Tag Archives: Health and safety impacts

Don’t lift ban on export of U.S. oil

Repost from the Asbury Park Press

MEHRHOFF: Don’t lift ban on export of U.S. oil

OPINION | Jessie Mehrhoff, November 12, 2015 11:21 a.m. EST
(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It’s the fundamental connection between environmental degradation and human health that has me concerned about the prospect of Congress lifting the U.S. oil export ban, which will worsen climate change and threaten our communities with toxic spills.

The list of risks climate change poses to human health is long. Increased temperatures will spread tropical diseases to new latitudes. Heat waves will cause more deaths across the world. Warmer temperatures will lead to more health-threatening smog and decrease crop yields. Detailing these impacts and more in 2009, “The Lancet,” one of the world’s most respected medical journals, labeled climate change ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

These aren’t just future consequences, to be experienced on the other side of the globe. In New Jersey, we still face the impacts of superstorm Sandy three years later. Climate scientists at Rutgers University predict even more extreme weather if climate change goes unchecked.

In addition to these consequences, the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report card has given Monmouth County an “F” for the number of high-ozone level days, and finds more than 56,000 people in the county suffer from asthma. Climate change is only going to make numbers such as this climb as our air quality worsens.

To avoid global warming’s most devastating health impacts, we must end our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to pollution-free, renewable energy. Lifting our decades-old ban on the export of U.S.-produced oil represents the opposite course.

If the oil companies have a larger distribution market for oil produced in the U.S., they will drill more — upward of another 3.3 million barrels per day for the next 20 years, by some General Accounting Office estimates. Even if only a fraction of all this extra oil is burned, global warming pollution could still increase 22 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of five average-sized coal power plants.

In addition to worsening climate change, there’s the public health threat of transporting additional oil across the country. While most crude oil is shipped around the U.S. by pipeline, shipments by rail have been increasing. To keep up with increased demand, oil trains have grown larger and tow more tanker cars than ever before.

Currently, trains carrying highly flammable crude oil travel through 11 of the 21 counties in New Jersey —Mercer, Middlesex, Gloucester, Somerset, Hunterdon, Bergen, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Union and Warren — en route to refineries. These oil trains are an accident waiting to happen, and have spurred trainings across the state where firefighters, police and other emergency responders have prepared courses of action in an oil derailment emergency.

The fear of oil train accidents — where toxic crude oil is spilled into our communities — is not hyperbole. Accidents have been on the rise, with more oil accidentally dumped into our environment in 2013 alone than during the previous three decades combined.

In 2015, we’ve already seen three major oil train accidents. In Mount Carbon, West Virginia, a rail oil spill led to evacuations and a governor-declared state of emergency. In Galena, Illinois, a spill threatened to pollute the Mississippi River. A spill in Heimdal, North Dakota, forced the evacuation of a town.

If we are to prevent these accidents from taking place in the 11 New Jersey counties through which these trains travel, we must work to reduce the amount of oil these trains carry. Transporting the increased oil we would produce domestically if the oil export ban were lifted could require enough trains to span the country from Los Angeles to Boston seven times over.

Increasing our nation’s crude oil drilling and transportation by lifting our decades’ old ban on exports leads to more risk, not less. And the inconvenient truth of lifting the oil export ban means more drilling, more global warming pollution, and more threats to public health.

There is a way around lifting the oil export ban in the first place. President Obama is against lifting the ban, and the measure only narrowly cleared a Senate committee earlier in the month. That’s why we need Sen. Cory Booker to join Sen. Bob Menendez in standing strong against the oil industry and to vote to keep the ban in place — for the sake of the environment and public health.

Jessie Mehrhoff is lead organizer with Environment New Jersey, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.

Take Action: Stop Benicia Bomb Trains

Repost from Center For Biological Diversity
[Editor: read the Center’s letter for some excellent points on Valero’s revised draft environmental impact report (RDEIR).  Your comments on the RDEIR are due in Benicia city offices by 5pm Pacific time, October 30, 2015.  – RS]

Center for Biological DiversityStop Bomb Trains in California

Oil trainRight now is a critical moment to stop oil trains in California. Oil giant Valero wants to build a massive terminal for oil trains at its Benicia refinery.

If Valero gets its way, mile-long oil trains carrying explosive and toxic crude will travel daily throughout California. The project’s environmental review admits that impacts from hazardous materials will be “significant and unavoidable.” The risks to health and safety are unacceptable.

We also know that this project is a disaster for the climate. Building a new oil train terminal would lock us into decades of using some of the most carbon-intensive oil on the planet: Canadian tar sands and fracked North Dakota Bakken crude. At a time of extreme drought and intense heat waves, we need to invest in safe and clean energy projects.

Take action here — urge Benicia’s planning department to protect our communities and say no to oil trains in California.  (Click here, then scroll down to send a letter.  See text of letter below.)

Text of the Center’s letter (go here and edit as you like):

I am writing with serious concern about Valero’s proposed oil train offloading facility in Benicia. According to the environmental impact report (EIR), this project would create several “significant and unavoidable impacts” that could harm my community.

For one, bringing oil trains into Benicia is expected to create unacceptable increases in toxic air pollution to towns along the rail route and near the refinery. Specifically the EIR identifies increases in nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Oil trains of this size typically have three diesel engines emitting the equivalent pollution of 1,500 cars each, or 4,500 per train.

According to the EIR, the cumulative risk of spills, explosions and fires along the Union Pacific mainline “would be significant for all of the tank car designs.” This includes the not-yet-built DOT-117 cars, which require a puncture resistance of only 18 mph even while current speed limits are set to 50 mph in most areas. Just one accident could result in significant loss of life, long-term economic damage and contamination of our precious wetlands and waterways.

The EIR also wrongly assumes the “worst case” scenario is a spill of just eight tanker cars, or about 240,000 gallons. The train that incinerated Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013 spilled more than 1.6 million gallons of crude (about 60 tanker cars), and accidents in West Virginia, Alabama and North Dakota have also resulted in 20 or more tanker cars catching fire. Without an accurate worst-case-scenario analysis that reflects existing data on recent spills, this project cannot be approved.

The revised EIR also identifies “significant and unavoidable” climate impacts that conflict with California’s existing law to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 80 percent below 1990 levels and move to an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. At a time of extreme drought and intense heat waves, we must invest in safe, clean energy rather than dangerous oil infrastructure.

And finally, an analysis of census data has shown that a vast majority of people who will be harmed by this project live in EPA-designated environmental-justice communities — primarily low-income and of color. Approving this project will only add to a legacy of environmental injustice.

For all these reasons, I urge you, the planning commission and city council to deny certification for this EIR and reject Valero’s proposed oil train terminal in Benicia.


Again, to send this letter to Benicia city planners, click here.

Safety warning from British Health & Safety Executive

Repost from Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Great Britain
[Editor: CONTEXT – I received this in an  email from Fred Millar,  independent consultant and expert on chemical safety and railroad transportation.  Fred’s email comment puts the British commentary in a “North American oil-train” perspective:  “Impact of falling oil prices may be quite small re volumes of Crude By Rail shipments, some informed observers have noted.  But this UK HSE message highlights a likely, less visible but no less ominous impact: dangerous lowering of safety standards in the oil industry [and by implication in the newly important “pipeline on rails” railroads carrying crude oil and other hazmat].  If this impact had not been seen previously at significant levels by safety agencies, there would be no need for such blunt alarums, of course.”  – RS]

No Compromise

By Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair, 2/6/15

The impacts of falling oil prices is having a wide ranging effect in the UK – from the lower cost of filling up the car to people’s livelihoods being under threat.

It is inevitable companies seek to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and the decisions they are being forced to make are tough ones. It’s actually a stress test of leadership and senior management.

Part of that test is whether company decision makers have all the relevant information to make informed decisions.

How can they?

At the very least they have to make assumptions about what the future will look like. In this case, how long oil prices will stay at these levels? What decisions are competitor companies and industries taking? After all, they need to be making the right decisions for the company in the short term and for the mid to long term.

We’ve been here before, of course, in the 1990s when oil prices dropped and assumptions were made about the long term life of North Sea assets that proved to be wide of the mark. So this is a time when corporate memory really counts.

On that occasion the assumption was made that North Sea production would be wound down in the medium term and assets could afford to be neglected because they would soon be out of service. As prices rose again, the assets were called upon to continue to produce and many are now operating well beyond their original life expectancy. Doing that has required huge effort by the North Sea Oil and Gas industry to bring those neglected assets back up to the required standard.

Those who have led this effort to improve asset integrity deserve to be praised, but their voices need to continue to be heard as we go through this next difficult phase for the industry.

Cutting costs where there seems to be least tangible day-to-day effect is obviously tempting but leaders and senior managers need to pass the stress test on knowing where health and safety – and particularly process safety and asset integrity – sits in this mix.

Asset integrity must not suffer from short term expediency over where the axe falls. Leadership is critical to avoid wrong assumptions being made about the lifespan of assets, assumptions we know from previous experience can take years to reverse.

Current news headlines may be disconcerting, but I want all industries dealing with process safety to avoid inadvertently writing tomorrow’s headlines today.

Safety must not be compromised, even in tough times.