Tag Archives: Washington State

House bill could shield oil train spill response plans from disclosure

Repost from McClatchyDC

House bill could shield oil train spill response plans from disclosure

By Curtis Tate, October 16, 2015
Oil burns at the site of a March 5, 2015, train derailment near Galena, Ill. A bill in Congress would require railroads to have comprehensive oil spill response plans, but would also give the Secretary of Transportation the ability to exempt the details from disclosure. Oil burns at the site of a March 5, 2015, train derailment near Galena, Ill. A bill in Congress would require railroads to have comprehensive oil spill response plans, but would also give the Secretary of Transportation the ability to exempt the details from disclosure. EPA


  • Six-year transportation bill includes section on oil trains
  • Obama administration supports public notifications of oil spills, etc.
  • Future transportation secretary could be empowered to protect data

WASHINGTON – A House of Representatives bill unveiled Friday could make it more difficult for the public to know how prepared railroads are for responding to oil spills from trains, their worst-case scenarios and how much oil is being transported by rail through communities.

The language appears in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s six-year transportation legislation, which primarily addresses federal programs that support state road, bridge and transit projects. But the legislation also includes a section on oil trains.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is working on a rule to require railroads shipping oil to develop comprehensive spill response plans along the lines of those required for pipelines and waterborne vessels. It would also require them to assess their worst-case scenarios for oil spills, including quantity and location.

The House bill would give the secretary of transportation the power to decide what information would not be disclosed to the public.

The secretary would have discretion to withhold anything proprietary or security sensitive, as well as “specific response resources and tactical resource deployment plans” and “the specific amount and location of worst-case discharges, including the process by which a railroad carrier determines the worst-case discharge.”

The House bill defines “worst-case discharge” as the largest foreseeable release of oil in an accident or incident, as determined by the rail carrier.

Four major oil train derailments have occurred in the U.S. since the beginning of the year, resulting in the release of more than 600,000 gallons, according to federal spill data.

Numerous states have released information on crude by rail shipments to McClatchy and other news organizations. DOT began requiring railroads to notify state officials of such shipments last year after a train derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Va.

The disclosures were opposed by railroads and their trade associations, which asked the department to drop the requirement. The department tried to accommodate the industry’s concerns in its May final rule on oil train safety by making the reports exempt from disclosure. But facing backlash from lawmakers and emergency response groups, the department reversed itself.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Sarah Feinberg, the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the department would continue the disclosure requirement and make it permanent. But a new administration could take a different approach.

“We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible,” Feinberg said in July.

In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that would require railroads operating in the state to plan for their worst-case spills.

In April, BNSF Railway told state emergency responders that the company currently considers 150,000 gallons of crude oil, enough to fill five rail tank cars, its worst-case scenario when planning for spills into waterways. A typical 100-car oil train carries about 3 million gallons.

Washington state requires marine ships that transport oil to plan for a spill of the entire cargo.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted a mock derailment in New Jersey in March in which 450,000 gallons of oil was released.

California passed a similar bill last year, but two railroads and a major trade association challenged it in court, claiming the federal laws regulating railroads preempted state laws. A judge sided with the state in June, but without addressing the preemption question.

The House Transportation Committee will consider the six-year bill when lawmakers return from recess next week. The current legislation expires on Oct. 29, and the timing makes a short-term extension likely.

After the committee and the full House vote on the bill, House and Senate leaders will have to work out their differences before the bill goes to the president’s desk.

Samantha Wohlfeil of the Bellingham (Wash.) Herald contributed.

Told to fix leaky oil train cars in 2 months, owners sought 3 years

Repost from McClatchyDC
[Editor:  Significant quote: “This year is already the second worst for oil spilled from trains since the federal government began collecting data 40 years ago….trains spilled about 1 million gallons in 2013 alone, vs. 800,000 in all the prior years combined….More than 600,000 gallons of oil has spilled from trains so far this year….”  – RS]

Told to fix leaky oil train cars in 2 months, owners sought 3 years

By Curtis Tate and Samantha Wohlfeil, September 2, 2015 

• Washington state spills led to March order from federal agency
• Industry group asked for three-year extension
• Regulators gave owners until end of 2015

The wreckage of an oil train derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va., still smolders 48 hours after the crash, on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015.

WASHINGTON  |  Railroad tank cars equipped with defective valves still will be allowed to transport crude oil and other hazardous materials through the end of the year, despite a March directive from federal regulators requiring their replacement within 60 days.

The Federal Railroad Administration order followed a Bellingham (Wash.) Herald story about a leaking oil train reported in Washington state in January. The Railway Supply Institute, trade group representing tank-car owners, wrote the agency in April asking for a three-year extension to replace the faulty valves on tank cars that carry hazardous materials.

About 6,000 tank cars were affected by the recall, issued on March 13. On May 12, the day of the original deadline, regulators wrote back to the trade group that the agency found no basis to give tank car owners until 2018 to comply, but nonetheless gave them until Dec. 31, an extension of more than six months.

Officials from the Railway Supply Institute couldn’t be reached to comment.

60   Number of days tank car owners had to comply
with March directive.

The federal order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking from their top fittings while hauling crude oil through Washington state.

In mid-January, a 100-car train loaded with Bakken crude had 16 leaking cars removed at four different stops between northern Idaho and the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

As the train traveled west along the Columbia River, leaking cars were pulled as they were discovered; at each stop, the entire train was inspected before continuing on to the next location.

BNSF Railway, the train’s operator, said a total of 26 gallons of oil from 14 of the leaking cars was found only on the tops and sides of the cars, and no oil was found on the ground, in a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration fined the owner of a North Dakota oil loading terminal $10,000 for a spill from a tank car that was discovered in November in Washington state. When the car arrived at a refinery for unloading, inspectors found it coated in oil and measured about 1,600 gallons missing.

State officials first learned of the spill a month after it happened, and no local officials were notified. In March, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission recommended $700,000 in fines against BNSF for failure to report 14 hazardous materials spills within the 30 minutes required by state law.

BNSF has disputed the state regulator’s findings. A hearing is scheduled for January.

Six major oil train derailments this year across North America have demonstrated the continued risks of large volumes of crude oil moving by rail.

Four of those derailments occurred in just four weeks in February and March: two in Ontario, one in West Virginia and another in Illinois. All involved large spills, fires and explosions, but no serious injuries.

Two less serious oil train derailments have occurred since, in North Dakota in May and Montana in July.

600,000   Number of gallons of oil spilled from trains
so far this year.

The rail industry and its regulators have been under pressure from lawmakers and the public to fix tank car vulnerabilities and take more steps to prevent derailments from happening.

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued its final rule on tank car standards for trains carrying oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids on May 1.

The new rule requires a tougher design for the tank cars, including thicker shells, more puncture resistance and thermal insulation to protect against prolonged exposure to fire.

It also requires existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet the new standards, depending on the level of hazard, within two to 10 years. Industry groups have challenged the new rule in court, saying it doesn’t give them enough time to complete the retrofit. Environmental groups have sued as well, saying it gives the industry too much time.

This year is already the second worst for oil spilled from trains since the federal government began collecting data 40 years ago.  A McClatchy analysis of the data last year found that trains spilled about 1 million gallons in 2013 alone, vs. 800,000 in all the prior years combined.

More than 600,000 gallons of oil has spilled from trains so far this year, according to a new analysis of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Wohlfeil writes for the Bellingham Herald and reported from Bellingham, Wash.

Final decision on Tesoro’s Washington railport pushed to 2016

Repost from Reuters  

Final decision on Tesoro’s Washington railport pushed to 2016

By Kristen Hays, June 26, 2015

HOUSTON – The latest delay in a detailed government review of Tesoro Corp’s proposed $210 million railport project in Washington state means a final decision will not happen until 2016, according to a state council’s published schedule.

The 360,000 barrels-per-day project would be the biggest in the United States, moving domestic and Canadian crude via rail to Washington’s Port of Vancouver, where it would be loaded onto vessels to supply West Coast refineries – mainly in California.

The company had hoped to start it up by late 2014, and then pushed it to this year as the project undergoes a lengthy state review.

Several other oil-by-rail projects, largely in California, are stalled amid opposition after multiple crude train crashes and derailments since mid-2013.

Tesoro said the company was disappointed in “yet another delay” and remains committed to the project.

Chief Executive Greg Goff told analysts last month that the delay to 2016 was likely as the project undergoes what he called a “painfully slow” review process.

The projected cost also has more than doubled to $210 million from its original $100 million as Tesoro upgraded the design, including seismic dock improvements.

Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC)’s schedule, made public this week, says a draft environmental impact statement will be published in late November. The council had previously expected to release the draft report in late July.

State law then requires a month-long public comment period which can be lengthened.

EFSEC then will submit the final report to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has final say on whether it will be built. The new schedule, and the public comment session, pushes that submission to early 2016. Inslee will have up to two months to decide once he receives the report.

Most Washington refineries, including Tesoro’s 120,000 bpd plant in Anacortes, receive oil by rail. No major pipelines move oil west across the Rocky Mountains or the Cascades, so West Coast refineries turn to rail to tap North American crudes that cost less than imports.

(Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Christian Plumb)

Railroads Required to Plan for a Worst-Case Oil Train Spill in Washington State

Repost from Emergency Management

Railroads Required to Plan for a Worst-Case Oil Train Spill in Washington State

A new law requires railroads to plan for the “largest foreseeable spill in adverse weather conditions.”
Samantha Wohlfeil, The Bellingham Herald | May 17, 2015

(TNS) — Under a new state law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday, May 14, large railroads will be required to plan with the state for “worst-case spills” from crude oil unit trains, but exactly what that worst-case scenario looks like is not yet clear.

The law requires railroads to plan for the “largest foreseeable spill in adverse weather conditions,” but doesn’t define “largest foreseeable spill.”

In April, BNSF railway employees told Washington emergency responders that the company currently considers 150,000 gallons of crude oil – enough to fill five rail tank cars – its worst-case scenario when planning for spills into waterways. Crude oil trains usually carry about 100 rail tank cars.

“We’ve already seen worse than that though, haven’t we?” asked Roger Christensen, Bellingham’s interim emergency manager, when asked about using that amount for worst-case planning. “It seems like a low number … I hate to respond without knowing where they’re coming from. It doesn’t seem like a worst-case scenario to me.”

The amount is lower than what has been spilled and partially burned off in several high-profile crude oil train derailments in the last three years:

    • Mount Carbon, West Virginia, Feb. 16, 2015: More than 362,000 gallons spilled in a CSX train derailment and fire.
    • Casselton, North Dakota, Dec. 30, 2013: Roughly 475,000 gallons spilled from a BNSF train that derailed and caught fire.
    • Aliceville, Alabama, Nov. 8, 2013: About 749,000 gallons spilled into a swampy area from a Genesee & Wyoming train after a derailment and fire.
    • Lac-Megantic, Quebec, July 5, 2013: Roughly 1.6 million gallons spilled from a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train in a derailment that killed 47 people.

“Water spills require special equipment such as boom and skimmers. The worst case release is used to make sure we have enough of this special equipment,” BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas wrote in an email to The Bellingham Herald. “For land spills we use vacuum trucks and heavy equipment to dig up the contaminant. Both of which are readily available in most areas.”

Melonas said in an interview that the 150,000-gallon number was based on studying historical derailments in the industry.

When asked if the company uses other amounts to plan for spills like the fiery derailments outlined above, Melonas replied, “We consider all scenarios when developing our emergency response plans with utilizing resources of local, regional and nationwide experts and equipment to safely and efficiently mitigate any hazardous materials incident including crude oil.”

“Until we have further regulatory clarity from the U.S. Department of Transportation on how the agency will require railroads to calculate ‘worst-case discharges’ to waterways, BNSF is considering using 150,000 gallons,” Melonas wrote. “BNSF is open to discussing the justification of this quantity with Federal or State environmental agencies.”

BNSF would not outline what its worst-case scenarios are for other situations, or say whether the company would adjust its scenario based on the new state law.

 Planning for the Worst

The new law tasks the state Department of Ecology with crafting the worst-case scenario for railroad contingency plans in a process that could take a year or longer, and will include input from the railroads and the public, said Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, preparedness section manager for Ecology.

“Preparedness regulations are all about planning for a potential worst-case spill,” Pilkey-Jarvis said. “It (all starts) with defining a worst-case spill volume, then that drives the whole rest of your plan.”

The volume helps planners decide which equipment needs to be staged where, and how many people need to be trained members of a spill management team, she said.

“In (Washington) state the Legislature has defined the standard of what a worst-case spill volume should be, and in general it’s a pretty high bar,” Pilkey-Jarvis said.

Washington state requires marine ships that transport oil to plan for a spill of the entire cargo, including whatever fuel is aboard to operate the vessel.

Planning for that type of all-in worst case creates pushback from the industry, which sometimes says, “That could never happen,” Pilkey-Jarvis said.

“Well, that doesn’t matter from a planning perspective if you think that could happen or not,” she said. “From a planning perspective, we’re defining everything as a worst case.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently ran through a worst-case crude oil train derailment scenario in Jersey City, New Jersey. The exercise took emergency planners through an imagined scenario that could potentially kill or injure more than 1,000 people, and displace even more from their homes near the incident.

The scenario started with five of 90 tank cars derailing and spilling roughly 100,000 gallons of crude oil, which caught on fire. The blaze heats up other tanks, which rupture and spill more oil. The scenario outlined 225,000 gallons being consumed by flames, with the other 225,000 left on the ground, for a total 450,000-gallon spill.

“This is consistent with other real world events, such as the Galena, (Illinois) tank car derailment,” FEMA spokeswoman Susan Hendrick wrote in an email to The Bellingham Herald. “Complex and progressive scenarios allow communities to prepare for a range of consequences they may be faced with, including the size, scope and severity of an incident.”

In Bellingham, planners have not yet decided what the worst-case scenario might look like, Christensen said.

However, planners have calculated that throughout the city, 27,000 Bellingham residents – about a third of the population – live within the half-mile evacuation zone of the railroad tracks, he said.

Whatcom County and Bellingham planners work with BNSF, BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries, and other involved partners, to plan for different emergencies in the county.

Last fall, planners ran through a tabletop discussion of what resources might be available if 60,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a train near Squalicum Harbor, Christensen said.

“It was a tabletop so we never got to the point of actually ‘deploying’ resources, but we did get a handle on that there is a significant amount of resources in our community,” he said. “We’re much more prepared than a lot of them, because of industrial partnerships. They might be the reason the hazard is coming through … but at least in Whatcom County we do have the industrial partners that bring resources to the table as well.”

Whatcom County Fire District 7 Chief Gary Russell said he’s not worried about knowing BNSF’s worst-case scenario, as it doesn’t change how his firefighters would respond to a derailment. His district covers nine miles of mostly rural BNSF track, and includes the two Whatcom County refineries.

“If it was one tank car on fire, we’d address it the same if it was five, we’d just probably not have the ability to deal with it,” Russell said. “In a derailment out here, you’d be protecting the area while it eliminated its fuel source.

“We treat every day like it’s an all-risk hazard. It doesn’t matter if it’s a freight train or a passenger train, with a greater loss of life,” he continued. “I worry about the product I don’t know anything about that’s in a tank car. … I’d rather have oil going up and down the rails than I would acids, sulfurs, chlorine and other hazardous commodities, because they can harm people faster than oil.”

Different Reporting Requirements

Unlike stationary facilities that have hazardous materials or chemicals on hand, railroads are exempt from nearly all requirements of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

After a disastrous release of toxic gas at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands of people in 1984, the U.S. Congress passed EPCRA to try to prevent similar accidents.

While businesses such as certain gas stations, water treatment plants, and fish processors need to report what hazardous chemicals are on their properties to state and local officials, and to make that information available to the public, railroads do not. The act “does not apply to the transportation, including the storage incident to such transportation” of chemicals otherwise included in the act.

Railroads do need to submit their worst-case discharge calculations and plans to the U.S. Department of Transportation, but they are not available to the public.

“It’s un-American to withhold these documents from the public,” said Fred Millar, an independent rail consultant who worked for environmental groups that helped pass right-to-know rules in the 1980s and ’90s. “For the first 20 years or so, the railroads said to us, ‘No law forces us to give you this information, we consider it confidential.’ After 9/11, they said ‘We won’t give you the information because of terrorism, you know.’

“Keeping it secret is a little like elephants tiptoeing through the tulips,” he said.

Pipeline companies are required to submit their oil spill response plans to the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. They are published online, but the worst-case scenario numbers are redacted from the reports.

Last year, DOT required railroads to notify emergency response agencies of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude oil through their states, but the introduction of new regulations on May 1 ended that requirement.

Now, railroads will share that information directly with emergency responders, but it will be exempt from public records laws and the Freedom of Information Act, the way that other hazardous materials such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia are currently protected.

The new Washington state oil safety law requires seven days’ advance notice from the facilities that receive crude oil, such as refineries, before trains are scheduled to come through the state. That information is supposed to be given to the state, which will make it available to emergency responders immediately, and will aggregate the numbers quarterly for release to the public.

McClatchy reporter Curtis Tate contributed to this report.