Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Laws regulating crude oil trains in several states

Repost from Public Source
[Editor:  Although the emphasis here is on Pennsylvania, this article gives some detail on state laws regulating crude oil trains in several other states.  – RS]

Can Pennsylvania officials do more to address crude oil train safety?

Other states with heavy crude-by-rail traffic have passed various laws to address safety. Pennsylvania legislators have not.

By Natasha Khan | PublicSource | Nov. 22, 2015
Can Pennsylvania officials do more to address crude oil train safety?
Legislators in states with an uptick in crude-by-rail traffic have passed laws and changed policies. But not in Pennsylvania. (iStock photo)

They hug rivers, breeze by farms and cross 100-year-old bridges. They chug past hospitals, schools, stadiums and many, many homes. And sometimes, they derail.

As shipments of crude oil by train have increased nationwide, anxiety over the chance of a derailment happening in a big city, like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, has grown.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a refinery, is the nation’s largest consumer of fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, which makes Pennsylvania a top destination for oil trains.

PublicSource reported in March that 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within a half-mile of tracks that haul crude oil — the federally recommended evacuation zone for oil train fires.

While the railroad industry says that 99.99 percent of shipments of oil by rail safely make it to their destinations, there have been at least seven derailments of trains carrying crude oil involving spills or fires in North America this year; the latest spill was earlier this month in Wisconsin.

So far, only minor derailments have occurred in Pennsylvania. Some say it’s only a matter of time before the state experiences a big crash.

Regulating railroads is mostly under the purview of the federal government, which recently issued new safety standards for older tank cars and braking systems. But legislators in some states with heavy crude-by-rail traffic have passed laws and changed policies out of fear of what a major derailment could mean for their states.

While Gov. Tom Wolf has taken some action on the issue — most notably commissioning a rail safety expert to assess ways to lower risks of derailments — no laws addressing prevention or emergency response have passed, or been introduced, by state legislators in Pennsylvania.


“There have been bills introduced in New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Washington state and California, and I haven’t seen squat out of Pennsylvania,” said Fred Millar, an independent hazardous materials consultant in Washington, D.C.

Laws passed in other states vary and offer several paths for Pennsylvania to consider.

In 2014, Minnesota passed a law that raises millions of dollars a year to fund emergency response initiatives, state studies on infrastructure improvements and rail inspectors.

“I feel like there’s a huge responsibility for state and even local governments to be laying down these issues and challenging the railroads,” said the law’s sponsor, state Rep. Frank Hornstein (D-Minn).

In May, Washington state passed a law requiring railroads to show oil spill response plans and how they would pay cleanup costs for a worst-case spill. The law also placed a fee on barrels of oil entering the state to help pay for more emergency response programs. Additionally, the law required more public disclosure of crude oil train shipments.

A few days after Wisconsin experienced two train derailments in early November, state lawmakers introduced rail safety legislation that addressed prevention and response.

‘Evaluating options’

A group of Pennsylvania state senators have been exploring oil train safety issues.

“As far as legislative action, we are in the process of evaluating options,” said Nolan Ritchie, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee, which is looking at the issue along with the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Berks/Chester/Montgomery, chairman of the transportation committee, did not want to comment until they have something they plan to introduce, according to Ritchie.

Ritchie said they’re looking at safety precautions taken by railroads, what the governor has done and laws in other states, while also making sure Pennsylvania doesn’t overstep legally.

“Pennsylvania really cannot add additional regulations that would basically be under the jurisdiction of the federal government,” he said.

Some states are testing that idea. Similar to Washington’s law, California passed legislation in 2014 requiring that railroads provide emergency response plans and proof they can pay oil spill cleanup costs. Two railroads and an industry group sued claiming federal law preempts state rail laws.

In June, a federal court dismissed the case because the state hadn’t started enforcing the law, and railroads couldn’t challenge it if it hadn’t yet been enforced. The law is now in effect.

Part of the issue for railroads is the inconsistency of having to follow different rules in each state with oil trains moving across the country.

“It’s a national system that needs to be managed as a national system,” said Grady Cothen, a retired Federal Railroad Administration safety official. “And you really can’t lay on [state officials] for regulating the safety of railroad operations. If you do, it’s a very inefficient patchwork and you end up with railroads lobbying legislatures all over the United States… ”

Prevention and response

rail car
A train carrying crude oil can be identified by a red triangle-shaped placard on tank cars with the code 1267. It is a U.S. Department of Transportation classification code that identifies the hazardous material for emergency responders. (Photo by Molly Duerig/PublicSource)

Matt Stepp, policy director at environmental group PennFuture, said there are legislative steps that can be taken now in Pennsylvania.

He said the state should find or create revenue streams to pay for oil spill prevention plans and more robust emergency response initiatives.

“They need to come up with a consistent revenue stream where they put some money … to double, if not triple, the number of inspectors the state can deploy to the areas with a lot of traffic,” Stepp said.

Washington state’s 2015 oil train law put oil refineries on the hook for a 4-cent per barrel spill prevention tax and 1-cent oil spill response tax on oil moved by rail in bulk. The funds are put toward emergency response programs in oil train communities. Washington’s law also increased a state tax on railroads that helped pay for eight new rail inspectors.

In August, Wolf released a rail safety report recommending the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission [PUC] add rail inspectors. PUC Chairman Gladys Brown said the commission has filled one vacancy for an inspector since the report and is currently looking to fill another.

Brown said they hope to have the funds to hire two more after that to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to monitor the tracks. Railroads also hire their own inspectors.

To create more funding for cleanup and response programs in California, legislators approved a 6.5-cent fee on oil companies for every barrel of oil that comes into the state by rail.

Pennsylvania State Planning and Policy Secretary John Hanger said these kinds of fees are something Wolf’s administration is “open to,” but that they would likely require legislative action.

Within the last year and a half, Washington state and New York have increased funding for oil spill response funds.

At the national level, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa, has proposed a bill that would put a $175 fee per shipment on each older DOT-111 tank car, which have been known to catch fire or spill when trains derail and are being phased out. The money generated by the bill would go to oil spill cleanup costs, training emergency responders and hiring railroad inspectors.

Stepp said state legislators also should create a cleanup fund that communities can tap into if an accident happens. Pennsylvania doesn’t have one, although there is a federal oil spill fund that states can access.

“Whether you’re talking about a big city like Philly or a county, none of them are necessarily prepared for taking on such a kind of accident [crude oil derailment] and the long term impacts of that accident,” he said.

Railroad and oil companies would “play a role” in cleanup costs, Stepp said, but that can take time and sometimes doesn’t cover all the mitigation costs. “Taxpayers tend to be on the hook for at least some of it,” he said.

Railroads say safety first

Officials from CSX and Norfolk Southern also testified at a hearing with the two state Senate committees on how they’ve advanced safety for crude oil transport. The officials focused on how they’ve trained first responders across Pennsylvania, supported tougher federal tank car standards and invested billions to improve track conditions.

“We are investing in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to further enhance safety and efficiency as we move the goods that move America,” David Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, wrote in an email.

“Safety is CSX’s highest priority,” CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle wrote in an email.

You can use this map to explore Bakken crude oil train routes within Pennsylvania. Use the search bar to zoom in and see whether your house, workplace or school is located within the federal half-mile evacuation zone.

Their safety precautions aren’t always sufficient. In February, a CSX oil train derailed in Mount Carbon, W.V. The crash caused explosions and people were evacuatedfrom their homes. Regulators discovered a contractor twice found a flaw in a rail in the months before the accident.

But the railroad didn’t repair it and the rail cracked, causing the derailment of 27 cars on the 107-car oil train. Local residents are suing the railroad for failing to properly inspect the track.

In October, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) fined CSX and announced new track guidelines, including calling for railroads to improve inspections.

Doolittle said CSX is working with the FRA to develop additional inspection processes to more quickly and accurately identify rail flaws.

State rail safety report

The state rail safety report was prepared by Allan Zarembski, a University of Delaware railroad engineering professor and an expert in railway track and structures. He focused on how railroads could prevent track and railcar wheel failures.

The report lists 27 steps that can be taken by railroads and state agencies to reduce the risk of a derailment in the state.

Spokesmen for Norfolk Southern and CSXwouldn’t talk to PublicSource about whether they have adopted the recommendations. Instead both sent statements listing what they’ve done to improve safety and said they’re open to working with state officials to address the issue.

“The railroads are currently meeting some, but not all, of the recommendations,” Jeff Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman, wrote in an email.

For instance, both railroads have refused to adopt a 35 mph speed limit for oil trains through cities with populations of more than 100,000, requested by the governor and Casey. They run them at a maximum of 40 mph.

“The administration continues to pursue this recommendation and absolutely feels that this is [an] important step to reduce the chances of a derailment,” Sheridan wrote.

Hanger said the recommendations aimed at state agencies have almost all been adopted.

These included steps the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) can take to improve response initiatives.

Ruth Miller, a PEMA spokeswoman, said the agency has focused on crude-by-rail emergency planning and is studying where more training and response materials may be needed.

“PEMA plans to provide opportunities for additional exercises as may be requested or needed (as funding is available),” she wrote in an email.

Emergency response coordinators in Cambria, Dauphin and Huntingdon counties told PublicSource that first responders have received more training regarding crude oil trains — some of it paid for by the railroads and some by state grants — but more is needed.

Lancaster County emergency response managers testified in June that the Legislature should expand the law on hazardous materials emergency planning to create more funding.

“The emergency services are prepared for a small-scale incident,” said Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin at the hearing, “but the amounts involved in a train spill or fire would be quickly overwhelming.”

States Step Up Scrutiny of Oil Train Shipments

Repost from GOVERNING The States and Localities

States Step Up Scrutiny of Oil Train Shipments

Some states are looking to prevent more derailments and spills, but the freight industry doesn’t want more regulation.
 By Daniel C. Vock | August 26, 2015
In 2014, several CSX tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire along the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va. (AP/Steve Helber)

When it comes to regulating railroads, states usually let the federal government determine policy. But mounting concerns about the safety of oil trains are making states bolder. In recent months, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state have taken steps to strengthen oversight of the freight rail industry.

The three join several other states — mostly led by Democrats — in policing oil shipments through inspection, regulation and even lawsuits. Washington, for example, applied a 4-cent-per-barrel tax on oil moved by trains to help pay for clean-ups of potential spills. The new law also requires freight rail companies to notify local emergency personnel when oil trains would pass through their communities.

“This means that at a time when the number of oil trains running through Washington is skyrocketing, oil companies will be held accountable for playing a part in preventing and responding to spills,” said Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee when signing the measure this spring.

The flurry of state activity comes in response to a huge surge in the amount of oil transported by rail in the last few years. Oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and nearby states must travel by train to refineries and ports because there are few pipelines or refineries on the Great Plains. The type of oil found in North Dakota is more volatile — that is, more likely to catch on fire — than most varieties of crude.

Public concerns about the safety of trains carrying oil have increased with the derailments in places like Galena, Ill.; Mt. Carbon, W. Va.; Aliceville, Ala.; Lynchburg, Va.; Casselton, N.D.; and especially Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people died in 2013.

Federal regulators responded to these incidents by requiring railroads to upgrade their oil train cars, to double check safety equipment on unattended trains, and to tell states when and where oil trains would be passing through their borders. This last requirement was hard won. This summer, the Federal Railroad Administration tried to encourage states to sign nondisclosure agreements with railroads about the location of oil trains. After several states balked, the agency relented.

California, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Oklahoma have all signed nondisclosure agreements, while Idaho, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have refused to do so, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

A Maryland judge earlier this month ruled against two rail carriers, Norfolk Southern and CSX, that wanted to block the state’s environmental agency from releasing details of their oil shipments. The railroads have until early next month to decide whether to appeal.

“The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret,” wrote reporter Curtis Tate of McClatchy, one of the news organizations that requested the records, “but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.”

Many states want this information so that fire departments and other emergency personnel can prepare for a potential derailment. California passed a law last year imposing clean-up fees on oil shipped by rail. The railroad industry challenged the law in court, but a judge ruled this summer that the lawsuit was premature. Minnesota passed a similar law last year, and New York added rail inspectors to cope with the increase in oil train traffic. A 1990 federal law lets states pass their own rules to prepare for oil spills, as long as those rules are at least as rigorous as federal regulations.

In Pennsylvania, which handles 60 to 70 oil trains a week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked a University of Delaware expert to help to improve safety of oil trains traveling through the state. The professor, Allan Zarembski, produced 27 recommendations for the state and the railroads. He called on the state to improve its inspection processes of railroad tracks, particularly for tracks leading into rail yards, side tracks and refineries that often handle oil trains. The professor also encouraged the state to coordinate emergency response work with the railroads and local communities.

Zarembski’s suggestions for the railroads focused on how they should test for faulty tracks, wheel bearings and axles. Most major derailments in recent years were caused by faulty track or broken equipment, not human error, he noted in his report.

Want proof that fracking endangers residential well water?

Repost from DeSmog Blog

Exclusive: Pennsylvania Family Dealing with Water Contamination Linked to Fracking Industry

The Chichura family has flammable well water, most likely due to a fracking job gone wrong in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County. Their water well, along with those of four of their neighbors, was allegedly contaminated with methane in the fall of 2011, shortly after Cabot Oil started drilling operations near their home.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) confirmed the Chichuras had methane in their water on September 21, 2011, and advised them to equip their well with a working vent to avoid a possible ignition.

The contamination of wells is not an anomaly. The DEP identified 245 sites potentially contaminated by the fracking industry between 2008 and 2014.  …(continued)

Repost from DeSmog Blog

Texas Family’s Water Well Explodes, Burns 4-Year Old, Father and Grandfather — and Fracking to Blame, Lawsuit Alleges

A family in Texas, including a four-year old, her parents and her grandfather, were severely burned when their water well ignited into a massive fireball after methane from nearby fracked wells contaminated their water supply, a newly filed lawsuit against EOG Resources and several related companies alleges.

Cody Murray, a 38-year old who previously worked in the oil and gas industry, suffered burns to his face, arms, neck and back that were so severe that he was left permanently disabled, no longer able to drive because the nerve damage has left him unable to grip steering wheels or other objects. Cody’s young daughter, who was over 20 feet away from the pump house when it ignited, suffered first and second degree burns, as did Jim Murray, Cody’s father.

The cause of the blast? Nearby fracked wells, the lawsuit alleges.  …(continued)



Maryland judge orders railroads to release oil train reports

Repost from McClatchyDC

Maryland judge orders release of oil train reports

• Case marks first time railroads have lost on the issue in court
• Judge not persuaded that release would harm security, business
• Companies that filed 2014 lawsuit have until Sept. 4 to appeal

By Curtis Tate, August 17, 2015
Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the the reports confidential.
Tank cars loaded with crude oil head east at Hurricane, W. Va., in May 2014. A Maryland judge has ordered the release of oil train reports to McClatchy and other news organizations. West Virginia and a handful of other states agreed to keep the reports confidential. Curtis Tate – McClatchy

WASHINGTON – A Maryland judge rejected two rail carriers’ arguments that oil train reports should be withheld from the public, ordering them released to McClatchy and other news organizations that sought them.

The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to see them.

The U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring in May 2014 that railroads inform states of large shipments of crude oil after a series of derailments with spills, fires, explosions and evacuations. Since February, six more major oil train derailments have occurred in North America.

Nonetheless, some railroads have continued to press their case that the reports should be exempt from disclosure under state open records laws. Most states shared the documents anyway, and Pennsylvania and Texas did so after McClatchy appealed. Maryland is the only state that was taken to court after it said it would release the reports.

Norfolk Southern and CSX sued the Maryland Department of the Environment in July 2014 to stop the state agency from releasing the records to McClatchy and the Associated Press. They have until Sept. 4 to appeal the decision, issued Friday by Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Both companies, which transport crude oil to East Coast refineries concentrated in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said they would review the decision.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the company would “respond at the appropriate time and venue.”

Melanie Cost, a spokeswoman for CSX, said the railroad “remains committed to safely moving these and all other shipments on its network.”

The ruling isn’t the first time railroads have lost their bid to keep the oil train reports secret, but it is the first court decision recognizing the public’s right to access them.

In his 20-page opinion, Fletcher-Hill was not persuaded by arguments that releasing the oil train reports would harm the railroads’ security and business interests. He also dismissed the relevance of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s May final rule addressing the safety of oil trains. The companies had argued that the final rule supported their claims.

He also ordered the companies to pay any open court costs.

In a statement, Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said the agency was pleased with the ruling and that it is “committed to transparency in government.”

Rail transportation of Bakken crude oil, produced through hydraulic fracturing of shale formations in North Dakota, has grown exponentially in the past five years. However, a series of fiery derailments, including one in Quebec in 2013 that killed 47 people, have raised numerous concerns about public safety, environmental protection and emergency planning and response.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx issued an emergency order on May 7, 2014, that required any railroad shipping 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through a state to inform that state’s emergency response commission what routes the trains would take and which counties they would cross, as well as provide a reasonable estimate of how many trains to expect in a week.

Beginning in June 2014, McClatchy submitted open records requests in 30 states for the oil train reports, including Maryland.

McClatchy was able to glean some of the details in the Maryland report through a Freedom of Information Act request to Amtrak, which owns part of Norfolk Southern’s oil train route in the state. The subsequent release of oil train reports in Pennsylvania revealed more about such operations in Maryland.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released an 84-page assessment of oil train safety in the state, which examined derailment risk, tank car failures and regulatory oversight. Some Maryland lawmakers have called for the state to perform a similar assessment.