oil trains

Federal Railroad Administration Nominee Plans to Push Rail Industry to Self-Regulate

Train in Alaska

Ronald Batory — President Trump’s nominee to lead the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) — will be pushing for the controversial self-regulatory approach to safety known as “performance-based regulations,” according to his July 26 statement for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Shifting toward this self-regulatory approach could have major implications for the safety of trains carrying potentially dangerous cargo, including oil and ethanol.

“We Got Lucky” - Four Years After Lac-Megantic, Another Oil Train Accident

We were very lucky in this instance,” Plainfield Fire Chief David Riddle said. “There was no fire, nobody got hurt by the grace of God.”

As the residents of Lac-Megantic were preparing to acknowledge the 4th anniversary of the oil train disaster that leveled and poisoned their downtown and killed 47 people, residents of Plainfield, Illinois were happy to just be complaining about the odor of spilled oil after a train pulling 115 tank cars of Canadian crude oil derailed near their neighborhood.

Regulators Helped Oil-by-Rail Company Avoid Environmental Review, California Court Rules

Oil train cars

This week, a court in California overturned a permit allowing the expansion of an oil-by-rail terminal near Bakersfield, California. The opinion from that court ruling reads like a case study for corporations looking to avoid the two biggest hurdles to getting such a project approved: environmental review and public notice and comment. 

Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains “Dangerously Flammable”?

Derailed oil train cars still smoking after the fire in Mount Carbon, West Virginia

When President Donald Trump signed executive orders pushing for the approval and expedited review of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, an oil industry-funded think tank put out an interesting comment supporting the move in a press release:

I believe that Canada is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the United States,” said Christopher Essex at the University of Western Ontario, on behalf of the climate change–denying Heartland Institute. “It gets there in part via huge dirty dangerously flammable trains of oil-bearing tank cars.”  

But why was Heartland, which has received large amounts of funding from ExxonMobil, championing oil pipelines while highlighting the risks of oil trains? 

Internal Watchdog Blasts Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Regulators Over Safety Rule Delays

Safety laws meant to protect the American public against oil train explosions, pipeline leaks and other deadly risks have been repeatedly held up by slow-moving federal regulators, a newly released Department of Transportation internal audit has concluded.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) — charged with overseeing 2.6 million miles of pipelines and the handling of a million hazardous material shipments a day — missed deadline after deadline as it attempted to craft the safety rules and regulations that give federal laws effect, auditors from the DOT inspector general's office wrote in their Oct. 14 report.

PHMSA’s slow progress and lack of coordination over the past 10 years has delayed the protections those mandates and recommendations are intended to provide,” the report concluded.

Bomb Trains: What Can We Learn From Shipping Ethanol to Improve Oil-By-Rail Safety?

Unit train of ethanol in Albany, NY

This article is the first in a series by DeSmog on the safety of shipping ethanol and oil by rail

From 2010 to 2015, the total number of tank cars moving ethanol by rail was more than 1.98 million. That's about 18 percent greater than the more than 1.68 million tank cars of crude oil shipped over the same time period.  

With more ethanol than crude oil moved by rail in recent years, why isn't anyone calling ethanol trains “bomb trains” too?

Nationwide Resistance To Crude Oil ‘Bomb Trains’ Gaining Momentum

The speed and scale with which the oil and rail industries created the North American oil-by-rail infrastructure was impressive. And amazingly under the radar for the most part — until the trains started derailing and blowing up — leading to articles with titles like “The Invisible Bomb Trains.
 
In 2014, Terry Wechsler, an environmental attorney in northwest Washington, summed up why there hadn’t been opposition to the initial oil-by-rail terminals on the west coast, telling Reuters, “There was no opposition to the other three proposals only because we weren't aware they were in formal permitting.”
 
But now the public knows. And despite public relations efforts by regulators and industry lobbyists, the public also knows that the crude oil “bomb trains” still pose a huge risk to communities along the rail lines.

“We Need Not Be Polite” Hears First National Conference On Oil Train Threats

oil train conference

On November 12th, I boarded a train headed to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the first national independent gathering focused on the topic of oil trains. The trip would take me through Philadelphia where an Amtrak train crashed in May resulting in eight fatalities and over 200 injuries. 

There is general consensus that the accident would have been avoided if positive train control technology had been in place. In 2008, Congress mandated that positive train control be installed by the end of 2015. However, the railroads failed to do this and were recently given a three to five year extension by Congress after the rail companies threatened to shut down rail service if the mandate were enforced.

Are US Regulators Trying to Cover Up Influence Of Lobbyists On New Oil-By-Rail Regulations?

It’s no secret that the oil and rail industries lobbied the Obama Administration heavily during the creation of new oil-by-rail regulations released this past May, with lobbyists reportedly not even taking a break the day after a major oil train accident.

But just how much influence did lobbyists actually have in the drafting of the regulations?

Environmentalists who criticize the new rules as far too weak to stop business-as-usual — which has already resulted in five oil train explosions so far this year — are endeavoring to find out by submitting Freedom of Information Act requests for correspondence between lobbyists and five federal agencies within the US Department of Transportation that worked on the oil train safety rules.

So far, they say, they’ve been stonewalled by the Obama Administration.

Senate Working to Strip Braking Safety Requirements From Oil Train Regulations

As documented on DeSmog, the new oil-by-rail regulations contain major concessions to the oil and rail industries as the result of relentless lobbying during the rulemaking process. One logical safety measure that the rail industry failed to block from the new rules was a requirement for modern braking systems know as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

However, the rail industry has a Plan B to avoid modernizing their braking systems and so far it is working quite well.

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