Tag Archives: Worst case scenario

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.

Judge: Train Companies Must Prepare for Oil Spills

Repost from Public News Service
[Editor:  See the Earthjustice News Release for more details.  Earthjustice represented San Francisco Baykeeper, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Association of Irritated Residents and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network in the lawsuit.  – RS]

Judge: Train Companies Must Prepare for Oil Spills

By Suzanne Potter, June 26, 2015
PHOTO: Companies running oil trains in California will be required to have a spill-response plan. Photo credit: vladyslav-danilin/shutterstock
PHOTO: Companies running oil trains in California will be required to have a spill-response plan. Photo credit: vladyslav-danilin/shutterstock

Railroad companies soon won’t be able to carry oil in California unless they have a safety plan – and put aside lots of money to cover any future spills. That’s because a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed an industry lawsuit last week against California’s new railroad safety law.

Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earthjustice, said the precautions required are common sense.

“All other industries, like the tankers that carry the oil, the refiners, the pipelines, all of them prepare these oil-spill response plans,” she aaid. “It’s time for the railroads to do the same.”

Railroad companies had argued that federal law pre-empts states’ regulation of the railroads.

Goldman said the companies now will have more incentive to get the training, equipment and communications systems in place to prevent the worst-case scenario.

“They improve their practices. They can’t get financial assurances if they’re being really risky,” she said. “And they figure out how to handle the oil better so that they won’t have a spill.”

California’s railroad safety law will go into effect once regulations are finalized.

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.

New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

Repost from the Bellingham Herald

New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 11, 2015
Derailed train cars burn near Mount Carbon, W.Va., Monday. A CSX train carrying crude oil derailed at around 1:20 p.m. Monday, spilling oil into the Kanawha River and destroying a home in the path of the wreckage. Marcus Constantino/ Daily Mail

— Lawmakers and environmental and industry groups criticized the federal government’s new safety measures for oil trains when they were announced earlier this month. Now another group has expressed disappointment in the new rules:

Emergency responders. They’re among the first in danger when a fiery derailment happens.

After another oil train derailed and caught fire last week, this time in North Dakota and the fifth in North America this year, firefighters renewed their call for more training and information about hazardous rail shipments.

The International Association of Fire Fighters’ primary objection to the new rules is about their information-sharing requirements. But Elizabeth Harman, an assistant to the general president of the group, also said firefighters needed more training on responding to hazardous materials incidents. The rule didn’t directly address that issue, though some lawmakers have sought additional funding.

“The training that’s needed has been developed,” she said. “This is the first step that needs to be funded and expanded for all first responders.”

Harman said her group had been talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency about making more competitive grants available for first-responder training.

Tank cars still showing accident vulnerability

Tens of thousands of rail tank cars haul flammable liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol, across North America, and most have weak spots that make them vulnerable to puncture and fire in an accident. A new tank car design has been approved, but is not widely available yet. There have been five serious oil train derailments so far this year.

Old and new tank car designs
Click for full size viewing
Click for full size viewing.
  1. Feb. 14, Gogama, Ontario, 29 cars of a Canadian National oil train derail and a fire engulfs seven cars. No injuries are reported.
  2. Feb. 16, Mount Carbon, W.V., 28 cars of a CSX oil train derail along the banks of the Kanawha River. One injury reported.
  3. March 5, Galena, Ill., 21 cars of a BNSF crude oil train derail and a fire erupts.
  4. March 7, Gogama, Ont., 39 cars of a Canadian National oil train derail and a fire engulfs multiple cars. A bridge is destroyed by the heat. No injuries are reported.
  5. May 6, Heimdal, N.D., six cars of a BNSF crude oil train derail and a fire erupts, forcing temporary evacuation of Heimdal.
*In addition to the 2015 accidents, the map locates selected derailments from 1981 through 2014 involving DOT-111A tank cars that polluted waterways and threatened cities with flammable or toxic chemicals.  Sources: McClatchy Washington Bureau, National Transportation Safety Board, Department of Transportation, Surface Transportation Board, Association of American Railroads, Railway Supply Institute

Since 2010, an exponentially larger volume of flammable liquids, especially crude oil and ethanol, has been moving by rail, and with it has come an increase in risk to communities.

“We need to be prepared for it, and we’re willing to be prepared for it,” Harman said.

The rail industry and the government have funded new training for emergency responders as a result of the increased risk. Railroads train 20,000 firefighters a year in communities across the country, according to the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.

Since last summer, the rail industry has paid to send hundreds more to an advanced firefighting academy in Pueblo, Colo., designed for responding to oil train fires.

While firefighter groups have praised the industry’s efforts, 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area, according to a 2010 survey by the National Fire Protection Association.

While no first responders have been injured in multiple oil train derailments and fires in the past year and a half, they’ve faced numerous challenges:

– When an oil train derailed and caught fire near Casselton, N.D., on Dec. 30, 2013, a BNSF student engineer became an ad-hoc first responder. According to interview transcripts published last month by the National Transportation Safety Board, the student donned firefighting gear and equipment as he uncoupled cars that were still on the track to move them away from the fire.

– When an oil train derailed and caught fire in downtown Lynchburg, Va., on April 30, 2014, first responders didn’t know right away which railroad to call, since two companies operate tracks through the city. According to a presentation at a conference of transportation professionals in Washington in January, it also took 45 minutes for first responders to obtain documents showing them what the train was carrying.

– After an oil train derailed and caught fire near Galena, Ill., on March 5 this year, volunteer firefighters could reach the remote site only via a bike path. Once there, they attempted to extinguish the fire, but had to retreat when they realized they couldn’t, leaving their equipment behind. According to local news reports, their radios didn’t work, either.

Harman said the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new regulations for trains carrying crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids didn’t go far enough with respect to information that railroads provided to communities.

Under an emergency order the department issued last May, railroads were required to report large shipments of Bakken crude oil to state emergency-response commissions, which then disseminated that information to local fire departments.

But under the department’s new rules, starting next year, railroads will no longer report the information to the states, and fire departments that want the information will have to go directly to the railroads. It also will be shielded from public disclosure.

“These new rules fall short of requiring rail operators to provide the information fire departments need to respond effectively when the call arrives,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the firefighters group.

Susan Lagana, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said Friday that the department was reviewing feedback from emergency responders and lawmakers to address their concerns.

She said the new rule would expand the amount of information available to first responders and noted that for now, last year’s emergency order remains in place.

Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, said the industry was reviewing the new regulations. He said it had shared information with first responders for years and would continue to do so.

Greenberg said the industry was developing a mobile application called AskRail that would give emergency responders immediate access to information about a train’s cargo.

“Freight railroads have ongoing dialogue with first responders, residents and local civic officials on rail operations and emergency planning,” he said.

Emergency planners in Washington state sought more information about oil trains from BNSF, including routing information, worst-case derailment scenarios, response planning and insurance coverage. On April 30, the railroad met with state fire chiefs in Olympia.

“I think both sides learned a little bit about the other group’s point of view,” said Wayne Senter, the executive director of the Washington Fire Chiefs. “I was pretty positive by the end of the meeting the information we asked for in our letter was either available or will soon be available either directly or indirectly.”

Samantha Wohlfeil of The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald contributed to this article.