Rail

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.

Sun, 2014-08-31 05:00Farron Cousins
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Swapping Farmland For Coal Trains: Union Pacific’s Texas Land Grab

Railroad giant Union Pacific has some big plans for a tiny Texas community.  According to locals in the Brazos River Valley, the railroad company is hoping to turn some of the most fertile farmland in Texas into a massive, 72-line rail yard.

Union Pacific’s plan would consume as much as 1,800 acres of farmland in the region, effectively putting numerous family-owned farming operations out of business.  The toxic loads that Union Pacific’s trains would be hauling in and out of the area on a daily basis would then threaten the remaining farms in the region.

The Brazos River Valley, named after the Brazos River, is considered some of the richest farmland in the state, thanks to the city’s namesake river feeding fresh water and nutrients to the area.  Taking this land out of the hands of farmers — many of whom are the descendants of early generation of farm settlers in the area — would not only have devastating effects on the local economy, but they could also put a huge hole in the nation’s food supply.

But Union Pacific is not concerned with the well being of the Brazos Valley community or their environment, and they are hoping to move forward with their plan.  And the land grab only represents half of the danger. 

According to a letter from the Brazos River Bottom Alliance that was sent to state and federal representatives, there will be no environmental review of the project:

Sun, 2014-06-22 08:36Mike Gaworecki
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Oakland Opposes Fossil Fuel Transport By Rail As Sacramento Imposes New Fees To Help Fund Spill Response

The City Council of Oakland, California has passed a resolution opposing the transport of coal, oil, petcoke (a byproduct of the oil refining process) and other hazardous materials by railways and waterways within the city.

The resolution is a response to “a new push by the fossil fuel industry to transport, export, and/or refine coal, crude oil and petroleum coke (“petcoke”)… on the West Coast and in California,” as well as efforts by California refineries to build new rail terminals that would allow them to import more crude oil from the tar sands in Canada and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Crude-by-rail shipments are expected to travel through some of California's most ecologically sensitive areas, as well as some of its most populated cities.

Oakland's resolution is the first of its kind for California, as it goes further than similar resolutions passed by Berkeley and Richmond opposing crude-by-rail.

“Oakland is leading the way for Californians who want to tell Big Coal and Big Oil that we cannot bear the risk they impose upon on our town,” said Lynette Gibson McElhaney, one of three council members who sponsored the resolution.

State legislators are also taking steps to minimize the threat to California's ecosystems and human health posed by shipping fossil fuels via rail. The state will soon begin charging a 6.5-cent fee on every barrel of oil shipped by rail into the state or piped within the state, which is expected to raise some $11 million in its first year. The funds will be used to better train and equip first responders in spill response, with a special focus on spills in waterways, and to hire more rail inspectors.

Tue, 2014-06-17 07:28Ben Jervey
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Tar Sands on the Tracks: Railbit, Dilbit and U.S. Export Terminals

Last December, the first full train carrying tar sands crude left the Canexus Bruderheim terminal outside of Edmonton, Alberta, bound for an unloading terminal somewhere in the United States.

Canadian heavy crude, as the tar sands is labeled for market purposes, had ridden the rails in very limited capacity in years previous — loaded into tank cars and bundled with other products as part of so-called “manifest” shipments. But to the best of industry analysts’ knowledge, never before had a full 100-plus car train (called a “unit train”) been shipped entirely full of tar sands crude.

Because unit trains travel more quickly, carry higher volumes of crude and cost the shipper less per barrel to operate than the manifest alternative, this first shipment from the Canexus Bruderheim terminal signaled the start of yet another crude-by-rail era — an echo of the sudden rise of oil train transport ushered in by the Bakken boom, on a much smaller scale (for now).

This overall spike in North American crude-by-rail over the past few years has been well documented, and last month Oil Change International released a comprehensive report about the trend. As explained in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America (and in past coverage in DeSmogBlog), much of the oil train growth has been driven by the Bakken shale oil boom. Without sufficient pipeline capacity in the area, drillers have been loading up much more versatile trains to cart the light, sweet tight crude to refineries in the Gulf, and on both coasts.

Mon, 2014-01-27 05:00Ben Jervey
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Oil on the Tracks: More Oil Spills from Railcars in 2013 than in Previous Four Decades [Updated]

As a direct result of the Bakken shale oil boom, more crude oil was spilled from rail cars last year than in the previous four decades combined. That’s according to a McClatchy analysis of federal data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which governs rail transport of liquid fuels like crude.

The analysis revealed more than 1.15 million gallons of crude spilled in 2013, considerably more than the 800,000 gallons spilled from 1975 (when the government started collecting data on spills) to 2012.

The rail industry likes to boast a 99.99% success rate in delivery shipments without incident, and that number remained consistent in 2013, with 1.15 million of the roughly 11.5 billion gallons shipped by rail being spilled. What did change was the volume of actual crude being shipped by rail.

As we’ve covered before, there is a massive boom in crude-by-rail throughout North America, with a nearly 2400-percent increase in crude railcar shipments in five short years from 2008-2012. As it turned out, 2013 was another record-setting year.

Tue, 2013-10-29 14:15Carol Linnitt
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US State Department Considers Rail Transport of Crude in Keystone XL Decision

keystone xl pipeline oil by rail

A decision on the proposed northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline - under review since 2008 - hinges on a final environmental review by the State Department now taking into consideration the importance oil-by-rail transport might have on growth of Alberta's tar sands.

US officials are evaluating the impact Keystone XL will have on expansion of the tar sands and whether or not the pipeline will worsen climate change. According to a new report by Reuters the evaluation has created a balancing test, “zeroing in on the question of whether shipment by rail is a viable alternative to the controversial project.”

The test's crux: “if there is enough evidence that the oil sands region will quickly grow with or without the 1,200-mile line, that would undercut an argument from environmentalists that the pipeline would turbocharge expansion,” Reuters reports.

President Barack Obama's State Department is asking rail executives to report on logistics, market dynamics and what obstacles oil-by-rail alternatives face in delivering 830,000 barrels of Canadian oil to Cushing, Oklahoma - the “pipeline crossroads of the world” - where Keystone XL's northern half will link up with Keystone XL's southern half which is expected to be up and running by the end of October.

In other words, could rail realistically provide an alternative to the Keystone XL, aiding in the expansion of Canada's highly-polluting tar sands?

Mon, 2013-07-22 10:00Ben Jervey
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Oil On The Tracks: The Crude-by-Rail Boom By the Numbers

The tragic oil train explosion earlier this month in Lac-Megantic, Quebec has focused a spotlight on the growing role of rail in the transportation of North American crude. But even after that tragedy, the extent of rail’s expansion in transporting oil is still little understood by the typical driver at the pump.

So DeSmog is going to dedicate a couple of posts expanding on an earlier post about this staggering boom in crude-by-rail – why it's happening, where the oil is going, what the risks are, and who stands to benefit most from the trend.  

On November 7, 2011, the Bakken Oil Express loaded up its first railcar with North Dakota crude and started churning south towards a Gulf Coast refinery. This wasn’t the first crude-by-rail shipment in U.S. history (John D. Rockefeller might have something to say about that), nor the first time in recent history that shale crude was shuttled out of the Bakken by rail.

But if you’re looking for a pivot point in the transportation trends of North American crude, the christening of the Bakken Oil Express is a fitting one.

The Bakken Oil Express is just one piece of a rapidly expanding network of North American oil tanker trains, but it's a particularly symbolic one, quickly brought online to handle the spiking production of North Dakota sweet crude. 

According to the Association of American Railroads (PDF), “In 2008, U.S. Class I railroads originated just 9,500 carloads of crude oil. In 2012, they originated nearly 234,000 carloads. Based on the more than 97,000 rail carloads of crude oil in the first quarter of this year, another big jump is expected in 2013.” 

That’s nearly a 2400-percent increase in five short years, and the upward trend looks to be growing even faster in 2013.

Sun, 2013-07-14 12:22Don Lieber
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Whether By Train Or By Pipeline, Oil and Gas Transport Is Unsafe

The deadly oil train disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec on July 5, which (as of this writing) has left 33 people dead, with 17 still missing, and contaminated over 60 miles of local drinking water sources, has initiated a curious response across the media spectrum.

Some observers cite this accident as reason to consider pipelines, rather than trains, as the safer choice to transport oil and gas fossil fuels.

Two new major reports, however, reveal that this question misses a much larger point: oil, gas, and coal – the fossil fuel trio – indeed are inherently unsafe industries regardless of the mode of transport.

The first report, from Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E),  an organization which focuses on energy policy and markets, examined on-shore oil and gas and documented over 6,000 spills and accidents at oil and gas sites in 2012 - an average of more than 16 spills a day. A total of 15.6 million gallons of oil, fracking fluid, wastewater and other liquids were reported spilled at production sites during 2012. That's more than the 11 million gallons of oil that leaked from the shattered hull of the Exxon Valdez in 1989.

This represents a significant increase in accidents since 2010 and parallels the dramatic rise in drilling activity across key oil and gas producing states, such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.  

Fri, 2013-04-05 14:47Matthew Linnitt
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Average 250 Pipeline Accidents Each Year, Billions Spent on Property Damage

If only this were milk there would be no need to cry.

Cleanup efforts are currently underway in four separate oil spills that have occurred in the last ten days.

On March 27th, a train carrying Canadian tar sands dilbit jumped the rails in rural Minnesota spilling an estimated 30,000 gallons of black gold onto the countryside. 

Two days later a pipeline ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, sending a river of Albertan tar sands crude gurgling down residential streets. And news is just breaking about a Shell oil spill that occurred the same day in Texas that dumped an estimated 700 barrels, including at least 60 barrels of oil into a waterway that leads to the Gulf of Mexico (stay tuned for more on that).

This week a Canadian Pacific freight train loaded with oil derailed, spilling its cargo over the Northwest Ontario countryside. Originally reported as a leak of 600 liters, the CBC reported on Thursday that the estimated volume of the spill has increased to 63,000 liters.

The accelerating expansion of Alberta’s tar sands has North America’s current pipeline infrastructure maxed out and, as a result, oil companies have been searching for an alternative way to move their product to market. As lobbying efforts around the stymied Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines intensify, oil companies have been quietly loading their toxic cargo onto freight trains.

Sat, 2013-02-16 10:00Ben Jervey
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Oil Aboard! Tar Sands Industry Eyes Nexen Rail Alternative to Stalled Pipelines

Facing enormous opposition to the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, Canada’s tar sands industry is taking to the tracks to get its sticky bitumen to China. Canadian and Chinese oil companies have explored the “pipeline by rail” option for years now, but over the past month, the prospect of tar sands trains has taken a few big steps closer toward reality.

For over a year, Calgary-based Nexen, Inc. has been developing plans to load tar sands crude onto trains for transport to the West Coast, where it would be loaded onto barges and shipped to China. Late last month, the Canadian government approved the sale of Nexen to a nationalized Chinese oil company, and earlier this week, the U.S. government, which has some say because of Nexen’s major operations in the Gulf of Mexico, gave its stamp of approval.  According to Nexen, the company now has “all the requisite approvals” and the deal “is expected to close the week of February 25, 2013.” (So much for Canadian tar sands benefiting Canadians first and foremost.)

Rail is considered more and more appealing to industry insiders as numerous plans to ship tar sands crude by pipeline have grown increasingly controversial and have been stalled by climate and private property activists from British Columbia to New England to Nebraska. (See: the Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway, and Trailbreaker/Enbridge Line 9.)

In fact, the industry is growing desperate to find ways to export the heavy Canadian crude, as export pipeline capacity is currently maxed out, causing a glut in supply in Alberta, which is driving down prices and causing, according to the Globe and Mail, “billions in forfeited revenues.”

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