Tag Archives: Risk Assessment

AP EXCLUSIVE: DOT predicts fuel-hauling trains will derail 10 times a year; cost $4 billion; 100’s killed

Repost from Associated Press News
[Editor: Download the July, 2014 Department of Transportation analysis here.  A word of caution: a reputable source writes, “On a closer inspection, PHMSA conceded that the numbers it used for the analysis are flawed and that the scenarios lined out in the AP story are assuming no new regulations are enacted.”  That said, my source also wrote, “We didn’t need a study to tell us there was a problem.”- RS]

AP Exclusive: Fuel-hauling trains could derail at 10 a year

By Matthew Brown and Josh Funk, Feb. 22, 2015 12:00 PM ET

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

The projection comes from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities. The study completed last July took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with crude derailed in West Virginia, sparked a spectacular fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families.

Monday’s accident was the latest in a spate of fiery derailments, and senior federal officials said it drives home the need for stronger tank cars, more effective braking systems and other safety improvements.

“This underscores why we need to move as quickly as possible getting these regulations in place,” said Tim Butters, acting administrator for the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The volume of flammable liquids transported by rail has risen dramatically over the last decade, driven mostly by the oil shale boom in North Dakota and Montana. This year, rails are expected to move nearly 900,000 car loads of oil and ethanol in tankers. Each can hold 30,000 gallons of fuel.

Based on past accident trends, anticipated shipping volumes and known ethanol and crude rail routes, the analysis predicted about 15 derailments in 2015, declining to about five a year by 2034.

The 207 total derailments over the two-decade period would cause $4.5 billion in damage, according to the analysis, which predicts 10 “higher consequence events” causing more extensive damage and potential fatalities.

If just one of those more severe accidents occurred in a high-population area, it could kill more than 200 people and cause roughly $6 billion in damage.

“Such an event is unlikely, but such damages could occur when a substantial number of people are harmed or a particularly vulnerable environmental area is affected,” the analysis concluded.

The two fuels travel through communities with an average population density of 283 people per square kilometer, according to the federal analysis. That means about 16 million Americans live within a half-kilometer of one of the lines.

Such proximity is equivalent to the zone of destruction left by a July 2013 oil train explosion that killed 47 people and leveled much of downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the analysis said.

Damage at Lac-Megantic has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads said the group was aware of the Department of Transportation analysis but had no comment on its derailment projections.

“Our focus is to continue looking at ways to enhance the safe movement of rail transportation,” AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

Both the railroad group and the Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car owners and manufacturers, said federal officials had inflated damage estimates and exaggerated risk by assuming an accident even worse than Lac-Megantic, which was already an outlier because it involved a runaway train traveling 65 mph, far faster than others that had accidents.

To get to refineries on the East and West coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, oil shipments travel through more than 400 counties, including major metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Newark and dozens of other cities, according to routing information obtained by The Associated Press through public record requests filed with more than two dozen states.

Since 2006, the U.S. and Canada have seen at least 21 oil-train accidents and 33 ethanol train accidents involving a fire, derailment or significant amount of fuel spilled, according to federal accident records reviewed by the AP.

At least nine of the trains, including the CSX train that derailed in West Virginia, were hauling oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region that is known for being highly volatile. Of those, seven resulted in fires.

Both the West Virginia accident and a Jan. 14 oil train derailment and fire in Ontario involved recently built tank cars that were supposed to be an improvement to a decades-old model in wide use that has proven susceptible to spills, fires and explosions.

Safety officials are pushing to make the tanker-car fleet even stronger and confronting opposition from energy companies and other tank car owners.

Industry representatives say it could take a decade to retrofit and modify more than 50,000 tank cars, not the three years anticipated by federal officials, who assumed many cars would be put to new use hauling less-volatile Canadian tar-sands oil.

The rail industry’s overall safety record steadily improved over the past decade, dropping from more than 3,000 accidents annually to fewer than 2,000 in 2013, the most recent year available, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

But the historical record masks a spike in crude and ethanol accidents over the same time frame. Federal officials also say the sheer volume of ethanol and crude that is being transported – often in trains more than a mile long – sets the two fuels apart.

Most of the proposed rules that regulators are expected to release this spring are designed to prevent a spill, rupture or other failure during a derailment. But they will not affect the likelihood of a crash, said Allan Zarembski, who leads the railroad engineering and safety program at the University of Delaware.

Derailments can happen in many ways. A rail can break underneath a train. An axle can fail. A vehicle can block a crossing. Having a better tank car will not change that, but it should reduce the odds of a tank car leaking or rupturing, he said.

Railroads last year voluntarily agreed to reduce oil train speeds to 40 mph in urban areas. Regulators said they are considering lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for trains not equipped with advanced braking systems. Oil and rail industries say it could cost $21 billion to develop and install the brakes, with minimal benefits.

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.

Oil trains are too long and too heavy

Repost from The Oregonian
[Editor: A poignant opinion piece by an informed advocate.  Jared Margolis is an attorney working for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Portland office on issues related to energy and endangered species.  – RS]

Oil trains are too long and too heavy

By Jared Margolis, December 11, 2014
In this Sept. 16 file photo, rail cars containing oil sit on tracks south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Even to the most reasonable among us here in the Northwest, the lonely cry of the train whistle in the night is no longer a very comforting sound. You can’t help but wonder if it’s announcing the arrival of one of the 20 or so trains of up to 100 tanker cars that pass through the region in an average week, each one carrying up to 3 million gallons of explosive crude oil.

The exponential increase in risk posed by these trains has been highlighted by an unprecedented wave of accidents, including the explosive derailment in Quebec that incinerated part of a town and killed 47 people, and another in downtown Lynchburg, Va., that set the James River on fire, putting wildlife habitat and drinking water supplies at risk.

More crude oil was spilled by rail in 2013 — in excess of 1 million gallons — than between all the years from 1975 to 2012, according to an analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Between 2008 and 2013 there was nearly a tenfold increase in crude-by-rail spills, from eight to 119.

Yet, as the amount of volatile crude oil hurtling through Oregon towns, cities and sensitive waterfront landscapes continues to increase, proposals to reduce the danger have failed to focus on what federal regulators acknowledge to be among the most important factors making crude oil trains more likely to derail than most trains: the length and weight of each train.

Instead, proposals from federal regulators have been limited to giving the rail industry five years to stop hauling explosive crude oil in the most puncture-prone tanker cars, which PHMSA has stated will actually lead to longer, heavier trains. The length and weight of tanker trains hauling crude oil has been singled out by regulators as one of the leading causes of several disastrous derailments in recent years. Those increased risks are demonstrated by the simple fact that while the number of overall train derailments is dropping, the number of oil train derailments is escalating.

PHMSA’s own analysis has determined oil trains “are longer, heavier in total, more challenging to control … [and] can be more prone to derailments when put in emergency braking.” That’s why I co-authored a legal petition, filed with PHMSA last month, asking the agency to establish rules limiting trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous liquids to 4,000 tons — the weight that the American Association of Railroads has determined to be a “no problem” train, considered much less likely to derail. This safety guideline is currently exceeded threefold by the 100-car crude oil trains rumbling through Oregon.

And the risks posed by these long, over-heavy oil trains are only expected to grow: Analysts project the amount of oil being transported to California refineries by train to increase more than tenfold by 2016, much of it moving through Oregon.

It only makes sense to take aggressive, reasonable precautions to protect people and wildlife against this escalating, unacceptable danger.

•  Jared Margolis is an attorney working for the Center for Biological Diversity’s Portland office on issues related to energy and endangered species.

Carnegie Mellon University, Fractraker team up to monitor crude oil trains through PA region

Repost from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

CMU, Fractraker teaming up to monitor crude oil trains through region

By Don Hopey, December 13, 2014

Trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil from Midwestern shale oil fields pass through the region daily and at speeds approaching the limit established to reduce derailment risks, according to a pilot study by Fractracker Alliance and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab.

The study counted 360 tanker cars bearing the Department of Transportation “1075” and “1267” flammable oil and gas placards on 10 trains passing through the city during 11 daylight hours on Oct. 21. Six of those 10 trains were traveling east with a total of 176 full tanker cars The other four were traveling west with 84 empty tanker cars.

The train spotting and rail car counting was done on Norfolk Southern’s Fort Wayne line, which runs along the Ohio River through Sewickley, Glenfield, Ben Avon, Avalon and the North Side. The study, conducted on just one of seven rail freight lines used by oil trains in Allegheny County, is the first to count the number of oil trains passing through, and there are plans to do several more.

The Fractracker news release about the study states that by tracking and monitoring the transport of oil and gas, “we can begin to understand the risks that these trains pose should an incident occur.”

“We want to study the oil trains issue in several ways across Pennsylvania and beyond, examining the communities and populations affected and evaluating the scale and dynamics of the train traffic, including speeds and volumes of cargo,” said Samantha Malone, a Fractracker spokeswoman.

The count totals are generally in line with estimated oil train numbers for the county provided by Norfolk Southern and CSX to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, information that PEMA was ordered to release in October after a Right to Know request by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Ms. Malone said almost all of the trains were moving “very quickly” past the train spotting and counting location along Norfolk Southern tracks at Riverside Park, on Dawson Avenue in Glenfield. One, heading east with a load of full crude oil tank cars, was traveling much faster than the others at an estimated speed of 50 mph.

If accurate, that train violated the 40 mph speed limit cooperatively established in July for safety by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Association of American Railroads in urban areas after several recent derailments involving crude oil tanker cars.

“We didn’t have a radar gun, but most of the trains were traveling faster than I would think would be safe for that area,” Ms. Malone said. “The one moving very fast I do believe was unsafe.”

A spokesman for Norfolk Southern, however, disputed that contention, saying it was “guesswork” and that the railroad complies with all state and federal rules and regulations.

As rail transport of shale oil and gases has increased over the last five years, the number of derailments has increased, too, along with concerns about the dangers the trains pose to towns and cities along their routes.

Oil train derailments, sometimes causing explosions and fires, have occurred in the last two years in Virginia, North Dakota, Georgia, Philadelphia and Vandergrift. The worst was the 2013 derailment of 74 tanker cars carrying crude from the Bakken Shale oil play in North Dakota that killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Seventy percent of the tankers wore the DOT 1267 placard, used for “Petroleum Crude Oil, Flammable liquid.” The rest had DOT 1075 placards indicating they contained “butane, liquefied petroleum gas, Flammable liquid”

The longest train bearing the “1267” placard, running east, was hauling 97 full crude oil tanker cars with a total capacity of between 2.5 million and 3.4 million gallons of crude oil, according to the release.

David Pidgeon, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, released a statement saying the railroad doesn’t comment about the routing of specific commodities, like crude oil or gas, and declined comment on the study findings. He called the train speeding allegation “speculation and guesswork.”

“What I can say is that we are in compliance with state and federal regulations and are providing important information and training to first responders,” he wrote in the email statement. “That’s a critical part of operating a safe rail network.”

Henry Posner III, chairman of Railroad Development Corp., a rail industry investment firm, said the high-density freight lines passing through the city are well-maintained and, recent accidents not withstanding, the railroads have a “culture of safety.”

“There is no motivation for the trains to speed, and I’ve never seen it (speeding) permitted in my career,” said Mr. Posner, who has worked in various capacities in the railroad industry since 1977. “No one is going to put their job on the line to speed. It’s just not a part of our culture.”

Ms. Malone said Fractracker, in partnership with CMU’s CREATE Lab, will continue to collect rail shipping data from other states and regions to determine where the crude oil tank cars rolling through Pittsburgh are originating.

Working again with volunteer train spotters from the Group Against Smog and Pollution, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, and Women for a Healthy Environment, the Create Lab and Fractracker plan to conduct additional train tank car counts to confirm their initial count is representative of the train traffic going through the region. She said some of those counts will be held overnight, when some residents of the Glenfield area say trains are more numerous.

Top transportation officials from Canada and the United States are due to meet next week to hash out differences about safety regulations for trains that carry oil, sources familiar with the planned meeting told Reuters.

Both governments are drafting safety rules for trains that move fuel from North Dakota’s Bakken energy patch to refineries.