Category Archives: Oil train contents

Oil industry sets voluntary rail rules

Repost from The Hill
[Editor: an end run around new federal rules?  an industry signal intended for rulemakers?  See the new oil industry guidelines here.  – RS]

Oil industry sets voluntary rail rules

By Timothy Cama – 09/25/14

Facing potential new federal regulations restricting how it can move crude oil by rail, the oil industry is setting its own voluntary standards for safety.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which acts both as a lobbying group for the oil sector and a standard-setting body, published the 46-page guidelines Thursday.

“This particular standard is one element of a much broader approach to safety improvement,” Jack Gerard, president of API, said in a statement.

“A comprehensive effort that addresses accident prevention, mitigation and response is essential to achieving our goal of zero incidents for crude by rail shipments,” he said.

Following a string of disasters involving oil train explosions, the Transportation Department proposed a set of new rules for oil transport by rail in July.

While those standards and similar ones in Canada seek to phase out old rail cars that are often blamed for the most dangerous explosions, environmentalists and safety advocates have pushed for more action.

API did not take a stand on that proposal. But in Thursday’s standards, the oil industry is pulling out ahead of the issue with its own actions.

The new standards focus heavily on properly testing crude oil for classification to prepare it for shipment. But the standards also dictate how to fill tank cars so they are not overfilled.

API said it wants to help the industry to comply with Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) rules.

“Proper testing, classification and handling are important when shipping any material subject to PHMSA regulations, and crude oil is no exception,” Gerard said.

Two studies: Bakken crude by rail – safety and volatility

[Editor: The following studies were recommended to me by a neighbor who supports Valero’s crude by rail proposal.  Both are loaded with valuable information, useful to anyone who wants facts to back up an argument for or against Valero’s project.  You can download the document by clicking on the green text.   Thanks, neighbor!  – RS] 

Center for Strategic and International Studies –
Safety of Crude Oil by Rail

By David Pumphrey, Lisa Hyland, and Michelle Melton, March, 2014


In the last several years, rail has come to play an important role in the transportation of growing U.S. crude oil production. Over the last seven months, a number of serious accidents have resulted in intense review of the safety of shipping large quantities of oil by rail. The focus has been on classification of the oil, the integrity of tank cars, and rail operations. Regulatory processes have been initiated to attempt to deal with these issues in a timely manner. This issue analysis provides facts that illuminate the players, concerns, current status of regulatory action, as well as the potential issues going forward.

Further regulation of crude by rail is a near certainty, but the ultimate scope and pace remains unclear. Whether regulatory action actually slows down what has become a burgeoning transportation option for crude oil producers and refiners is an open question. It is increasingly unlikely that regulatory action—unless truly drastic—will stop shipment of crude by rail. However, moving forward, regulatory action such as phasing out older tank cars, rerouting trains, or imposing stringent requirements for testing, could impact the economics of crude by rail.   [MORE – a 9-page report in PDF format]

Congressional Research Service –
CRS Report – Crude Oil Properties Relevant to Rail Transport Safety

by Anthony Andrews, Specialist in Energy Policy, February 18, 2014


The dramatic increase in U.S. crude oil production, coupled with the increase in crude oil transport by rail, has raised questions about whether properties (e.g., flammability) of these crude types—particularly Bakken crude oil from North Dakota—differ sufficiently from other crude oils to warrant any additional handling considerations. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Safety Alert to notify emergency responders, shippers, carriers, and the public that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil transported from the Bakken region of North Dakota may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil. The alert reminds emergency responders that light sweet crude oil, such as that coming from the Bakken region, pose significant fire risk if released from the package (tank car) in an accident. PHMSA has expanded the scope of lab testing to include other factors that affect proper characterization and classification of crude oil such as volatility, corrosivity, hydrogen sulfide content and composition/concentration of the entrained gases in the material.

All crude oils are flammable, to a varying degree. Further, crude oils exhibit other potentially hazardous characteristics as well. The growing perception is that light volatile crude oil, like Bakken crude, is a root cause for catastrophic incidents and thus may be too hazardous to ship by rail. However, equally hazardous and flammable liquids from other sources are routinely transported by rail, tanker truck, barge, and pipeline, though not without accident.

A key question for Congress is whether the characteristics of Bakken crude oil make it particularly hazardous to ship by rail, or are there other causes of transport incidents, such as poor maintenance practices, inadequate safety standards, or human error.  [MORE – a 13-page report in PDF format]


Safety board chairman says oil train dangers extend beyond crude from the Bakken

Repost from The Associated Press

APNewsBreak: Oil train dangers extend past Bakken

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press, Jun 26, 2014
AP Photo
AP Photo/Matt Brown

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The dangers posed by a spike in oil shipments by rail extend beyond crude from the booming Bakken region of the Northern Plains and include oil produced elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. safety officials and lawmakers said.

Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said all crude shipments are flammable and can damage the environment – not just the Bakken shipments involved in a series of fiery accidents.

Hart cited recent derailments in Mississippi, Minnesota, New Brunswick and Pennsylvania of oil shipments from Canada. He said those cases exemplify “the risks to communities and for the environment for accidents involving non-Bakken crude oil.”

Hart’s comments were contained in a letter to U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley obtained by The Associated Press. They add to growing pressure on federal regulators to improve oil train safety in the wake of repeated derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed in a massive conflagration last July.

Citing the highly volatile nature of Bakken oil, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last month ordered railroads to notify states of shipments from the region so firefighters and first responders can better prepare for accidents.

But Wyden and Merkley told Foxx on Thursday that the order leaves emergency personnel in the dark on oil shipped from outside the Bakken region.

The Oregon Democrats urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. They also pressed for the 1 million-gallon minimum threshold in Foxx’s order to be lowered to include smaller shipments.

“With the exception of the Lac-Megantic accident, every accident involving crude oil, ethanol and other flammable materials since 2006 has resulted in a hazardous materials release of less than 1,000,000 gallons,” Wyden and Merkley wrote to Foxx in a letter.

They said the derailments cited by the transportation safety board show that trains carrying non-Bakken crude or less than 1 million gallons pose the same “imminent hazard” that Foxx has asserted for Bakken oil.

Bakken oil on average travels more than 1,600 miles to reach its destination, transportation officials said. That’s much further than oil from some other parts of the country.

U.S. transportation officials said the lengthier journey increases the overall risk exposure for Bakken oil – and is one reason it’s being treated differently than other hazardous cargos.

Representatives of the oil industry and officials in North Dakota also have complained about Bakken oil being singled out by regulators – although for opposite reasons. The American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers have argued Bakken oil is no more volatile than other light, sweet crudes.

The concerns aired Thursday by the NTSB and Oregon senators essentially flip that argument on its head, to say different types of crude and other hazardous liquids such as ethanol also pose a significant safety risk.

“Accidents involving crude oil or flammable liquids of any kind, especially when these liquids are transported in large volumes, such as in unit trains or blocks of tank cars, can have disastrous consequences,” Hart said.

Association of American Railroads spokeswoman Holly Arthur said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order. She said the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.

About 700,000 barrels of oil a day – enough to fill 10 “unit trains” of 100 tank cars each – is coming out of the Bakken by rail, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. That’s about 70 percent of crude-by-rail shipments nationwide, according to federal officials.

Yet the same hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – technology that has helped drive the boom in the Bakken region during the past decade is being employed on shale oil fields elsewhere. Crude from the tar sands of western Canada is also fueling the surge in North American production.

Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said he supports getting more information on oil trains to first responders so they’re ready for potential accidents.

According to an analysis done for the U.S. State Department, more than half the loading capacity of oil train facilities built in recent years is in parts of the U.S. and Canada outside the Bakken region. That includes loading terminals in Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and parts of western Canada.

North Dakota Oil-By-Rail Routes & Chemical Composition Published for First Time

Repost from DESMOGBLOG
[Editor: This is an incredibly detailed report on North Dakota train routes and contents.  I am seeing similar reports for Washington State, Illinois and points east.  I am assuming – and hoping – that we will see something like this for California soon.  – RS]

Exclusive: North Dakota Oil-By-Rail Routes Published for First Time

Fri, 2014-06-27, Steve Horn

For the first time, DeSmogBlog has published dozens of documents obtained from the North Dakota government revealing routes and chemical composition data for oil-by-rail trains in the state carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale.

The information was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) under the legal dictates of a May 7 Emergency Order, which both the federal government and the rail industry initially argued should only be released to those with a “need-to-know” and not the public at-large.

North Dakota’s Department of Emergency Services, working in consultation with the North Dakota Office of the Attorney General, made the documents public a couple weeks after DeSmogBlog filed a June 13 North Dakota Public Records Statute request.

“There is no legal basis to protect what they have provided us at this point,” North Dakota assistant attorney general Mary Kae Kelsch said during the June 25 Department of Emergency Service’s quarterly meeting, which DeSmogBlog attended via phone. “It doesn’t meet any criteria for our state law to protect this.”

Initially, oil-by-rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and other rail companies sent boilerplate letters — one copy of which has been obtained by DeSmogBlog from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security through the state’s Public Records Act — to several State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs), arguing train routes should be kept confidential.

BNSF also sent several SERCs a boilerplate contract proposal, requesting that they exempt the information rail companies were compelled to submit to the SERCs under the DOT Emergency Order from release under Freedom of Information Act. A snippet of the proposed contract can be seen below:

Dan Wilz, homeland security division director and state security advisor of the Department of Emergency Services, said the claims did not hold legal water.

“Joe can stand on a street corner and figure that out within a week’s period,” Wilz said at the quarterly meeting. “They watch the trains go through their community each and every day.”

BNSF, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) and Northern Plains Railroad all submitted information to the Department of Emergency Services.

CP Rail: 7 Trains/Week, “Highly Flammable”

In its submission to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, CP Rail revealed it sent seven oil-by-rail trains through 13 counties in North Dakota the week of June 9-15. CP Rail also estimated it generally sends 2-5 trains through those same counties during an average week.

Some oil-by-rail trains, dubbed “bomb trains” by some due to their propensity to explode, carry over 2,677,500 gallons of fracked oil. The trains are often over a mile in length and contain over 100 cars.

The company also released information on the chemical composition of the Bakken oil it sends on its rail cars, conceding that Bakken oil is “highly flammable” and “easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames.”

Further, CP Rail admitted that Bakken oil has “a very low flash point” and that “water spray when fighting [its] fire may be inefficient.”

BNSF: Bakken Oil-By-Rail King

BNSF, owned by Warren Buffett — a major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012 and one of the richest men on the planet — is widely considered the king of oil-by-rail in the U.S. The documents BNSF released to the Department of Emergency Services back up the notion.

One document shows BNSF sent 31 oil-by-rail trains through Cass County, North Dakota during the week of May 29 – June 4, also saying it sends between 30-45 trains per week on average through the County. That same week, 30 BNSF trains zoomed through Barnes County, North Dakota.

A document filed the next week, covering June 5 – June 11, shows 45 trains passed through Cass County that week. Another 37 passed through Ward County, North Dakota and another 33 through McHenry, Pierce and Mountrail counties.

Northern Plains: Chemical Composition Revealed

In its DOT submission, Northern Plains included an expansive Bakken crude oil sample chemical composition test submitted by Musket Corporation, which has a terminal and transload site in North Dakota.

Northern Plains also submitted a Bakken Crude Safety Data Sheet, created by Musket, as well. The Sheet echos CP Rail in stating that Bakken oil is a “highly flammable liquid and vapor.”

Further, the Sheet explains that Bakken oil contains Benzene, a carcinogen.

A record amount of Bakken oil spilled into waterways that are a drinking source for many as a result explosions of oil-by-rail trains in 2013. Most recently, the exploding oil-by-rail train in Lynchburg, Virginia spilled into the James River.

Photo Credit: Erin Ferrell – ABC 13 News | Twitter

Compared to CP Rail and BNSF, Northern Plains is a minor player in terms of the amount of oil it carries by rail in North Dakota. It submitted that it carries 12 trains per year and all within Walsh County, North Dakota, also including a map of its route.

“Right to Know” vs. “Need to Know”

Despite the fact dozens of oil-by-rail trains pass through North Dakota counties on a daily basis, carrying a substance that contains a known carcinogen and is “highly flammable,” Big Rail and Big Oil used its legal might to claim only a select few “need to know” where these cars travel.

“For some reason this entire rail oil industry, they just fill these rail cars and send them without really knowing what’s in them,” Scott Smith, chief scientist for Water Defense said in an article appearing in the summer edition of the Earth Island Journal. “And it’s the only industry I’m aware of that gets away with that.”

But this time around, due to the North Dakota Public Records Statute, Big Rail and Big Oil didn’t get away with it.

Photo Credit: Kyle Potter | Forum of Fargo-Moorhead