Justin Mikulka's blog

Oil-By-Rail Regulators Consider Crude Oil Volatility Limits That Would Require Oil Stabilization

In July 2015, a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in Culbertson, Montana resulting in an oil spill of 35,000 gallons — more than the contents of a full rail tank car.

But unlike all of the other Bakken train accidents where large amounts of oil were spilled something odd happened. There was no explosion or fire. 

So what was different about the accident in Culbertson, Montana?

Insights Into the Thinking of Trump Advisor Myron Ebell’s Competitive Enterprise Institute on Climate Change

The 20th Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights was held on October 22nd in Albany, NY. Although this was an association supposedly concerned about property rights, two speakers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) spoke about climate change science. The Competitive Enterprise Institute is where Myron Ebell — the man Donald Trump has since appointed to oversee the dismantling of the EPA during the transition, has been employed for years as the Director of Energy and Environment. 

Between the content of the talks of the two Ivy League educated speakers, Sam Kazman and Marlo Lewis, Jr., it isn’t hard to figure out how Myron Ebell will approach the issue of climate science as part of the Trump administration. Here were some of the highlights. 

Hey California, Why Are You Allowing the Use of Oil Wastewater To Irrigate Our Food?

There are times when science is obvious. This is one of those times.

A new report by researchers at PSE Healthy Energy, UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of the Pacific sheds light on a very troubling practice in the field of Big Ag — the use of oil industry wastewater for irrigating food crops. 

Would you water your garden with the wastewater from an oil field? No. So why does California allow this practice in industrial agriculture? 

This disturbing scientific report identifies dozens of hazardous chemicals used in oilfields supplying waste fluid to water California food crops and recharge drinking water aquifers. People in the Central Valley could be drinking these oil industry chemicals right now, and current water-testing procedures wouldn’t detect these dangerous substances. Given these shocking findings, California regulators should immediately halt the use of oil-waste fluid in any procedure that could contaminate the water we drink or the food we eat,” said John Fleming, a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Ruling by Little-Known Federal Agency Paves Way for Communities to Say No to Oil-by-Rail

Oil tank care behind a fence with sign reading 'Think first'

The community of Benicia, [California,] in the crosshairs of history, made one of those decisions that will make a difference for the country. They stood up and said the safety of our communities matters.” 

That was Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor talking to The Sacramento Bee about the vote by the Benicia City Council to deny a new oil-by-rail facility that oil company Valero was seeking.

But that vote would have been meaningless if not for a recent decision on September 20 by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that gave Benicia the legal authority to have some say over what happens within its borders. 

Take Two: Albany’s Oil-by-Rail Facilities Must Do New Environmental Review

The people of Albany, New York, got some good news last Friday about their port's oil-by-rail facilities.

“Global Companies must restart its environmental review process, given the significant new information about the benzene levels in Albany’s South End community and the hazards of crude oil transport,” said Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos. “DEC will ensure that this process includes a meaningful and thorough opportunity for public engagement.” 

Global Companies and Buckeye Partners are the two companies operating oil-by-rail facilities at the Port of Albany. While the letter last week was addressed to Global, the DEC has announced both will have to restart the environmental review process.

In 2014 DeSmog reported that the “residents of the Ezra Prentice apartments in Albany, N.Y., have been complaining about air quality issues ever since the oil trains showed up in the Port of Albany two years ago.”

Overloaded: New Rules Allowed for Heavier Bakken Oil Trains

DOT-111 as part of ethanol unit train

This is the third article in a series looking at why oil trains derail at higher rates than ethanol trains. More ethanol was moved by rail from 2010–2015 than oil, but oil trains derail at a higher rate and with more severe consequences. Part one addressed train length as a factor and part two addressed “sloshing.” 

On January 25, 2011, a notice appeared in the Federal Register announcing a change in the rules on allowable weight for a rail tank car transporting hazardous materials. It declared the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) approval to increase this weight limit, bumping it up to 286,000 pounds gross rail load (GRL) from the previous limit of 263,000 pounds.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but this rule change was well-timed for the Bakken oil-by-rail boom that was taking off at that point. Regardless, it had immediate impacts on the ability of the industry to move oil in long unit trains with cars that were heavier than previously allowed. 

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