Tag Archives: Rail Supply Institute

LOCAL OP-ED – Jerome Page: The triumph of human ingenuity

Repost from The Benicia Herald

Jerome Page: The triumph of human ingenuity

August 8, 2014 by Jerome Page

TIME TO TAKE A CLOSE LOOK AT OUR STARTLING SUCCESS in solving our energy problems with oil — good old American Bakken crude along with a hefty swash of that Canadian tar sands crude. Canada being a very friendly neighbor, this seems a great deal on both sides of the border. And thanks to a fine railroad system, it’s just a simple straight shot from North Dakota and Alberta right up to our door here in Benicia, California! Providence be blessed!

And yet there are, as always, folks who not only want to examine that gift horse’s teeth but can be just plain ungracious — if not downright surly and disagreeable — about it. What could possibly be wrong with cheaper oil in copious quantities, without ever having to deal with folks who don’t even speak English?

But enough. I’ll step out of the Joe Schmoe character and comment just a bit on that question of what can, in fact, possibly be wrong.

From an Earth Island Journal clipping (June 29, 2014), a piece by Adam Federman, we read: “Since the Lac-Mégantic disaster (with its 47 dead) there has been a string of oil train collisions and derailments. Late on the night of November 7, a train carrying at least 2.7 million gallons of Bakken crude derailed near Aliceville, Alabama, resulting in dramatic explosions similar to those seen in Lac-Mégantic. Because the train exploded a few miles outside of Aliceville, no one was injured or killed. On December 30, a train carrying crude collided with another train outside of Casselton, North Dakota, releasing more than 400,000 gallons of oil into the surrounding land. At least half the town’s 2,400 residents were evacuated, though no one was injured. And on April 30, an oil train operated by CSX derailed in the city of Lynchburg, Virginia, sending flames and oil into the James River and forcing the evacuation of more than 300 residents. Last year more oil spilled in rail accidents — 1.15 million gallons — than the previous 35 years combined.” (Italics mine)

Then the following:

“Extra-flammable Bakken crude riskier to ship by rail than other oil, U.S. safety watchdog warns,” by Jeff Lewis, Jan. 2, 2014:

“CALGARY — U.S. authorities said Thursday crude oil shipped by rail from the Bakken shale in North Dakota across the United States and Canada ‘may be more flammable’ than other types of oil, as the latest in a string of explosive accidents focuses attention on the booming oil-by-rail trade.”

How about we ditch that “may be”! For example, another read on Casselton:

“‘There was a huge fireball’: Train carrying crude oil explodes after derailing in North Dakota,” by Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Dec. 30, 2013:

“A train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s oil patch derailed Monday near the small town of Casselton, setting off a series of fiery explosions. No injuries were initially reported, but officials were warning residents to stay indoors as the situation unfolded. Cass County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tara Morris says as many as 300 residents of Casselton may be evacuated.

“Morris estimates about 10 cars from a mile-long train caught fire and will have to burn out. She said it could take up to 12 hours before authorities can get close.

Next, “How crude-by-rail accidents may impact the U.S. oil market,” Reuters, Jan. 23, 2014:

“A spate of high-profile crude-by-rail accidents is making oil analysts consider how tighter rail safety standards could impact U.S. oil markets, by potentially crimping a mode of transport that has grown exponentially amid the shale drilling boom.

“Any regulation or industry-driven move to hastily sideline a fleet of some 75,000 older tank cars commonly used for shipping crude could roil U.S. oil logistics, boost costs for refiners, and even hit output from North Dakota’s giant Bakken field, oil analysts said.

“The scenario that many view as more likely — where older rail cars could be gradually retrofitted or retired — would be less disruptive but still raise transportation costs.” (And, of course, forestall greater dangers, but what the hell, what’s life without a little spice!)

“Tank cars known as DOT-111s are used to transport most of the 10 percent of U.S. oil production, or around 800,000 barrels per day, that is shipped by railroad. The cargoes have surged over the past half decade, offering drillers in fast-growing shale plays like the Bakken a quick and flexible way to send barrels to consumer markets without relying on limited regional pipelines.

“DOT-111 rail cars built before 2011, which have been involved in several accidents, are under scrutiny for safety issues that make them more likely to puncture in a derailment.

“Over the weekend, a train carrying North Dakota crude derailed in Philadelphia, although there was no fire or injuries.

“‘I view this as a potentially hugely significant rail risk,’ said Credit Suisse’s Jan Stuart, referring to how new crude-by-rail safety measures could impact Bakken-region oil logistics or production.” (That risk of course is financial, and when you’re talking financial risk, man you have an audience; human risk, risk to life and limb — not so much!)

“So far, the Department of Transportation has set a schedule for next year to draft new regulations, including updated tank car specifications, but it is facing pressure to move faster.

“‘Regulators have endorsed the new safety standards for newly built cars, but so far have not required any retrofitting,’ said Sandy Fielden of the RBN Energy consultancy in Austin. ‘If the existing fleet of older cars were to need retrofitting, it would be very disruptive.’”

And why in hell would we be wanting to do anything “disruptive” when the money is rolling in so beautifully! Is it that hard for people to focus on the crucial bottom line?!

“In the fast-growing Bakken, where pipeline capacity has not kept up with oil production, more than 70 percent of output that is approaching 1 million barrels per day now moves by rail, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

“Over half of the U.S. crude moved by rail hails from the Bakken, where the trend has allowed drillers to quickly send their barrels to refineries in the biggest fuel markets along U.S. coasts where they fetch higher prices, boosting profits.

“‘The most likely scenario is for regulators to gradually phase in safety improvements,’ said energy analyst Michael Wittner of Societe Generale. ‘That could increase transportation costs, but if there were a decision to replace older tank cars on short deadline, crude would be piling up in North Dakota.’” (Let’s not be disrupting the flow of oil — and cash.)

“Retrofitting the entire fleet of older DOT-111s would be costly and take up to ten years, the Rail Supply Institute, which represents tank car owners, said last year, in part because manufacturers are already struggling with a backlog of tank car orders. Newer DOT-111s feature safety improvements, but comprise only around 14,000 cars so far, according to the AAR.

“Sidelining older DOT-111s could depress Bakken oil prices at the wellhead as producers compete for insufficient pipeline capacity, eventually hurting production, Fielden said. Any fall in deliveries by rail could force some coastal U.S. refineries to go back to buying more expensive crude imports.

“If all older tankers were retrofitted, it could add between 20 and 40 cents per barrel to crude-by-rail costs, assuming a cost of $30,000 to $60,000 per car, according to a report this month from Turner, Mason & Company consultants.

“Should producers have to rely just on pipelines, Bakken deliveries would plummet to less than 600,000 bpd at the most, less than 60 percent of daily output, according to the state pipeline authority.

“Because of its rapid output growth and isolated location from fuel markets, only a small portion of Bakken crude is processed in facilities known as fractionation plants, which strip out volatile gases like propane and butane, known as light ends. The plants can require large up-front investment, and years to build.” (Whoa there, time and money again? Forget it!)

“‘Regulatory costs are going to go up, it’s just a question of how high and how fast,’ said Robert McNally, president at U.S. energy consultant Rapidan Group. ‘I expect officials will try to find a sweet spot where timely and adequate regulations … do not cripple Bakken economics.’” (Ah yes, a sweet spot that doesn’t interfere with profit!)

Just maybe in all of that there are some lessons for those of us living in Benicia, California about the priorities that should be guiding our decisions when it comes to bringing in Bakken and Canadian tar sands crude. Our neighbors to the east on that train route are obviously deeply concerned; why not Benicia?

Should an accident or major spill occur on that clearly precarious route down the Feather River Canyon, the damage to river, reservoir and water supply would be incalculable. And what of Sacramento and Davis and their obvious great vulnerability — have we no responsibility to our neighbors along that long trail from Alberta or North Dakota to Valero?

And, finally, of course, there is that bloody problem of the environmental costs of jacking up our use of not just more oil — bad enough in itself — but the most dangerously polluting stuff we can find. A bizarre example of man’s capacity to blot out the future in the pursuit of — just what?!

Jerome Page is a Benicia resident.

NY Times: excellent report, new information on rail car phaseout, redesign

Repost from The New York Times
[Editor: Significant quote: “But safety advocates, as well as railroad officials, point out that these newer cars — known as CPC-1232s — have also failed in recent crashes….Ten of the 13 cars that derailed in Lynchburg, Va., last week … were built after 2011, including the one that ruptured and spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River, according to Eric Weiss, a spokesman at the National Transportation Safety Board. At least two other recent train derailments also involved newer tank cars.”  – RS]

Despite Orders, Federal Tank-Car Safety Measures Are Slow in Coming


The derailment of a freight train carrying crude oil in Lynchburg, Va., last week was a reminder that basic safety features of the oil-by-rails business remain vastly inadequate, despite a flurry of emergency orders by federal regulators.

The federal Department of Transportation, which on Wednesday said that the growing movement of oil trains posed an “imminent hazard” to the public, has nevertheless been slow to toughen up tank-car standards.

While those delays have angered lawmakers and local officials, a small number of railroads and refiners have pushed the industry to change.

BNSF, the rail operator owned by Berkshire Hathaway and the largest carrier of oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota, said in February that it would buy 5,000 new tank cars with the latest safety features. It was a departure from the industry’s practice of railroads not owning cars.

Other railroads and refiners in Canada said they would charge higher rates for older cars in a bid to move the industry to adopt the newer models, built since 2011.

Tracks by the James River near downtown Lynchburg, Va., where tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed on April 30. Credit Steve Helber/Associated Press

And regulators in Canada recently mandated the use of the newest model within three years.

But safety advocates, as well as railroad officials, point out that these newer cars — known as CPC-1232s — have also failed in recent crashes.

Ten of the 13 cars that derailed in Lynchburg, Va., last week, for instance, were built after 2011, including the one that ruptured and spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River, according to Eric Weiss, a spokesman at the National Transportation Safety Board. At least two other recent train derailments also involved newer tank cars.

The fiery Lynchburg derailment, where 350 people were evacuated, was the latest in a series of accidents that have caught industry regulators as well as railroads off guard. Last year, an oil train exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

Critics have long contended that the tank cars that are commonly used to carry crude oil and other petroleum products do not have enough safety features to prevent a spill.

The federal safety board has repeatedly noted in recent years that the tank cars — called DOT-111s — have a high rate of failures in accidents. Making things worse, the kind of oil that comes out of the Bakken region is particularly flammable and prone to explosion.

During a safety forum recently, the departing chairwoman of the safety board, Deborah Hersman, warned of the risk of a “higher body count” if regulators did not update tank car standards.

On Wednesday, transportation regulators said they would urge shippers to stop using older tank cars to carry crude oil, recommending that they use cars with “the highest level of integrity.”

But industry officials point out that phasing out older cars too fast would lead to a shortage in tank cars, which could ultimately curtail the surging production of oil from the Bakken.

About 98,000 DOT-111 tank cars are in service carrying crude oil and ethanol in the United States and Canada, according to the Association of American Railroads. Their design dates to the 1960s and the overwhelming majority were built before 2011. Only about 18,000 were built after that date and could be modified easily if needed.

Thomas D. Simpson, the president of the Rail Supply Institute, a trade group representing shippers and tank car owners, said 55,000 new cars had been ordered through 2015.

The Association of American Railroads, the industry’s trade group, has said older cars should be rapidly phased out or refitted. It has proposed a set of improvements, including better protections to valves and handles, to prevent them from opening in a crash; the use of high-pressure relief valves; and thicker steel tanks and thermal protections. Those improvements are intended to further strengthen safety features that were incorporated after 2011.

The Transportation Department has been working on the new standard for several years. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday that his department was moving as fast as it could on new safety regulations for oil shipments by rail, including new tank standards.

Regulators sent their latest proposals to the White House last week, and said they expected to make their proposed rules public by the summer. This would be followed by a 60-day public comment period, which would also need to be reviewed. This means final regulations would not be likely before the end of the year.

“These issues are complex and recent crashes, including Lynchburg, show why we need to take the time to get it right and make sure the new design reflects the latest information,” said Casey M. Hernandez, deputy director of public affairs at the Department of Transportation.

The number of oil tank-car failures and accidents has risen sharply in recent years, as crude shipments have surged. In the emergency order directing railroads to provide traffic information to state officials, the Department of Transportation called the accident rate “startling.”

In 2013, there were 116 episodes involving tank cars carrying crude oil, according to the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, more than twice the number of all episodes between 1990 and 2009. And 154 tank cars failed last year, according to federal records, a 50 percent jump from the previous year.

The details of what regulators are considering have not been made public and industry officials said they did not know yet what to expect. If the United States regulations are more stringent than those adopted in Canada, officials there said they would toughen their own rules to match them.

“We recognize the status quo isn’t acceptable,” said Mr. Simpson of the Rail Supply Institute. “If I could say one thing to the secretary of transportation, it is get the rule out. Give us certainty and we will act.”

A version of this article appears in print on May 9, 2014, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: Despite Orders, Federal Tank-Car Safety Measures Are Slow in Coming.