oil-by-rail

Trump and the Rail Industry Had a Great First Year Together

Oil tank cars

The election of Donald Trump was a big win for the oil and rail industries. Shortly after the election, Edward Hamberger, CEO of the trade group the Association of American Railroads, addressed a conference in New York City, noting that “the policy landscape in Washington, D.C., dramatically shifted on Election Day.”

The trade publication Railway Age also reported Hamberger saying that “Washington leaders can be powerful change agents in fixing a broken regulatory system.”

Of course when the top rail lobbyist talks about “fixing” a broken regulatory system, what he means is moving to a system where the rail industry regulates itself — which is why the rail industry is so fond of President Trump. And why the American public should worry.

Will Canada’s Latest Boom in Tar Sands Oil Mean Another Boom for Oil-by-Rail?

Oil by rail accident, with tank cars burning, near Gogama, Canada in 2015

Nothing seems able to derail the rise in Canadian tar sands oil production. Low prices, canceled pipelines, climate realities, a major oil company announcing it will no longer develop heavy oils, divestment, and now even refusals to insure tar sands pipelines have all certainly slowed production, but it is still poised for significant growth over the next several years.

In March an analyst for GMP FirstEnergy commented, “It's hard to imagine a scenario where oilsands production would go down.”

But with pipelines to U.S. refineries and ports running at or near capacity from Canada, it's hard to imagine all that heavy Canadian oil going anywhere without the help of the rail industry.

Trump’s New Era of Industry Self-Regulation Begins for Oil by Rail

Crossing train tracks

In case you were wondering how industry-friendly the federal government is becoming, look no futher than Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA), chair of the Congressional Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. He recently opened a hearing on pipeline and rail regulations with the following sentiment: 

Regulation has grown significantly in recent years and so we are here to ask stakeholders about the impact and burden of regulation on their businesses and ways to ease the burden without compromising safety.” 

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.”

Rail Safety Report Card: Only 225 Of Over 100,000 Unsafe Tank Cars Were Retrofitted in First Year

A year ago, when Federal regulators announced new rules for “high hazard” trains moving crude oil and ethanol, the oil industry protested that the rules were too strict. The main point of contention made by the American Petroleum Institute (API) was that the requirement to retrofit the unsafe DOT-111 and DOT-1232 tank cars within ten years did not allow enough time to get the job done.

Meanwhile, according to information recently provided to DeSmog by the Association of American Railroads, only 225 of the tank cars have been retrofitted in the past year. So, the API may have been onto something because at that rate it will take roughly 500 years to retrofit the entire fleet of DOT-111s and CPC-1232s based on government and industry estimates of fleet size of approximately 110,000.

New York Serves As Battleground for Oil and Gas Infrastructure Fights

When New York state banned fracking in 2015, it was a blow to the oil and gas industry. But it didn’t slow industry plans to continue to build out new oil and gas infrastructure in New York.

However, in another setback for the industry, Governor Cuomo’s administration just denied permits for the proposed Constitution pipeline — a pipeline that would have brought fracked gas from Pennsylvania into New York — which has effectively killed the project.

Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan also just announced it is shelving plans to build the natural gas pipeline known as Northeast Direct due to “inadequate capacity commitments from prospective customers.”  

These two decisions were celebrated by the many concerned citizens in New York who have been fighting new oil and gas infrastructure in the state.

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.

Minority, Low-Income Communities Bear Disproportionate Share Of Risk From Oil Trains In California

People of color and low-income communities are bearing a disproportionate burden of risk from dangerous oil trains rolling through California, according to a new report by ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment.

Called “Crude Injustice On The Rails,” the report found that 80 percent of the 5.5 million Californians with homes in the oil train blast zone — the one-mile region around train tracks that would need to be evacuated in the event of an oil train derailment, explosion and fire — live in communities with predominantly minority, low-income or non-English speaking households.

North Dakota Town Evacuated After Oil Train Derailment, Explosion

An oil train derailment and subsequent fire early this morning near Heimdal, a rural town in central North Dakota, has led to the evacuation of nearby residents. The Associated Press reports that the accident occurred at 7:30am and that ten tanker cars of a BNSF Railway train were burning, “creating thick black smoke.” There are no reports at this time of anyone having been hurt in the explosion or its aftermath.

Firefighters and hazardous materials teams have been sent to the scene, and a team of investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is expected to arrive by mid-day, while the Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly sending someone to monitor nearby waterways for contamination, per the AP.

BNSF Engineer Who Manned Exploding North Dakota "Bomb Train" Sues Former Employer

A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) employee who worked as a locomotive engineer on the company's oil-by-rail train that exploded in rural Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013 has sued his former employer

Filed in Cass County, the plaintiff Bryan Thompson alleges he “was caused to suffer and continues to suffer severe and permanent injuries and damages,” including but not limited to ongoing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues.

Thompson's attorney, Thomas Flaskamp, told DeSmogBlog he “delayed filing [the lawsuit until now] primarily to get an indication as to the direction of where Mr. Thompson's care and treatment for his PTSD arising out of the incident was heading,” which he says is still being treated by a psychiatrist.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the oil-by-rail world, the only time to date that someone working on an exploding oil train has taken legal action against his employer using the Federal Employers' Liability Act.

BNSF Engineer Casselton Lawsuit

Image Credit: State of North Dakota District Court; East Central Judicial District

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