Tag Archives: White House Office of Management and Budget

McClatchy investigative reports result in enforcement actions

Repost from McClatchy DC and The Bellingham Herald
[Editor:  McClatchy News investigative reports have alerted Washington State and federal officials, and resulted in fines and enforcement actions.  For background, see Washington state officials unaware at first of November oil spill (1/26); Officials say oil train leaked as it crossed Washington state (2/6); and Oil-loading facility sanctioned in Washington rail car spill (3/12).  Don’t miss the excellent video near the end of this story.  – RS]

More oil-train fixes: Feds order defective valves replaced on leaking cars

By Samantha Wohlfeil and Curtis Tate, March 13, 2015 
APTOPIX Train Derailment
Derailed oil tanker train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. A CSX train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm, sending a fireball into the sky and threatening the water supply of nearby residents, authorities and residents said Tuesday. MARCUS CONSTANTINO — AP

WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration on Friday ordered rail tank car owners to replace defective valves never approved for installation on thousands of tank cars, causing oil to spill from moving trains.

The directive applies to a 3-inch valve installed on roughly 6,000 tank cars, and their owners have 60 days to replace them. Within 90 days, tank car owners must also replace 37,000 1-inch and 2-inch valves manufactured by the same company. While the smaller valves were not found to be defective like the larger ones, they were not approved for the tank cars.

The affected cars can be used in the interim, but none can be loaded with hazardous materials if they are still equipped with those valves after the deadlines.

The enforcement action comes after a story last month in McClatchy’s Bellingham Herald about 14 tank cars that were discovered leaking en route from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash.

Friday’s enforcement action is the second to follow an investigation launched after McClatchy reported on leaking cars in Washington.

On Thursday, the agency said it had sanctioned the operator of a North Dakota loading facility for not properly closing a valve on another oil car after McClatchy reported in January that the car arrived at the BP Cherry Point refinery in northwest Washington state with 1,600 gallons missing.

That spill was discovered in early November but wasn’t reported to state officials until early December. Local emergency officials were never notified, according to a report sent by BNSF Railway to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch valves were all manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining, a company in Tennessee. The Bellingham Herald could not immediately reach anyone at McKenzie, but left messages with the company Friday.

The Federal Railroad Administration also announced Friday that it was launching a full audit of the approval process for tank car components to determine why the unapproved valves were installed.

Under federal regulations, tank car valve designs must be approved by the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it would begin working immediately with the association, which is the rail industry’s principal trade group in the nation’s capital.

Sarah Feinberg, the FRA’s acting chief, said Friday that removal of the valves will help reduce the number of non-derailment releases of hazardous materials.

“Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” she said in a statement.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the railroad association, said Friday that it supported the order. Railroads don’t own most of the tank cars used to transport oil.

“Officials from our association will be working closely with the administration in reviewing the tank car valve approval process to ensure the agency is fully satisfied with the current approval requirements that are in place,” he said in a statement.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s order came about a month after crews discovered tank cars leaking oil from their top fittings on a handful of trains hauling different types of crude oil through Washington state.

In mid-January, a train loaded with Bakken crude needed to have more than a dozen leaking cars removed at three separate stops as it traveled through Idaho and crossed Washington state.

The train was headed from Tioga, N.D., to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.

In a report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, BNSF reported a total of 26 gallons of oil leaking from 14 cars. Tesoro reported two more leaking cars. The oil was found only on the tops and sides of tank cars, and no oil was found on the ground.

Crews had first noticed oil on the side of a tank car while the train was in northern Idaho, and after checking the rest of the train, removed that car, which had leaked about two gallons, according to BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace.

After the train had crossed through the state, following the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., crews found that crude oil had leaked onto the top of seven more cars, which were removed from the train on Jan. 12. BNSF reported the incident to the state Department of Ecology on Jan. 23.

BNSF also reported that about 10 gallons total had leaked from six more cars removed in Auburn on Jan. 13.

Wallace said the railroad would work with customers and shippers to take the required actions.

“Although BNSF does not own the tank cars, nothing is more important to us than safely operating through the communities that we serve,” she said in a statement.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the FRA investigated the cars that were pulled from the train in Vancouver, which led to the discovery that closure plugs on the valves caused damage to the valve’s seal, and when tightened, would press down on and damage the ball.

The cars involved were CPC-1232 model cars built after 2011, which some oil companies have started using after several fiery derailments caused concerns about older DOT-111 rail cars, which have been found more likely to puncture or burst.

However, newer CPC-1232-standard cars that lack features that reduce damage from punctures and fire exposure have performed no better in four recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario.

The White House Office of Management and budget is reviewing a new tank car standard proposed by the Department of Transportation. It is scheduled for publication on May 12.

Wohlfeil, of The Bellingham Herald, reported from Washington state. Tate reported from Washington, D.C.

Speed Limits May Not Stop Fiery Oil Spills, U.S. Rail Chief Says

Repost from Bloomberg Business News

Speed Limits May Not Stop Fiery Oil Spills, U.S. Rail Chief Says

By Jim Snyder, March 13, 2015 1:15 PM PDT

(Bloomberg) — Lower speed limits for railroads may be ineffective at keeping oil trains on the tracks and preventing massive fireballs, such as those triggered in a series of recent derailments, the chief U.S. railroad regulator said.

“If you’re going to slow trains down, you’re going to have to slow them down to 12 miles an hour,” Sarah Feinberg, acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, told reporters in Washington Friday.

“And then you would just have other dangers. People queuing up at grade crossings while train car after train car of volatile product goes by,” she said. “That’s not good either.”

A surge in U.S. oil production has increased the amount of crude moved by rail 5,000 percent since 2009, much of it from North Dakota’s booming Bakken field. A corresponding jump in accidents, including a 2013 oil-train derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, have led U.S. and Canadian regulators to propose tougher standards for trains.

Speeds higher than 25 mph were “irresponsible” given the known weakness of the tank cars carrying the crude, Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said in written comments to the Transportation Department.

Hall was responding to a proposed department rule that would require the current fleet of tank cars to be replaced. A draft is being reviewed at the White House Office of Management and Budget and is expected to be final in May.

Sloshing Effect

The Federal Railroad Administration also is studying whether slower speeds can cause a sloshing effect in tank cars, making it harder to prevent the rolling stock from wobbling off the tracks, Feinberg said.

Railroads have lobbied against new limits, saying they would result in costly delays for many of the goods hauled by rail.

Two oil-trains that derailed in the past four weeks, in West Virginia and Illinois, and created massive fireballs were traveling well below federal speed limits, Feinberg said.

Railroads last year agreed to slow trains to 40 mph from 50 mph when carrying crude through High Urban Threat Areas, a designation that covers more than three dozen U.S. communities.

“We are running out of things that I think we can ask for the railroads to do, and there have to be other industries that have skin in the game,” Feinberg said. “There also has to be attention placed on the product actually going into the railcar.”

In April, a regulation in North Dakota that requires oil to be kept at a vapor pressure below 13.7 pounds per square inch goes into effect. Feinberg said a process known as conditioning, which companies can use to meet that standard, is the “bare minimum” step to lower volatility.

Feinberg said the administration is considering further steps to reduce oil’s explosiveness before its loaded into tank cars, though the draft rule under review is silent on the issue.

As Galena IL Tank Cars Burned, Industry Met at White House to Weaken Safety Standards

Repost from Reuters

U.S. rail industry pushes White House to ease oil train safety rules

By Valerie Volcovici & Patrick Rucker, Mar 10, 2015 2:24pm EDT

(Reuters) – The U.S. rail industry is pushing the White House to drop a requirement that oil trains adopt an advanced braking system, a cornerstone of a national safety plan that will soon govern shipments of crude oil across the country.

Representatives of large rail operators met with White House officials last week to argue against the need for electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or ECP brakes, saying they “would not have significant safety benefits” and “would be extremely costly,” according to a handout from the meeting.

ECP brakes trigger all axles simultaneously rather than one at a time in current design.

More than a dozen industry representatives made their case at the Washington meeting last Friday, a day after a crude oil train derailed in Illinois.

Reuters reported last month that the national oil train safety plan now under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget would require the advanced braking.

The Transportation Department has concluded that ECP braking would deliver meaningful safety improvements but the industry officials argued that the department estimates “grossly overstate benefits and understate costs.”

The industry claims fitting rail stock with ECP brakes would not prevent accidents, but merely limit the number of cars that derail in an accident.

Adopting the new technology would lead to more frequent service problems and mechanical delays, industry officials said.

The oil train safety plan being considered by the White House would also demand tougher tank cars and other safety steps that the government estimates would cost at least $3 billion over the next 20 years.

Oil and rail executives contend that much higher costs would needlessly hinder a sector that has helped push a national energy renaissance.