Tag Archives: State regulation

MUST-READ: North Dakota seizes initiative in CBR degasification

Repost from Railway Age

North Dakota seizes initiative in CBR degasification

By  David Thomas, Sept. 4, 2014
North Dakota seizes initiative in CBR degasification

The vital other shoe in crude by rail reform will drop not in Ottawa or Washington, but in Bismark, N.Dak., where, in the void created by federal inaction, officials are preparing to use state jurisdiction over natural resources to order the degasification of petroleum at the wellhead.

The initiative follows months of opaque pronouncements by federal regulators in both Canada and the U.S. with respect to the need to render volatile crude oil safe before transport by rail.

A spokesman for Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) told Railway Age that rules for the pre-loading treatment of crude oil for shipment by rail are not on its reform agenda, despite earlier, apparently overly enthusiastic, pronouncements.

While Transport Canada and the U.S. Department of Transportation have responded to the succession of oil train explosions this year and last by focusing on railroad operations, hazmat classification, and tank car design, some have been muddled on the need to treat the volatile cargo itself before its loading into railcars—this despite their own warnings that crude, fracked from the mid-continent Baaken shale formation, has the explosivity of gasoline.

Some oil producers and shippers have resisted any new regulatory requirement that they process crude for transport by rail the way they already must for delivery by pipeline.

Removal of toxic, explosive, and corrosive gases from crude for transport by pipeline has been required for years under the regulatory authority of the PHMSA. But neither PHMSA nor its DOT sibling Federal Railroad Administration have seen fit to require similar treatment—variously termed “degasification”, “conditioning”, “stabilization”, or “normalization”—for crude, destined for shipment by rail.

Crude shippers have complained since the first oil train calamity in July 2013 at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that PHMSA regulations for testing and classifying oil for transport by rail were imprecise. Such confusion is only augmented by PHSMA’s twice-stated reference to a purported “requirement” that dangerous gases be removed before crude is loaded into railcars.

The most recent such PHMSA pronouncement in a June 11, 2014 letter to the National Transportation Safety Board reiterated an earlier safety alert:

“On Jan. 2, 2014, PHMSA also issued a safety alert warning of the flammability of the crude oil extracted from the Bakken Shale region in the United States. PHMSA noted that the alert reinforces the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify, and where appropriate, sufficiently degasify hazardous materials prior to transportation.”

Railway Age asked the PHMSA media relations office to clarify the requirement to “degasify,” and to cite the underlying legislative or regulatory authority. A PHMSA spokesperson researched the inquiry and responded that there was in fact no such legal basis in existence or under formal consideration. The PHMSA spokesman referred us to North Dakota, which was contemplating the introduction of compulsory degasification.

Indeed, the oil and gas division of the North Dakota Industrial Commission has announced a public hearing for Sept. 23, on the “oil conditioning practices” in the state’s three light-oil pools: Bakken, Three Forks, and Sanich. Oil producers are invited to propose “methods to effectively reduce the light hydrocarbons in crude oil.”

Division spokesperson Alison Ritter told Railway Age, “The hearing is a first step in conditioning the oil to make it as safe as possible for transport.” She said that gas/liquid separators are already required at all North Dakota wellheads. At issue is whether they are being effectively used to render so-called “hot crude” safe for rail transport.

Separators boil off light hydrocarbons such as ethane, butane, and propane from crude oil, reducing its vapor pressure and propensity to explode. Heavy and corrosive hydrogen sulfide is also removed for pipeline transport. None of this is compulsory for shipment by rail.

North Dakota had been an uncritical booster of CBR even after Lac-Mégantic, until the fourth of the conflagrations occurred Dec. 30, 2013, on the outskirts of Casselton, when a westbound BNSF grain train derailed in the path of an eastbound BNSF oil train.

North Dakota is also proceeding with the training and deployment of its own rail inspectors, who will enforce FRA and PHSMA regulations within the state.

CSX reimburses Lynchburg $107,853; Virginia regulators negotiating further penalties

Repost from The Richmond Times-Dispatch

State regulators expect penalty for CSX oil train wreck

April CSX wreck sent oil into river at Lynchburg
By Alicia Petska, The News & Advance, August 21, 2014 10:30 pm

— State environmental regulators are in talks with CSX to negotiate the terms of a consent order that will be issued in response to the estimated 29,916 gallons of oil released into the James River during the April 30 train derailment in downtown Lynchburg.

The order is expected to include a financial penalty, but the amount has not been determined yet, said Robert Weld, regional director for the Department of Environmental Quality.

Other measures may include long-term monitoring of river conditions and replanting vegetative buffers along the riverbank.

Water quality testing in the weeks after the derailment found no contaminants of concern, Weld said, but visual checks and other monitoring will continue out of an “abundance of caution.”

It remains unclear just how much of the Bakken crude oil that leaked during the downtown derailment actually mixed into the river or made its way downstream.

Much of it burned in the large fire that erupted after 17 cars on a 105-car oil train derailed near downtown Lynchburg. Three cars tumbled over the riverbank, and one ruptured. There were no injuries or building damage.

The incident drew Lynchburg into a national debate over how to safely ship the volatile crude found in Bakken shale around North Dakota, where production has skyrocketed in recent years.

On Wednesday, Weld was among more than a dozen state officials who convened in Lynchburg for the second meeting of a new rail safety task force formed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe after the derailment.

The meeting, held at City Hall, included a presentation from the federal agency charged with regulating hazmat shipments and public comments from environmental advocates and rail employee representatives.

CSX had offered to reimburse the city for the cost of its emergency response and sent the final check last week, according to Lynchburg’s finance department.

The reimbursement totaled $107,853 for personnel and equipment costs, as well as minor property damage to trees, curbs and sidewalks.

The new rail safety task force has been asked to advise the state on how it can improve its own preparedness and response efforts.

It also might weigh in on the federal regulations that govern most aspects of rail operations. The U.S. Department of Transportation has been studying the oil-by-rail issue since a deadly oil train derailment in Quebec in July 2013.

Last month, federal officials released a set of proposed rules that may lead to phasing out older DOT-111 model tankers that have been criticized as puncture prone.

There also may be higher standards for braking systems, speed limits and testing of volatile liquids. The proposed rules are in a 60-day public comment period that will end Sept. 30.

During a public hearing Wednesday, water quality advocates with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and James River Association urged officials to take a comprehensive look at the rail safety issue and not limit themselves to one region, cargo or issue.

The proposed federal regulations may not do anything to deter the kind of derailment that occurred in Lynchburg, said Pat Calvert of the James River Association, whose office is close to the derailment site.

Given the location of the derailment — near several downtown businesses and a popular trail system — it’s a miracle no one was injured, he said.

“We dodged a bullet,” Calvert said. “But we shouldn’t necessarily be playing Russian roulette here.”

The cause of the Lynchburg derailment is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB said it could be a year or more before its report is ready.

The state’s rail safety task force plans to hold its next meeting in September in the Norfolk area. It hopes to tour the Yorktown oil refinery — where oil-by-rail shipments through Virginia end up — and meet with a representative of the NTSB.