Bomb Trains

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.

Sat, 2014-12-13 13:10Guest
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California Communities Fighting Back Against Prospect Of 25-Fold Crude-By-Rail Increase

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — the percussion of wood being cut, sanded, and finished. He’s the facility manager for the family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound each day roars above the cacophony of the woodshop: the blast of the train horn as cars cough down the Union Pacific rail line that runs just a few feet from the front of his shop in an industrial park in Benicia, California.

Most days the train cargo is beer, cars, steel, propane, or petroleum coke. But soon two trains of 50 cars each may pass by every day carrying crude oil to a refinery owned by neighboring Valero Energy. Valero is hoping to build a new rail terminal at the refinery that would bring 70,000 barrels a day by train — or nearly 3 million gallons.

And it’s a sign of the times.

Crude by rail has increased 4,000 percent across the country since 2008 and California is feeling the effects. By 2016 the amount of crude by rail entering the state is expected to increase by a factor of 25. That’s assuming industry gets its way in creating more crude by rail stations at refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a sure thing.

Thu, 2014-12-11 07:00Justin Mikulka
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North Dakota's Meaningless New Bakken Oil Regulations Will Keep Bomb Trains Rolling

Oil train

New regulations purported to make Bakken crude safer for transport instead allow business as usual for the oil and rail industries moving explosive Bakken crude oil in unsafe DOT-111 rail cars.

The regulations announced Tuesday by the North Dakota Industrial Commission state that: “The goal is to produce crude oil that does not exceed a vapor pressure of 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi).”

There are two important things to note about this goal.

The first is that the vapor pressure of the oil that exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, resulting in the death of 47 people, was under 10 psi and was described as being “as volatile as gasoline.” So the new regulations will permit oil that is significantly more volatile than the oil in the Lac-Megantic disaster to continue to be shipped by rail. 

The second important thing to note is that almost all of the oil that the industry and regulators have sampled in the past year has been well below 13.7 psi. Of 99 samples taken in the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s sampling study, 94 were below 13.7 psi and the average psi for that study was 12.3 psi.

Tue, 2014-12-09 06:28Mike Gaworecki
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Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

A train derailment last week has prompted a California state legislator to call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments through the state’s “most treacherous” passes.

Twelve cars derailed on a Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River northeast of Oroville, CA in the early morning hours of November 5th. The state Office of Emergency Services responded by saying “we dodged a bullet” due to the fact that the train was carrying corn, some of which spilled into the river, and not oil.

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a vocal critic of the state’s emergency preparedness for responding to crude-by-rail accidents, does not think California should wait around for a bullet it can’t dodge before taking action. Hill sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a moratorium on shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and other hazardous materials via the Feather River Canyon and several other high risk routes throughout California.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California,” Hill wrote in the letter. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville and contaminating California’s second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.”

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.

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.”

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.

Fri, 2014-09-05 13:30Justin Mikulka
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Safety of Citizens in Bomb Train Blast Zones in Hands of North Dakota Politicians

Lac Megantic train explosion

When North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer was asked recently if it was scientifically possible to make Bakken crude oil safer by stripping out the explosive natural gas liquids with a process like oil stabilization, his response was quite telling.

So scientifically can you do it? Sure, but you have to look at it holistically and consider all of the other elements including economics, and is the benefit of doing something like that does that trump other things like speed of trains, and what kind of cars,” he said.

This is very similar to the comments made by Lynn Helms of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources according to the July 29 meeting minutes provided to DeSmogBlog by the Industrial Commission of North Dakota.

In response to a question regarding other mechanisms besides oil conditioning in the field, Mr. Helms stated there are other mechanisms — none of them without a significant downside….It makes sense to do the conditioning in the field. There are other options to do it downstream somewhere in a very large and very expensive operation.”

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