Washington refinery switching to newer rail cars for crude

Repost from The Bellingham Herald

BP Cherry Point will allow only newer-model train cars at its crude oil terminal

By Samantha Wohlfeil, The Bellingham Herald, October 11, 2014

BP Cherry Point has announced its rail terminal will no longer accept or unload any Bakken region crude oil from pre-2011 standard tank cars.By the first week in October, the facility had stopped using older DOT-111 cars for crude, BP spokesman Bill Kidd said.

After several high-profile derailments in the last year, groups concerned about the safety of oil trains have rallied around a call to have companies trade in all old DOT-111 rail cars, which are used to carry a variety of hazardous and flammable liquids, for higher standard cars, like the CPC-1232.

For decades the DOT-111 cars have been found more likely to puncture or burst. The National Transportation Safety Board, which recommended upgraded regulations for crude oil and ethanol cars in 2011, is working on updating rail safety standards.

The newer cars have thicker shells, head shields on either end of the car and improved valve protection.

BP Cherry Point, which received its first crude shipment from the Bakken region Dec. 26, 2013, was already using CPC-1232 tank cars to receive about 60 percent of its crude oil from that area and had planned to get about 400 more by the end of 2014, Kidd said.

“But we expedited that in order to respond to community concerns,” Kidd said. “We pulled a lot of leverage to get to this point.”

The refinery now uses a fleet of about 700 CPC-1232s.

The NTSB could require companies to phase out the DOT-111 cars for crude oil shipping over the next couple of years.

About 70 percent of the crude oil rail cars that BNSF Railway currently moves through Washington state are already the newer design, said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman for the Pacific Northwest.

Transition to crude by rail

For two decades the refinery received crude oil only by pipeline, later adding waterborne tanker service, Kidd said. But Alaskan crude oil has turned into the last type the refinery is interested in, due to price.

Though many people did not see it coming, mid-continent shale formation crude oil has become a cheaper option and an advantage for the refinery, Kidd said.

“It’s completely turned the industry on its head,” Kidd said. “Without access to crude by rail, this refinery cannot compete. … If there was a pipeline there wouldn’t be the big discount. Right now there is no other way to move it.”

The Cherry Point rail terminal is made up of two complete loops that allow the refinery to hold up to two trains of about 120 cars – one full and one empty.

It takes crews from BP contractor Savage Services about 18 to 20 hours to offload a train loaded with crude oil using gravity to drain one quarter of the train at a time, said BP Operations’ Ryan Kennedy, who oversees the rail terminal work. Once crews unload a train, it sits empty while BNSF sends a crew back to the facility to pick it up.

The loop is about as flat as it gets, both for working purposes and safety, Kennedy said. A 0.25 percent grade keeps couplers between the cars tight when the trains are parked, and there is a slight grade at the entrance to/exit from the loop so in the event a train did get loose for whatever reason, it would not leave the refinery.

A variety of safety precautions, like plastic liners built in under the rail loop and bins placed under each hose when the cars are hooked up for draining, are designed to prevent bad situations, Kennedy said.

“There’s a lot of fat built in naturally, a lot of redundancy,” Kennedy said. “We secure the train above and beyond the minimum requirement. We’ve determined the standard for the longest train we could hold and we put on that many brakes for all trains, regardless of length.”

BP’s terminal is permitted to receive an average of one unit train per day. It currently gets about 25 per month, Kennedy said.

Refinery Manager Bob Allendorfer said the facility is always going to be progressive when it comes to safety.

“Safety is always first, and you have to get it right,” Allendorfer said.