Bomb Trains

Four States, Led by New York, Challenge Trump Admin Over Oil Train Safety Rule

Read time: 10 mins
Oil train cars burning near Mosier, Oregon

On October 23, New York Attorney General Letitia James, joined by attorneys general from Maryland, New Jersey, and California, sent a letter of support to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) over a Washington state law that would limit the volatility of oil transported by train through the state.

That oil originates in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana, where trains help take the place of scarce pipelines in order to move fracked crude oil to Washington's refineries and ports along the coast. North Dakota and Montana have fought back against Washington's law, which was passed in May, and filed a petition to PHMSA in protest just two months later.

Trump Admin Proposes New Rule to Allow Shipping Flammable LNG by Rail

Read time: 8 mins
Trump at Cameron LNG

President Trump has made clear that he wants to move the nation's glut of fracked natural gas onto trains and then to ships for sale abroad.

In response to Trump's April executive order pushing federal agencies to make that happen, the Department of Transportation (DOT) on October 18 announced a proposed rule for what it calls the “safe transportation of liquefied natural gas [LNG] by rail tank car.”

However, the proposed rule does not include any new safety regulations or require any safety testing for moving large quantities of this flammable cargo. Instead, the rule, coming from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), would allow the rail industry to move LNG in rail tank cars, labeled DOT-113, currently used to ship small quantities of other flammable gases super-cooled into liquid form. 

Will Rail Be Key to Exporting Canada's Tar Sands Oil to the World?

Read time: 6 mins
Fort McMurry, Alberta, tar sand mining

While Canadians turned out en masse for large climate protests last week, the country's oil and gas industry continued its plans to ramp up and export its massive and polluting reserves of tar sands oil, also known as bitumen, to the rest of the world. 

Several recent developments in the rail arena are setting up the tar sands industry to realize those plans in a major way.

Comment: Rail Industry Publication Attacks New York Times Over Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Tragedy

Read time: 7 mins
Lac-Megantic oil train fire

Six years after the oil train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec — which claimed 47 lives and destroyed the downtown of this small lakeside town — The New York Times reviewed what progress has been made since the disaster, with a headline that noted “Deadly Cargo Still Rides the Rails.”

However, Railway Age, the leading rail industry publication, attacked The Times' coverage in an incredibly flawed critique. The title of finance editor David Nahass's take-down is “Clickbait Journalism at The New York Times.”

In reality, both stories miss the mark on oil train safety.

US Poised to Approve Shipping LNG by Rail for Export With No New Safety Rules

Read time: 3 mins
LNG ship

On June 6, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that the company Energy Transport Solutions LLC had applied for a special permit to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) in unit trains 100 cars long and for the express purpose of moving LNG to export facilities. The notice in the Federal Register starts a comment period, ending July 8, for the public to weigh in on the proposal, which represents a new mode for transporting LNG and includes no new safety precautions.

The permit documentation and environmental assessment from PHMSA suggest that federal regulators — instead of learning from the deadly mistakes of the essentially unregulated oil-by-rail boom — are poised to allow the fossil fuel and rail industries to repeat the same business model with LNG, with potentially even higher consequences for public health and safety.

Trump Admin’s Latest Rail Safety Rollback Sets up Industry to Make Its Own Rules

Read time: 8 mins
Metro North train crash in Valhalla, New York in 2015

This week, the Trump administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT) withdrew another rail safety recommendation originally proposed during the Obama administration. In the process, the agency made quite clear that it has no plans to further regulate the rail industry, especially the dangerous and continued transportation of oil and ethanol in unsafe tank cars.

The latest proposed rule to be withdrawn would have required two-person crews on trains. Supporters of this rule argue that two-person crews are safer because the job of operating a train is too demanding for one person, new technologies are making the job more complex, and fatigue becomes a more serious issue with only one crew member. Since 2017, the Trump administration has already repealed a regulation requiring modern brakes for oil trains and canceled a plan requiring train operators to be tested for sleep apnea.

Ethanol Train Derails and Burns in Texas, Killing Horses and Spurring Evacuation

Read time: 6 mins
Fort Worth ethanol train fires

Early in the morning on April 24, an ethanol train derailed, exploded, and burned near Fort Worth, Texas, reportedly destroying a horse stable, killing three horses, and causing the evacuation of nearby homes. According to early reports, 20 tank cars left the tracks, with at least five rupturing and burning.

While specific details have not yet been released, it appears to be a unit train of ethanol using the federally mandated DOT-117R tank cars, based on the images showing tank car markings. This is now the third accident in North America involving the upgraded DOT-117R tank cars, all resulting in major spills of either oil or ethanol.

Trump Order to Allow LNG by Rail Would Expand ‘Bomb Train’ Risks

Read time: 8 mins
Fiery detonation of a propane train in Utah

On April 10, first responders in Durham, North Carolina, responded to a suspected natural gas leak. While they were evacuating people from the area, the gas exploded, killing one person and injuring at least 25.

The same day Durham was dealing with the aftermath of a deadly natural gas explosion, President Donald Trump was issuing an executive order directing federal regulators to create new rules allowing rail companies to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) by train in the next 13 months, or less.

Despite Risks, Canada's Tar Sands Industry Is Betting Big on Oil Trains

Read time: 6 mins
Canadian Pacific train

Last year, Canada exported a record amount of tar sands oil to the U.S., despite low oil prices leading to major losses once again for the struggling tar sands industry. That achievement required a big bump in hauling oil by rail, with those daily volumes in late 2018 more than double the previous record in 2014 during the first oil-by-rail boom.

Canada's oil industry essentially has reached its limit for exporting oil into the U.S. through pipelines. That's why it's turning to rail to export more and more oil, but as an ever-increasing number of oil trains hit the tracks of North America, expect more accidents and oil spills to follow.

Another Oil Train Crashes as Alberta Government Gets Into Oil-by-Rail Business

Read time: 4 mins
Oil train derailment and spill in Manitoba

The government of Alberta, Canada, the heart of tar sands country, recently announced plans to get into the oil-by-rail business. Attempting to work around a lack of pipelines, the provincial government intends to spend $3.7 billion to lease 4,400 oil tank cars and locomotives to export more Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. The announcement came just days after the latest oil train derailment and spill in Manitoba, Canada.

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