oil by rail

Thu, 2015-01-15 12:03Justin Mikulka
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Oil-by-Rail Reality: Watch What Industry Does, Not What They Say

In the past month, there have been numerous public relations efforts suggesting that much is being done to improve oil by rail safety. Unfortunately, it seems these efforts will not involve much more than press releases and hollow promises.”

Those words were first published on DeSmogBlog in March of last year in an article titled Why Nothing Will Happen On Oil by Rail Safety.

In that article, one particular public relations effort was highlighted:

“One of the more popular talking points in the recent PR effort was that BNSF, the railroad that is the largest transporter of oil by rail, had volunteered to buy 5,000 new rail tank cars that exceed any existing safety standard.”

This statement was referring to articles such as the one in the Wall Street Journal last February stating, “BNSF Railway said it plans to buy as many as 5,000 new tank cars to transport crude oil, an unusual move that marks the latest effort by the rail industry to improve safety after a spate of accidents.” Similar articles appeared in Reuters (“Exclusive: BNSF to move into tank car ownership with safer oil fleet”) and CNBC.

It was a clear message. The rail industry was not waiting on new regulations to improve safety and would take steps immediately to make the movement of oil by rail safer. Tough to argue with that, right?

Except it was nothing more than a public relations campaign.

Fri, 2014-12-26 18:31Mike De Souza
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Canadian Government: This Reporter's Question About ALEC 'Undeserving of Response'

ALEC light brigading

This article is re-published with permission from mikedesouza.com

As some of you may know, I’ll be starting a new role in January 2015 as an investigative resources correspondent for Reuters.

Getting access to records about government decisions and policies has long played a key role in the work of many journalists around the world. It will also be a key element for me in the weeks, months and years to come.

So to end off 2014, here are a few examples of some of my recent experiences with government efforts to either release or hide information.

Canada’s information watchdog has noted that the Supreme Court of Canada recognizes access to information as a quasi-constitutional right of all Canadians.

Obtaining access to information is an extension of freedom of expression since it allows the population to be informed and speak about government policies and decisions on how these governments spend public money.

Mon, 2014-12-15 06:00Justin Mikulka
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Calls to Ban Bomb Trains Ramp Up While Communities Await New Regulations

ban bomb trains

Earthjustice has challenged the Department of Transportation’s denial of a petition by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics to ban the transportation of Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars.

Most of the explosive crude oil on U.S. rails is moving in tanker cars that are almost guaranteed to fail in an accident,” explained Patti Goldman of Earthjustice.

The risks are too great to keep shipping explosive Bakken crude in defective DOT-111s. The National Transportation Safety Board called them unsafe two decades ago, and by the Department of Transportation’s own estimates, the U.S. could see 15 rail accidents every year involving these cars until we get them off the tracks.” 

At the same time Earthjustice was bringing this challenge, the Canadian government was announcing that it will ban 3,000 of the riskiest DOT-111s from carrying materials like Bakken crude.

Fri, 2014-11-14 11:36Justin Mikulka
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Republicans Attempting Science: A Preview of the Republican-Led Senate

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA)

On September 9th, two subcommittees of the Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a joint hearing where they spent the better part of two hours arguing the benefits of moving crude oil by pipeline.

The Republican committee members grilled the representatives from the Department of Energy and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and repeatedly tried to make the argument that pipelines were the safest mode of transporting oil. 

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) also mentioned how this administration “honestly believes in the global warming theory” and that was why the administration has not approved the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline.

The repeated focus on pipelines in this hearing was odd because the topic of the hearing was supposed to be the scientific properties of Bakken crude oil.

Thu, 2014-10-23 06:00Justin Mikulka
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Rail Industry Fights Speed Limits, Brake Regulation in Quest for Profits

CP Rail train

Earlier this month Hunter Harrison, the CEO of Canadian Pacific told the Globe and Mail that he thought regulators have “overreacted” to the oil-by-rail disaster in Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people. 

Lac-Mégantic happened, in my view, because of one person’s behaviour, if I read the file right,” Harrison said.

As detailed by DeSmogBlog, he didn’t read the file right. The accident was directly related to lack of regulation and the railroads putting profits before safety.

Harrison’s choice of words echoed those of American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard commenting on the new proposed oil-by-rail regulations when he stated: “Overreacting creates more challenges than safety.” 

Yea, that’s right, according to Big Oil and Big Rail, the biggest threat to the 25 million people living in the bomb train blast zones is the overreaction of regulators.

Thu, 2014-10-16 05:00Justin Mikulka
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Oil-by-Rail Fuels Record U.S. Imports of Canadian Oil

Oil by rail

In September, many of the major railroad stocks hit new all-time highs.

Investors Business Daily attributed much of the increase to the business of moving oil-by-rail.

While the majority of the oil moving by rail has been fracked light sweet crudes from places like the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale basins, the railroads are telling investors that to keep increasing profits they are looking to expand the business of tar sands by rail.

This past week, the Wall Street Journal reported Canadian Pacific’s chief operating officer Keith Creel’s optimistic position about the growth prospects of moving tar sands by rail.

The growth is shifting from the light sweet Bakken crude which is the more volatile and sensitive, to the heavy crude in northern Alberta,” Creel said. “It’s safer, less volatile and more profitable to move and we’re uniquely positioned to connect to the West Coast as well as the East Coast.”

Tue, 2014-10-07 10:41Justin Mikulka
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‘Wild West’ Approach to Regulation in Bakken Shale Means Bomb Trains Continue to Roll

Wild west Bakken

Prepare yourself for a rare moment of honesty from the oil industry.

It happened on Sept. 23 at a hearing of the North Dakota Industrial Commission during a discussion on ways to make Bakken crude oil less flammable for transportation.

The flammable characteristics of our product are actually a big piece of why this product is so valuable. That is why we can make these very valuable products like gasoline and jet fuel,” said Tony Lucero of oil producer Enerplus.

So, there you have it: making Bakken crude safer to transport by rail via oil stabilization, which removes flammable natural gas liquids such as butane, means making it less valuable to the refineries.

This profit motive is at least part of the reason why the American Petroleum Institute has made it clear it will not accept mandatory oil stabilization as part of the new oil-by-rail regulations.

Thu, 2014-10-02 17:59Justin Mikulka
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Oil and Rail Industries Still Fighting Oil Train Safety Measures 23 Years and Counting

Oil train

On the final day of the public comment period for the new proposed oil-by-rail regulations, the oil industry came out swinging. At a press conference held by American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard, Gerard said: “Overreacting creates more challenges than safety.” 

One of the main “overreactions” Gerard and the API want to avoid is the discontinuation of the DOT-111 tank cars for transporting dangerous products like Bakken crude oil.

Based on that, you might think that banning DOT-111s is some kind of reactionary new idea, not something that’s been on the books for more than two decades.

Take this line from a 1991 National Transportation Safety Board document: “The inadequacy of the protection provided by DOT-111A tank cars for certain dangerous products has been evident for many years in accidents investigated by the Safety Board.” 

Yet, here’s the American Petroleum Institute, 23 years later arguing that halting the shipment of explosive Bakken crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars is “overreacting.”

Tue, 2014-09-23 08:26Justin Mikulka
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Government Accountability Office Report of Oil-By-Rail Safety Fails to Address Most Important Safety Issue

This week’s release of the government report titled Department of Transportation Is Taking Actions To Address Rail Safety, But Additional Actions Are Needed To Address Pipeline Safety — a year long review of the risks associated with the large increases in transporting domestically produced oil and gas in the United States — identifies several well known risks with moving oil by rail but concludes that the new proposed regulations address these issues.

As previously reported on DeSmogBlog, the new proposed rules actually do little to improve safety and also phase in any changes over many years meaning that the oil trains running right now are not meaningfully safer than the five that have crashed and exploded since July 2013. And won’t be for years to come.

The report has received a scathing review from ForestEthics Matt Krogh. ForestEthics has been one of the leading voices in the effort to get improved safety regulations for the oil trains and are the creators of the Oil Train Blast Zone website.

The Department of Transportation hasn’t kept pace with the expansion of oil train traffic.” Krogh said, “The agency still hasn’t banned tanker cars that were declared unfit for service more than two decades ago. The new proposed rules do little to improve safety.”

Wed, 2014-09-17 08:59Justin Mikulka
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Bomb Trains Keep Rolling While Congressional Committee Bickers About Bakken Crude

Congressman Paul Broun

When DeSmogBlog reported last week that no actual petroleum scientists would be testifying at the congressional science committee’s hearing on the characteristics of Bakken crude oil, we knew the hearing was unlikely to make any substantial progress toward improving the safety of transporting this volatile oil on trains through American communities.    

Indeed, we expected the hearing would be an exercise in avoiding getting the facts about Bakken crude to further delay or avoid regulations that would require the oil to be stabilized. But what actually transpired surprised even us and bordered on the absurd.

While the hearing was conducted under the banner of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it was co-chaired by Subcommittee on Energy chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Subcommittee on Oversight chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.)

During his opening remarks, Congressman Broun ripped into the Obama administration for denying his attempts to get “experts in the subject matter” as witnesses.

While I look forward to hearing from both panels today, I must say I am disappointed — though not surprised — at this Administration’s continued unwillingness to work with the Congress. Chairman Lummis and I invited representatives from the agencies who are experts in the subject matter because we are interested in the science behind Bakken crude. Instead, both agencies appearing before the Committee today declined to provide the witnesses we requested, sending us in their place witnesses more knowledgeable on the politics behind Bakken crude. As I said, I am not surprised, just disappointed.

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