Tag Archives: Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

Ohio: Leaders don’t keep track of oil trains

Repost from The Bucyrus Telegraph, Bucyrus, Ohio

Leaders don’t keep track of oil trains

Explosive shipments go right through city centers

Apr. 3, 2014
by James Pilcher, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Domestic oil production, including that in Ohio, keeps growing. And with oil being produced in new areas that don’t have pipelines, more crude is heading to refineries in rail cars. Yet neither federal nor state regulators track the shipments that are increasingly crisscrossing the country — potentially cutting through neighborhoods and business districts nationwide.

Much of the oil apparently is more volatile than traditional crude, with some experts saying it is as explosive “as gasoline.” A number of oil tanker accidents and explosions made headlines last year, including last July’s derailment and explosion in  Quebec that killed 47 people and all but leveled a small town. The train was pulling at least a dozen tank cars carrying crude pulled from Bakken shale deposits.

Similar types of oil are being pulled from shale fields all over the U.S., including eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and North Dakota.

“Regulators across North America simply have not kept up with the boom in moving oil by train,” said Keith Stewart, a Canadian-based researcher for the environmental group Greenpeace. “You would be shocked how little governments know how much and where and when this oil is moving by rail.”

Federal regulators don’t know what is  on the tracks at any given time. Nor do first responders and community officials, apart from getting a list of the top 25 hazardous materials that move through their communities. But because of security concerns, local officials can’t make the top 25 lists public. Railroads must keep a list internally, but those records also are not public.

The lack of disclosure could pose a problem for a city such as Cincinnati, which has one of the Midwest’s largest railyards in CSX-owned Queensgate, which sits near downtown.

“All kinds of hazardous materials go through (Queensgate) and no, we’re not notified of what is going through when,“ said Cincinnati Fire Department District Chief Tom Lakamp, who oversees special operations and hazardous materials response teams for the city.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees the shipments of all hazardous materials, including crude oil, superseding state regulators for rail shipments. The agency did not make anyone available for interviews, but said in a statement that it was starting to look at changing its rules and was taking a closer look at oil shipments.

All that’s called ‘crude’ is not necessarily the same

The United States is poised to become the world’s largest combined producer of natural gas and crude oil in the coming year, according to federal data, which  indicate the country produced 7.5 million barrels of oil a day last year. Oil industry officials saying national production has been above 8 million barrels per day since November.

Ohio is a part of that growth, because of the wells in the eastern part of the state pulling up oil and natural gas from Utica shale reserves. The state produced 16,000 barrels of oil a day last year, up more than 23 percent from 2012.

But even as oil production has grown, pipeline infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. That’s forced oil producers and refiners to turn to rail shipments, especially in remote areas such as North Dakota, but also in Ohio. The railroad industry reports that crude oil shipments nearly doubled in 2013 as compared with 2012, with the American Association of Railroads estimating that more than 400,000 tank loads of crude arrived by rail last year.

A single tank car holds about 714 barrels of oil, and each barrel contains 42 gallons, meaning every tank car contains 30,000 gallons of oil. But an Ohio oil industry official says the majority of what’s called oil produced and shipped in the state is “ very volatile” and “basically liquified natural gas,” even as he points out that Ohio oil has been pumped and shipped safely for decades.

“It is still classified as crude oil, even thought it is a lot closer to gasoline,” said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Natural Gas Association. “The bottom line is that it should be treated differently than other crude oil.”

Stewart says most of Ohio’s oil is shipped out of state — although refineries in the state are starting to take on this volatile oil.

Finally, the oil is being shipped in outdated tanker cars. The National Transportation Safety Board started recommending in 1991 that oil companies stop using the older model of tanker because they have proven not to prevent spillage and explosions in case of derailments. It renewed its call this January.

“You’ve got one of the most profitable industries in the world looking to save a few dollars at the cost of safety,” said Fred Millar, a Virginia-based rail/hazmat safety consultant who has worked with major cities on safety planning.

Issue creates tensions; changes on the way?

Tension abounds between the oil and rail industries over the shipments, even as railroads court oil producers as customers.

Many carriers — including CSX and the Genesee & Wyoming railroad — actively market their capacity to oil producers. But on the other hand, national railroad officials openly acknowledge differences with the oil industry over safety standards.

“The shippers own the cars and the materials and are responsible for safe packaging and labeling, but we’re the ones liable in case of an accident,” said Holly Arthur, spokeswoman for the American Association of Railroads.

The rail industry last month agreed with the U.S. Transportation Department to voluntarily impose tighter procedures, including:

•  Installing better brakes on trains with 20 or more oil cars.

•  Limiting speeds to 40 mph on trains with 20 or more rail cars in highly populated areas.

•  Increase track inspections on lines that carry trains with heavy oil traffic.

Oil industry officials say they also are trying to improve safety, but have not yet agreed to any specifics. “Our mitigation efforts are looking at topics like tank car design and crude oil testing and classification,” said Jack Gerard, president and chief executive officer for the American Petroleum Institute.

As for the regulators, PHMSA is studying new variations of the domestically produced oil and its potential volatility. It’s also double-checking that domestic oil is property categorized and shipped.

Setback on new federal regulations governing oil by rail

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Feds Weaken New Oil-By-Rail Safety Regulations Days After Announcing Them

Nine days after announcing new regulations designed to improve oil-by-rail safety, the Department of Transportation quietly weakened the rules for testing rail cars and exempted shippers of bitumen from having to…

DOT-111 tank cars inadequate, but rolling through our cities today

Repost from PublicSource
[Editor: two significant excerpts: “While federal officials work on new safety requirements for DOT-111 tank cars, these cars are out there carrying crude oil, rolling through Pennsylvania daily…” AND “The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency recently struck an agreement with CSX railroad to get real-time information on the tracking of hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, in the state.” – RS]

Rail cars moving crude oil need makeover

By Natasha Khan | PublicSource | March 25, 2014

Train Derailment 2006: Flames continue to burn a day after a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Oct. 21, 2006, in New Brighton. Flames continue to burn a day after a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Oct. 21, 2006, in New Brighton, Pa. (Photo by Lucy Schaly / Beaver County Times)

Walking with his daughter from a Friday night football game in New Brighton, Pa., Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland heard what sounded like a jet overhead and saw an orange glow in the distance.

Twenty-three rail tank cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge above the Beaver River on that night in 2006, setting off an explosion that burned for 48 hours. Some of the black, torpedo-shaped cars tumbled into the river.

No one was injured, but 150 people were evacuated and a nearly multi-million dollar cleanup ensued in the city about 30 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh.

The rail cars in the accident were DOT-111s, designed in the early 1960s and originally used to haul non-hazardous materials such as corn syrup. Now, they are the worker bees for the glut of crude oil and ethanol being transported across Pennsylvania and the country.

“The same old clunkers are still out there,” said Fred Millar, a Washington, D.C., consultant to the rail industry. “They’re Pepsi cans on wheels.”

For more than 20 years, safety officials have warned about these cars as accidents involving them have multiplied. One of the worst was in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013, when 47 people died after a runaway train carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota exploded, decimating the town.

Now, state, federal and industry officials are demanding that regulations be put in place to improve the safety of the cars, which are “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials” when trains derail, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

After two recent derailments in Pennsylvania — one in Westmoreland County, one in Philadelphia — involving the cars and crude oil, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

“Steps must be taken to make rail cars safer and to ensure greater transparency in the transportation of hazardous materials,” Casey wrote.


A sharp increase in North American crude-oil production — mainly because of fracking — has pushed a high percentage of crude oil onto the tracks.

In 2008, there were 9,500 carloads of crude oil on the tracks in the country. In 2013 that number ballooned to 415,000 carloads, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The amount of crude oil spilled last year was more than the total amount spilled  in the 37 previous years, according to an analysis of federal data by McClatchy Newspapers.

“Most times, people don’t want regulations, [but] in this case, everybody wants them,” said Anthony Hatch, a rail transportation analyst and consultant.

Rolling through PA

Pennsylvanians usually associate fracking with natural gas, but much of the crude oil being fracked in the North Dakota Bakken Shale formation goes to refineries in and around Philadelphia, which include Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest refiner of Bakken crude.

Railway officials don’t reveal their routes for hazardous materials for security reasons, and aren’t required to by law. However, a state official said Bakken crude does come through Pittsburgh on the way to Philly.

And the number of trains carrying crude oil through Pennsylvania are set to spike with the opening of a new crude oil terminal in Eddystone in Delaware County at the end of April. Trains carrying more than 80,000 barrels of North Dakota crude oil are expected to arrive daily.

Virtually no one in the rail and oil industries anticipated that railroads would be a primary mode of transporting the massive amounts of newly fracked crude oil in North America, said Hatch, the rail industry analyst.

“Nobody saw it coming,” he said.

Now, federal regulations need to play “catch up” with this reality, said Deborah A.P. Hersman, former chairwoman of the NTSB, in a statement.

“The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago,” she said.

Now the NTSB — which investigates accidents, but doesn’t regulate railroads — and others are insisting that regulations be written covering the DOT-111s and other rail cars.

“Right now, there is so much uncertainty that people aren’t going to make investments in safer cars and they’re going to keep running these crummy cars and killing people,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing focused on rail safety in February.

The job of writing the regulations falls to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

In September, PHMSA put out a notice asking for comments from citizens, environmental and industry groups, and railroad companies on proposed rules to improve the design of the DOT-111 tank car, as well as other safety rules.

PHMSA officials said they’ve been busy since the comment period ended in December analyzing numerous comments on the rules. But changes aren’t pegged to come until early 2015, according to the agency’s timeline.

This month, a Senate panel grilled regulators on taking too long to pass regulations improving the tank cars used to haul crude.

The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was “disappointed and disturbed by some of the delays and failures in rulemaking and scrutiny.”

PHMSA head Cynthia L. Quarterman told the panel that her agency is working as fast as possible.

A PHMSA spokesman, Joe Delcambre, told PublicSource in an email that “it was crucial to get input from a wide variety of stakeholders, including shippers and carriers, state and local officials and concerned citizens.”

The AAR estimates there are 92,000 DOT-111 tank cars used to transport hazardous chemicals and that more than 75,000 of those would need to be retrofitted or possibly to be phased out. These tank cars are not usually owned by railroads but by chemical or oil producers and leasing agencies.

Inspection blitzes 

While federal officials work on new safety requirements for DOT-111 tank cars, these cars are out there carrying crude oil, rolling through Pennsylvania daily, said Christina Simeone, director of PennFuture’s energy center, an environmental advocacy group in Pennsylvania.

Simeone said that during the year or so it may take for federal rules to pass, state and local officials should do inspection blitzes of tank cars and rail lines carrying hazardous materials.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which works with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to inspect rail operations, is now focused on inspecting tracks and rail equipment that carries crude oil shipments, a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Railroad officials seem to be willing to communicate information about their shipments to state officials.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency recently struck an agreement with CSX railroad to get real-time information on the tracking of hazardous material shipments, including crude oil, in the state.

“It will better prepare [state emergency workers] to respond to any incidents that may occur,” said Cory Angell, a spokesman with the agency, who added that his agency is also reaching out to the Norfolk Southern line for a similar agreement.

And officials at both major PA railroads have said they’ve helped train local emergency responders across the state.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or at nkhan@publicsource.org.


PublicSource is an investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania. Learn more at publicsource.org.

Oil Companies Fined For Mislabeling Crude Shipments

Repost from Huffington Post / Reuters

U.S. Oil Companies Fined For Mislabeling Crude Shipments In First Move After Series Of Derailments

Main Entry Image

In this Dec. 30, 2013 file photo, a fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment in Casselton, N.D. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Patrick Rucker
WASHINGTON, Feb 4 (Reuters) – Three oil companies operating  in North Dakota were fined $93,000 on Tuesday for wrongly  classifying fuel shipments in the first sanctions since a series  of fiery derailments put the energy industry under a spotlight.

The Department of Transportation said Hess Corp,  Marathon Oil Corp and Whiting Petroleum Corp   were cited for wrongly classifying cargo tanks that were hauling  crude oil from the field to a railhead.

Fuel shipments must be designated with a hazard class to  alert emergency responders in the event of an accident. Eleven  of eighteen samples of one survey were mislabeled, the DOT said  in a statement.

“The fines we are proposing today should send a message to  everyone involved in the shipment of crude oil: You must test  and classify this material properly,” said Transportation  Secretary Anthony Foxx.

A spate of explosive derailments, including one in Quebec  last July which killed 47 people, has led to concerns over the  safety of shipping crude oil by rail and improper labeling.

Officials have already warned that some fuel found in North  Dakota’s energy patch, the Bakken, could be more volatile and  explosion-prone than other crude oil and that shippers should  take precautions.

Typically, crude oil carries a ‘hazard class 3’  classification and can be shipped in a standard tank car. The  shipments are further assigned a ‘packing group’ to alert to  dangers – that portion of the shipping paper was faulty, the DOT  said.

While the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety  Administration (PHMSA) has been testing crude samples for months  and issued several industry warnings, Tuesday’s action is the  first sanction.

Phmsa Administrator Cynthia Quartersman said the fines  reflected “initial findings” and that officials would scrutinize  the corrosivity, pressure and other traits of Bakken crude.

The DOT did not specify which companies would be expected to  pay what share of the $93,000 fines but by any measure the sums  were small for large energy companies.

Officials from Hess and Marathon could not immediately be  reached for comment.

Jack Ekstrom, a spokesperson for Whiting, said that the  company had not yet been contacted by the DOT about a possible  fine.