Tag Archives: train derailment

Flawed tests play down crude oil’s explosiveness

Repost from The Toronto Globe and Mail

Flawed tests play down crude oil’s explosiveness

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Apr. 07 2014

Damaged rail containers and twisted wreckage can be seen on the main road through downtown Lac Mégantic, Quebec early July 7, 2013, a day after a train carrying crude oil tankers derailed and burst into flames. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)As Canada and the United States move to strengthen the rules for transporting crude oil by rail, there is mounting evidence that regulators are relying on tests that underestimate the risk of a fiery explosion like the one that destroyed Lac-Mégantic.

The current testing regime was not designed for unrefined crude and, as a result, can play down the dangers of shipping some light crude oils, according to industry and transportation experts. A United Nations panel on hazardous materials shared similar concerns last week when it announced that it would review international standards for shipping crude oil, including how crude is tested and classified, in response to a string of recent accidents in North America.

With the accuracy of the tests in question, there is suspicion that some shipments of Bakken crude may be more volatile than officials believed. It also raises the possibility that light crude oil drawn from other locations in North America is as potentially explosive as crude from the Bakken – but has not been receiving the same level of scrutiny.

The devastating fire in Lac-Mégantic, Que. last July, began when a train carrying Bakken crude jumped the tracks and exploded in the centre of the small town, killing 47 people. A Globe and Mail investigation showed that oil from the Bakken formation, which straddles North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, is more volatile and prone to exploding than conventional forms of crude.

Crude oil with a high concentration of light ends – such as methane and propane – is “most at risk” of being mischaracterized in standard testing procedures, according to a recent report commissioned by Transport Canada. Those light ends are potentially dangerous because they can ignite and magnify the size of an explosion.

The inaccuracies underscore how little is known about the risks of shipping crude oil by rail, a practice that has increased dramatically during the past five years and now accounts for an estimated 230,000 barrels of oil a day in Canada. Oil is widely known to be flammable, but regulators did not believe until recently that it had the potential to explode and cause the kind of destruction it did in Lac-Mégantic.

Flash point and boiling point tests, which are required for crude shipments in Canada and the U.S., both have difficulty measuring samples that contain significant concentrations of light ends, according to the report to Transport Canada. Another common test, known as the Reid Vapour Pressure test, has also been criticized for use on crude oil because it can allow light ends to easily vapourize at the time samples are collected from highly volatile crude.

“When you try to apply [current tests] to samples that have light ends, they don’t work as well,” said Bob Falkiner, a director for the Canadian Crude Quality Technical Association who also works for Imperial Oil. “You get biased results reported from those test methods because of the lost light ends.”

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said the minister is aware of concerns about the crude-testing regime and Transport Canada is “looking at options” related to volatility tests. Speaking with The Globe after an event in Toronto last week, Ms. Raitt also welcomed the UN panel’s decision to study crude shipments and testing.

Producers in the Bakken are expected to stabilize crude oil before shipping it, in a process meant to remove many of the light ends from the rest of the product. Those light ends can be sold separately, but limited transportation infrastructure in the fast-growing Bakken area has led some producers to flare the products instead – which means they simply burn them on the spot. In some cases, flaring has become a “de facto stabilization process,” said Bill Lywood, founder and president of Crude Quality Inc.

However, several industry experts said there is a financial incentive for producers to leave some light ends in the crude – rather than burning them off or selling them separately – because they can increase the overall volume of the crude they are selling. At the same time, because of testing limitations, it can be difficult for producers, shippers and buyers to determine whether enough of the volatile light ends have been stripped away before crude oil is transported across the country.

In an effort to address the problem, some companies and industry experts are advocating the use of a newer vapour pressure test that uses a sealed, pressurized cylinder to prevent light ends from escaping when a sample is taken.

Exxon Valdez anniversary: Rail spill response compares unfavorably to water-born spill response

Repost from KPIX5 CBS SF Bay Area

Rail Safety Of Bay Area Oil Shipments Doubted

March 24, 2014 2:20 PM

A KPIX 5 crew captured this video of Bakken crude oil getting unloaded from a train at a rail yard in Richmond. (CBS)

A KPIX 5 crew captured this video of Bakken crude oil getting unloaded from a train at a rail yard in Richmond. (CBS)

SSAN MATEO (KCBS) – Last summer’s oil train accident in Quebec that killed 47 people has lawmakers and others in the Bay Area concerned that it could happen here as the volume of crude oil from fracking and other petroleum products arriving from North Dakota and Canada to local refineries surges.

On Monday’s 25th anniversary of the 1990 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said he fears the response to major oil spill will [fall] far short.

“Some of the trains that coming in—the tanker trains that crude oil will have 2.7 million gallons of oil on those trains,” he said.

In 2011, about 9,000 tank cars filled with crude oil were shipped into California by rail. In the next two years, that number is expected to jump to more than 200,000, according to the California Energy Commission.

About 10 percent of the oil will be headed to the five Bay Area refineries.

While most agree the response to water-born spills is good – the Cosco Busan tanker that struck the Bay Bridge in 2007 as an example – inland spills, however, are inherently different.

“When this oil is coming through California at the volume that it’s coming and the magnitude … we want to make sure that our citizens are adequately protected. We really don’t have the resources in place to do it,” Hill said.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget calls for a new 6.5 cents per barrel rapid response fee, but that’s for overland crude oil shipments only.

“Ethanol is just as toxic, hazardous chemical and there’s nothing in place to deal with that type of a spill.”

Curt Clumpner is a member of the Fairfield-based International Bird Rescue and got his experience during the 1990 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. He said the trains that traverse California do so alongside our rivers.

“It obviously increases the risk in terms of the environment and wildlife,” he said.

KCBS KPIX 5 and San Francisco Chronicle Insider Phil Matier said there are environmental activists who are against oil as a rule and will use such a possibility to scare people while the oil industry will likely oversimplify the issue by saying there is no need for concern.

“The truth is somewhere in between. We’ve had ethanol and we’ve had crude oil come around before but not in this volume.”

KPIX coverage of California Senate hearing on crude oil train safety – State not ready

Repost from CBS San Francisco, KPIX News 5

Note – The Benicia Independent is searching for a transcript of this Senate hearing.  Meanwhile, check out:

– BenIndy editor Roger Straw

Catastrophic risks too great for insurance?

Repost from DeSmog blog

A Record Year of Oil Train Accidents Leaves Insurers Wary (via Desmogblog)

Tue, 2014-03-18 06:00Sharon Kelly Spurred by the shale drilling rush that has progressed at breakneck speed, the railroad industry has moved fast to help drillers transport petroleum and its byproducts to consumers. Last year, trains hauled over 400…