canada and North Dakota. Last May, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring railroads to provide information to state emergency responders about large train shipments of Bakken oil.

The BNSF rail route through the Gorge, bringing crude oil to refineries near Portland and in Washington, sees two to three oil trains per day, Melonas said. He said the route through Bend is “not a high volume line.”

The reporting rules pertain to trains carrying 1 million or more gallons of crude oil, the equivalent of about a 35-car train.

“If they have a train carrying less than a million crude, they don’t have to report it at all,” Rich Hoover, community liaison for the Office of State Fire Marshal, said Monday.

Melonas declined to give details on whether there are trains carrying less than a million gallons of crude oil rolling through Central Oregon, citing security and customer information concerns. If there were, he said, the oil cars would be hauled with cars carrying other commodities.

“We don’t put out specifics,” he said.

Each time a railroad company has an increase or decrease of 25 percent or more in the number of trains passing through an area, the rules require it to send a report to the state. Since May, BNSF has sent three reports to Oregon.

The company’s most recent report shows a change in data format. In the first two reports, BNSF reported the actual number of trains passing through Central Oregon during a specific week. While the new report still focuses on a specific week, the company is now giving a estimated number of oil trains.

Hoover said the state goes by what the company states in its reports , which the Office of State Fire Marshal posts to its website.

“What you see and read is exactly how much we know,” he said.

Melonas described the trains traveling through the region as “unit trains,” meaning they haul one commodity, and each train has about 100 tanker cars. The trains hold 70,000 to 80,000 barrels of crude oil each, or about 2.94 million to 3.36 million gallons of crude oil.

Concerned about the possible catastrophic results of an oil train derailment, Sally Russell, Bend city councilor, said it is a good thing the railroad is having to supply information to the state.

“Knowledge and the ability to response and react are critical,” she said.

If the number of large oil trains passing through Central Oregon is going up, it means the potential for a situation necessitating an emergency response is increasing, Bill Boos, deputy chief of fire operations for the Bend Fire Department, said Monday.

He said he’d like to have information on oil trains, large and small, rolling through Bend.

“It would be nice to know if there were smaller quantities coming through and if that was increasing,” he said.

While concerned about the dangers of train derailment and fire in towns, Michael Lang, conservation director for Portland-based Friends of the Columbia Gorge, also worries about the risks of an oil spill into the Deschutes River. The rail line through Central Oregon follows the river north of Bend. Along with towns, the large oil trains pass through a section of designated Wild and Scenic River.

“It’s not safe,” Lang said. “It endangers our communities, it endangers our environment. … And we are really concerned about it.”