Tag Archives: Minnesota

U.S. Senators urge stiff oversite and a “Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund”

Repost from BringMeTheNews.com, Minneapolis, MN
[Editor: note the Minnesota “Traffic of Crude Oil” map at end of this story.  – RS]

Franken wants more oversight of crude oil shipped by rail

April 6, 2014 By Melanie Sommer

In the wake of recent accidents involving trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, U.S. Sen. Al Franken is calling for more federal oversight of oil transport by rail.

Franken, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee — which takes a lead role in writing the federal budget each year — urging the creation of a Safe Transportation of Energy Products Fund.

The new program would look at ways to improve the safety of transporting crude oil by train and oil tankers, the Northland News Center reports. The fund would pay for more safety inspections, disaster response training, studies and community outreach, among other things.

The senators also are asking for funding to hire more inspectors.

Lawmakers on the federal and state levels stepped up their scrutiny of oil shipments by rail after a train carrying crude oil collided with another train near Casselton, N.D. in late December, causing an oil spill and a spectacular fire which required the town to evacuate.  Congressional committees held hearings on rail safety, and several bills increasing oversight of oil transportation are in committee in the Minnesota House.

The growth in rail transport of crude oil has increased dramatically in just the past few years, according to Franken’s office.  About 800,000 barrels of crude per day are shipped via rail, which is a 6,000 percent increase since 2007.

Experts are also concerned about the safety of Bakken crude, specifically. Federal officials issued a safety alert in January warning that the crude oil pumped in that region may be more flammable — and therefore, more dangerous — than other forms of oil.

This map, produced by Minnesota 2020, shows the rail routes that go through Minnesota carrying crude oil.


Fire crews ‘ill-prepared’

Repost from Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Minnesota fire crews ‘ill-prepared’ for any oil train catastrophe

by: DAVID SHAFFER, Star Tribune
Updated: February 11, 2014 – 10:23 PM

Size of trains and N.D. blast make disaster prep a priority.

Six trains with 100 or more crude oil tank cars pass through the Twin Cities every day, and if one of them wrecks, state and local emergency responders don’t have the equipment needed to put out a catastrophic fire, state and local officials say.

To fight a major oil-train fire, local fire departments would need help from railroad emergency crews, officials said. That was the case in the Dec. 30 derailment, explosion and fire of an oil train near Casselton, N.D. Massive amounts of fire-suppressing foam, rather than standard water hoses, are needed to extinguish raging tank-car fires.

“There isn’t a fire department that has that much foam right now,” Jim Smith, assistant chief of operations for the St. Paul Fire Department, said in an interview Tuesday. Smith joined other emergency responders to discuss the issue last week with BNSF Railway Co., the largest North Dakota crude oil hauler.

BNSF and Canadian Pacific, the other regional crude oil hauler, have robust firefighting capabilities and have long worked with local fire departments on emergency response efforts. But some Minnesota officials say first responders need their own capability to fight a major crude oil fire involving multiple tank cars in a populated area.

“We are ill-prepared for this,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, who is preparing legislation with Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, to address shortcomings in the state’s ability to cope with crude-oil emergencies on railroads or pipelines. “This is overwhelming the state right now.”

Worries about Minnesota’s rail-disaster response have emerged as Congress is studying rail safety after recent accidents, including the July crash of a North Dakota oil train that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on transportation will hold a hearing on rail safety, and a House committee will follow with a hearing later this month.

State is major way point

North Dakota, now the second-largest oil producing state, relies on rail to ship 70 percent of its nearly 1 million barrels per day of crude oil. Much of it gets loaded onto long “unit trains” that go from North Dakota to East Coast or Gulf Coast refineries.

This crude-by-rail business didn’t exist five years ago. Now, Minnesota is a major way point for these shipments. On average, eight oil trains of about 110 cars each pass through Minnesota daily, with six of them going through Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Dave Christianson, who oversees freight and rail planning for the Minnesota Transportation Department. All of the trains, including about two a day that go south through western Minnesota, pass through many smaller towns, he said.

“We have a definite risk associated with the movement,” Christianson said.

Crude oil now is the most common hazardous material on Minnesota railways, followed by ethanol, which is shipped through the Twin Cities on 70-car trains at the rate of about one per day, he said. Tank cars carrying chlorine and anhydrous ammonia have long been considered risks, but they aren’t packed together in dedicated unit trains.

MnDOT lacks a response team for rail petroleum accidents, Christianson added. Yet the agency has five experts who respond to the more common tanker truck accidents on highways involving hazardous materials, he said.

Hornstein said Minnesota needs its own responders and equipment to rapidly deploy in rail emergencies. He said the state House Transportation Finance Committee, which he leads, also will hold a hearing on the issue early in the legislative session, which begins this month. He’s considering a fee on railroads to pay for the program, with a cost that has not yet been determined.

More equipment needed

Smith, of the St. Paul Fire Department, said Minnesota emergency responders not only lack enough firefighting foam to immediately attack a multiple-tanker fire, they also don’t have equipment to spray large amounts of foam at tank cars.

“We have over 500 gallons of foam, and that would be a drop in the bucket if one of these trains were to go,” Smith said.

If an oil train exploded and caught fire in St. Paul, Smith said, the fire department initially would focus on evacuating people and setting up an exclusion zone, and rely on railroads or others to assist with fighting the fire. Minneapolis fire officials did not respond Tuesday to requests to comment on their plans.

BNSF, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific, which hauls ethanol in Minnesota, said they have firefighting crews across their rail networks. BNSF, for example, said it has more than 200 “hazmat’’ responders at 60 locations. Railroads also have offered free training to local fire departments and say they plan to offer more.

“We take the issue of safety seriously — it is a priority of our railroad,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific, which has its U.S. headquarters in Minneapolis.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the rail industry is talking to federal regulators about oil train routes, reduced train speeds where risk is greatest and other steps to address the safety concerns. The rail industry also has voluntarily toughened standards for new tank cars to make them more puncture-resistant — a step that federal regulators are talking about taking.

The National Transportation Safety Board in January recommended routing oil and ethanol trains around populated areas. But many rail experts, including Christianson, say that may be difficult because many rail lines were built to reach places like the Twin Cities.

Fred Millar, a safety consultant who has worked on rail issues in Washington and elsewhere, said rerouting trains remains a good option for crude oil shipping by rail, but it would take strong action by the federal government to make it happen.

“It is a born-yesterday industry,” Millar said of the oil-by-rail phenomenon. “Unit trains are clearly posing a unique danger.”

David Shaffer

Train sprays crude oil for nearly 70 miles

Repost from The Brainerd Dispatch

Train sprays crude oil for nearly 70 miles

 Posted: February 5, 2014

RED WING – A southbound Canadian Pacific train leaked a trail of about 12,000 gallons of crude oil Monday morning after passing through Red Wing, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

MPCA emergency responders worked with railroad personnel throughout the day Tuesday to gauge the extent of the spill and check for environmental damage, MPCA spokeswoman Cathy Rofshus said.

She described the leak as a “light spray on the ballast rocks” that stretches for nearly 70 miles of track.

A duty officer’s report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says the leak started in Red Wing and continued past Winona before it was reported around 9 a.m. Monday. Crews reportedly stopped the train and fixed a missing valve or cap responsible for the spill.

Investigators spent the day Tuesday looking for areas where the oil may have pooled, but so far none has been found, Rofshus said.