Compiled by Roger Annis, Vancouver, Canada, [email protected]
Table of contents (17 articles, full texts and weblinks below)
1. Oil train safety: A whole lot of worry among Washingtonians, Oct 31, 2014
2. Hundreds Turn Out in Spokane to Oppose Oil Transportation Projects, Oct 28
3. Governor Jay Inslee’s oil train safety study under fire from environmentalists, Nov 6
4. Oil on the Tracks: Pacific Northwest Rises for Rail Safety, Nov 6
5. Groups hail suspension of crude oil plan in New Windsor NY, Nov 7
6. Oil spilled in derailment at Moncton, New Brunswick train yard, Nov 8
7. Tories in Canada tout safety measures amid slashes to transport budget, Nov 11
8. Rail carriers in Canada keep emergency response plans secret from residents, Nov 12
9. Threatened oil train terminal in coastal California, Nov 14
10. Empty crude train derails in North Dakota, Nov 14
11. North Dakota delays crude-by-rail safety rules, Nov 14
12. Oil trains are disasters-in-waiting [op-ed by Fred Millar], Nov 16
13. You might be surprised by Puget Sound Energy’s coal power supply, Nov 18
14. Coal forecast: No need for new Pacific NW terminals, Nov 19
15. Inslee says [Washington] state will act on oil trains, Nov 21
16. What happened when a hazardous substance train derailed on a Puget Sound beach, Nov 21
17. Vancouver Energy’s oil-by-rail capacity would be tops in U.S., analysis shows, Nov 24
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1. Oil train safety: A whole lot of worry among Washingtonians
Close to 1,000 people turn out to hearings in Olympia and Spokane, most of them asking for a halt to the rolling transport of oil across the state.
By John Stang, in Crosscut (online, Seattle), Oct 31, 2014
The subject was oil train traffic, and most of a roughly 750-person crowd Thursday night [Oct. 30] opposed the increasing transportation of crude oil by rail across Washington. And if more oil trains do surface, the crowd at an Olympia hearing on draft oil spill prevention and response plan wanted dramatically stricter rules that what the state plan proposes.
“We must stop these trains and the tankers they feed,” said Nathaniel Jones, mayor pro tempore of Olympia. Vancouver small business owner Don Orange, representing the Main Street Business Alliance, said oil trains are “great for Big Oil. It stinks for us.”
“We shouldn’t be moving this stuff through our populated area,” Orange said.
The draft state report says, “There has been an unprecedented increase in the transportation of crude oil by rail from virtually none in 2011 to 714 million gallons in 2013. The amount may reach 2.87 billion gallons by the end 2014 or during 2015.”
Even that amount could increase with construction of proposed new rail facilities and the potential lifting of a federal ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, the report says.
In 2013 and 2014, the United States had four oil train accidents that produced fires — one in North Dakota, one in West Virginia and two in New England. Closer to home, three 29,200-gallon oil cars on a slow-moving train derailed without any spills or fire beneath Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge in July.
Looming over this entire issue is a July 2013 oil train explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people. Trains range from one oil car among numerous freight cars to ones with 100 oil cars or so. Consequently, a huge oil-car train could carry up to 29 million gallons of oil.
Nationally, the number of rail cars transporting crude oil grew from 9,500 in 2008 to 415,000 carloads in 2013. A typical tanker car holds 29,200 gallons. Washington’s five refineries process roughly 24.3 million gallons of crude oil a day, and have the capacity of processing 26.5 million gallons daily.
All this worried Thursday’s crowd as well as roughly 200 people at a similar hearing Tuesday in Spokane. By 8:30 p.m. 48 people testified in opposition to all oil trains or in favor of stricter state regulations than proposed. No one spoke in support of oil trains as of 8:30 p.m.
Thursday’s public testimony called for no oil trains, with people citing fears about oil spills polluting Washington’s waters and killing salmon runs, causing fires in populated areas and damaging local economies if any disaster occurs.
Cager Clabaugh, representing the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Worker union Local No. 4 in Vancouver, said that local unanimously opposed shipping crude oil across the state by rail, especially along the Columbia Gorge. “If a spill occurs (on the Columbia River), it wouldn’t just put us out of work. It would put the whole river out of work.”
Rail workers also expressed concerns through Mike Elliott, representing the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainsmen as well as SMART-TD, which represents conductors plus other workers — about 2,500 railroad employees. He said the danger of accidents is increasing due to experienced train operators being laid off and replaced by less-experienced people, train crews being trimmed, fatigue becoming a bigger factor among train operators and inadequate whistleblower protection for people who raise concerns.
Kent firefighter Geoff Simpson, representing the Washington State Council of Firefighters, said fire departments, the lead responders to an oil spill, have also been laying off people.
“There is no safe way to transport Bakken crude,” he said. The Bakken oil fields in North Dakota have been a blossoming source of crude oil being shipped by train to Washington’s refineries. Simpson said Washington needs to tell North Dakota to take steps to stabilize the Bakken crude oil to make it less volatile before sending it out of state.
Simpson said, “It’s only a matter of time before the next crude oil rail accident occurs in Washington.”
In the Legislature’s 2014 session, Democrats and Republicans introduced somewhat similar oil train emergency prevention and response bills, including requirements that oil companies and railroads provide advance information on each oil train to emergency agencies. But the two sides could not get past one major deadlock. The Democrats wanted to make the volumes and chemical compositions of the oil in each upcoming train available to the public. The Republicans were against that plan, arguing it would expose proprietary corporate secrets.
A revised draft report is to go to Gov. Jay Inslee in December, with a final report due in March 2015.
While Washington ponders its choices, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission has been considering whether to impose new requirements for treating the Bakken Field oil, which is widely regarded as more volatile than most crude, to make it safer for transport. The Wall Street Journal has drawn unfavorable comparisons between North Dakota’s safety requirements and the stricter ones of other states. Oil companies dominated a hearing last month in Bismarck, according to The Columbian, arguing that there is no need for additional safety measures.
John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing [email protected].
2. Hundreds turn out in Spokane to oppose oil transportation projects
SPOKANE, Wash. — More than 200 people filled a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Spokane City Center tonight for the state Department of Ecology’s oil transportation safety hearing. Carrying placards and wearing red shirts, the overwhelming majority of attendees opposed transporting more oil through Washington rail and port communities. Many praised Governor Jay Inslee for beginning to study oil train and tanker threats, while asking the state to continue its leadership by considering the cumulative impacts of oil and coal export proposals on the health, safety and economies of Washington communities.
“Add up all of the potential oil and coal trains and tankers, and you have a recipe for disaster,” said Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart. “From Spokane to Hoquiam, we’re the ones who will bear the costs when mile-long trains bring traffic to a standstill, when a train derails or a tanker spills oil. In our towns, we don’t have the luxury of separating the impacts of oil and coal. We don’t want to talk about responding to disasters; we want to prevent them in the first place by keeping oil and coal off our rails and out of our ports.”
Approximately 50 people provided oral testimony at the hearing, including firefighters, members of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, public officials and local business leaders. Oil transportation safety concerns carry significance far beyond state borders: One Idaho speaker reminded the crowd that decisions made in Washington will impact rail-line communities all the way back to the oil fields.
“It is clear from the preliminary findings of the Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study that the question at hand is not whether an accident will occur; it is when, how often, and how catastrophic accidents will be,” said Laura Skelton, executive director of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We must not let the oil industry and companies involved in the transport chain treat our residents and communities like sacrifice zones.”
If all of the oil and coal facilities are approved and begin operating, Spokane and surrounding communities would see an additional 60 train trips each day (30 loaded and 30 unloaded). The heavy mile-long trains would emit cancer-causing diesel fumes, snarl traffic, and block emergency responders when help is needed most. According to analysis by Sightline Institute, additional traffic closures from new coal and oil trains would average between 1 hour and 47 minutes and 4 hours every day depending on train speed at crossings.
“Together, oil and coal are especially dangerous to the health and safety of Washington families,” said Laura Ackerman of The Lands Council. “Heavy oil and coal trains stress tracks that weren’t built to handle their weight. Coal trains can lose up to 500 pounds of coal dust per rail car as they travel, and coal dust is known to contribute to derailments. We’ve seen how destructive oil train derailments can be, yet we’re being told not to worry about them running past our schools, parks and neighborhoods. How many people live and work in the oil train blast zones? These oil and coal proposals are all cost and no benefit to our communities.”
Since 2012, 11 oil-by-rail facilities have been proposed between the Columbia River and north Puget Sound. Two coal export facilities also remain on the table for Washington. In response to the growing impacts, Governor Inslee initiated the 2014 Marine and Rail Oil Transportation Study to assess risks to public health, safety and the environment. While the study outlines basic information on the risks posed by oil trains and tankers, it doesn’t consider the significant public safety and environmental risks from cumulative impacts: from more trains to larger and different types of tankers carrying oil and coal through our waters.
A diverse coalition of public officials, local business leaders, public health experts and communities has come together to protect Washington from dangerous oil proposals. To date, 16 cities and counties have passed resolutions against new oil transportation projects, including Aberdeen, Montesano and Hoquiam. The municipalities join a groundswell of opposition from organizations including the Washington Council of Fire Fighters, the Columbia River Gorge Commission, and the Port of Olympia. To reflect the connections between oil and coal impacts on Washington families, leaders in the oil movement are also joined by Power Past Coal, a coalition of more than 100 organizations fighting coal exports.
Contact: Meg Matthews, 206.291.5942 or [email protected]
3. Governor Jay Inslee’s oil train safety study under fire from environmentalists
By Ansel Herz, The Stranger, Nov 6, 2014
Never mind the traffic on Interstate 5—Washington is poised to become clogged with oil trains. Last month, the Inslee administration unveiled the preliminary findings and recommendations of a $300,000 oil train safety study. The report shows that this state has gone from transporting virtually zero gallons of crude oil by train, just four years ago, to moving 2.87 billion gallons of the goopy fuel around the state in 2015.
The trains are often so lengthy, the study notes, that people may cause accidents by attempting to dart across at unsafe moments in order to avoid waiting forever for a train to arrive and pass.
It’s all very interesting, but environmentalists are crying foul at the report and Inslee, whom the League of Conservation Voters dubbed upon his election in 2012 the country’s “greenest governor.” Greens beefing with greens? What’s up?
For one, the enviros are questioning whether the Department of Ecology is allowing the “fox to guard the henhouse,” as Matt Krogh, the U.S. Oil Campaign Director of ForestEthics (you might remember them from the oil train blast zone map they produced this summer), put it.
Yes, a thing called Google reveals that out of the ten authors of the study, three of them—David Hatzenbuhler, Robert G. Patton, Eric Lymanused of the Texas-based company MainLine Management—all held senior positions with Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad company for decades. MainLine management lists BNSF, which is enjoying swollen profit margins as a result of the oil boom, as one of its primary clients.
But David Postman, an Inslee spokesperson, told me in an e-mail that the Department of Ecology is “unaware” if any of the contractors who worked on the report formerly worked for railroad companies.
Well, Seattle’s Raging Grannies—a group of badass activist lady elders—are on it. Last Thursday, several of them sat down in front of the DOE’s Olympia office, pictured above. “We’re here to help the Department of Ecology learn how to say no to the oil industry,” said Beth DeRooy, one of the grandmas, in a statement. “After granting permits to four illegal oil train terminals and letting former BNSF executives write their oil study, I was worried the folks over at the Department never learned how to say no and needed a little help from their grannies.”
Since 2012, DOE has granted permits for four of Washington’s five refineries to improve their capacity to receive oil-by-rail shipments, the group said.
And that’s not okay, the group argues, because of a little something called the Magnuson Amendment, probably one of the most awesome pieces of legislation in existence. The amendment is named for former Washington Senator Warren Magnuson, who quietly and cunningly slipped it onto the US Senate’s consent calendar in 1977—going behind the back of the state’s then-governor, who was planning to develop an oil port and pipeline at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The amendment from Magnuson, long an environmental leader, instantly and effectively scuppered the move by placing limits on the expansion of oil infrastructure in and around Puget Sound.
But Inslee, who, remember, is supposed to be really strong on protecting the Washington’s natural treasures and the planet, believes the Magnuson Amendment has no relevance to the oil-by-rail discussion. It was enacted, said Postman, to “limit the number of tanker ships coming into refineries and Ecology does not believe it applies to this situation. The terminals seeking permits for expansion in Washington would not have more capacity if approved, but would be allowed to receive product via rail, which they are not currently structured to do. ”
What the heck does that mean?
It’s “just false,” fumed Eric de Place, Sightline Institute’s Policy Director, when I asked him about it. “This bullshit… requires some extra interpretive dance that is not in the text of the amendment.”
Approving the new rail terminals clearly would increase the ability to handle larger amounts of oil at those docks, he argued, and with the Obama administration appearing to move toward lifting the ban on oil exports, there’s no reason not to expect that the oil from trains won’t be transferred right over into tankers for export overseas. (You can read the full text of the Magnuson amendment here.)
“The study is not up to the task of fully addressing oil by rails,” de Place continued. “When I read it, I was pretty deeply frustrated.”
The study does not mention climate change except to declare that it, along with concerns related to tribal treaty rights, are “ancillary to the immediate concerns of this study.” Ahmed Gaya, an activist with the group Rising Tide Seattle, called the report a “dog-and-pony show designed to distract the public from the real issue—Governor Inslee keeps permitting dangerous oil-train terminals.”
The Sierra Club, meanwhile, complained that while “the study outlines basic information on the risks posed by oil trains and tankers, it doesn’t consider the significant public safety and environmental risks from cumulative impacts” of both oil and coal trains, of which there’s also been a surge in recent years.
“You know, I actually worked to get Governor Inslee elected (even while running for office myself), and I’m certain he can be the governor we want him to be,” Krogh, from ForestEthics, commented last week. “But we have to let him know what we want, and not leave Olympia wide open for the oil and coal company lobbyists.”
4. Oil on the tracks: Pacific Northwest rises for rail safety
By Martha Baskin, in Truthout, November 6, 2014
If there were ever any question about how the public feels about “moving time bombs,” or oil trains carrying volatile crude through the state’s coastal estuaries, aquifers, population centers and tribal lands, the answers began at the crack of dawn and ricocheted into the night. At a five-hour-plus hearing, the public weighed in on a draft report on oil train safety and spill response issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology.
Raging Grannies, chained together in rocking chairs, started the day by blocking the entrance to Ecology offices. The Department of Ecology, said the Grannies, was closed for a workshop on “How to Say No to Oil.” By evening, the stand-off was over, but the public hearing had just begun. Longshoreman, railroad workers, and first responders expressed concerns about safety, crew capacity, and training. Tribes spoke of threats to drinking water and fishing rights. Millennials and boomers demanded fossil fuels stay in the ground. Mayors and county commissioners, including some who had passed resolutions against any oil trains moving through their communities, demanded clean energy alternatives.
In June, Governor Inslee, considered among the nation’s greenest, issued an Oil Transport Directive to the Department of Ecology outlining key issues he wanted to see addressed in a draft marine and oil train transportation study. Public safety and a “continuous supply of oil spill response equipment” were central. But for longshoreman Cager Clabaugh, President of ILWU Local 4 in Vancouver, Washington, a port city at the mouth of the Columbia River where it meets the Pacific, the draft doesn’t go nearly far enough. “Industry has proven that they cannot handle their product safely,” he says, “and that worries us.” There are hurricane force storms “pretty much September through May,” says Clabaugh. “How does that clean-up look when you’ve got waves that are moving Volkswagen-size boulders on the jetty? How do you clean that up? And the answer is you don’t…”
The risks to the public and to the safety of the 8,000 firefighters he represents, said Geoff Simpson from the Washington State Council of Firefighters, are too great. The council issued a unanimous resolution calling upon the Governor to halt the transportation of Bakken crude “until it can be determined it can move safely through our communities.” Last year’s explosion of a train loaded with crude from North Dakota which killed 47 and leveled a section of the town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec still has the public and firefighters on edge. Since then, there have been accidents in Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In July, a train derailed in downtown Seattle, but the oil was contained. Even the most well-equipped fire departments in Washington, says Simpson, are not prepared or equipped for disasters of the kind that have been seen across the continent.
Bakken crude from shale formations in North Dakota and provinces in southern Canada is headed in record volume to the Pacific Northwest. There’s so much oil planned for movement via rail and pipeline to the area that the region couldn’t begin to refine it all, the Sightline Institute’s energy analyst, Eric de Place, told Truthout. Sightline has written numerous reports on the race oil refineries are engaged in to get permits to build more capacity. Oil refineries along the Pacific Northwest coast are racing to get permits to build more capacity. Eleven refineries and port terminals in Washington and Oregon are either already operating oil-by-rail shipments or in the planning and building stage. Were they to operate at full capacity, state officials estimate it would put 19 loaded mile-long trains per day on the Northwest’s rail corridors.
Testimony by Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Mike Elliott, brought cheers from the estimated 800 member crowd. “The railroads,” said Elliott, referring to BNSF which owns the Pacific Northwest Corridor, one of eleven federally designated high speed rail corridors in the US, “keep pushing the envelope on safety and try to remove crew. Why? For more profit. We need to put our foot down and say enough is enough. You’ve gone from six member crews to five, to four, to two. Now they want to go a single-person train crew.” BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas denies the railroad has plans to reduce crews to one. But he did not address other questions posed by this reporter. One of the most pressing is the widespread use of DOT.111 rail cars, whose lack of reinforcement in their shells has caused them to be deadly.
Draft regulations proposed by the Department of Transportation on DOT.111s allow a three year phase-out. Public interest groups including Earthjustice, ForestEthics, and Oil Change International, are among many groups demanding an immediate ban on the explosion-prone rail cars. The groups have also called upon the Obama administration to impose speed limits, require state of the art braking systems for crude-by-rail trains, and prohibit shifting DOT-111 tank cars to tar sands crude transport. Rail corridors and refineries in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia are also receiving Bakken crude.
West Coast refineries have ramped up crude-by-rail volume in recent years to partially offset declines in production from California and Alaska. Tesoro, which currently has capacity to unload 50,000 barrels per day at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, has proposed a 360,000 barrels per day facility at the Port of Vancouver.
Lisa Copeland, a spokesperson for the Washington Department, welcomed public input at the hearing but said the department did not have regulating authority to say “No” to more oil trains. “It’s a federal issue, and that’s part of the whole crux of the study. We have a great response record of prevention preparedness and response on the marine side. Now we have to look at the inland side.”
Friends of the Earth Northwest consultant Fred Felleman disputes whether the state has been able to keep up with the changing risks associated with crude being shipped down the Columbia to terminals, tar sands barged to various ports on the coast, or increasing congestion at anchorages associated with the movement of oil all along the coasts of Washington, British Columbia, Oregon and California. In his testimony, he said volume shipped on the water may be down, but tanker and barge traffic are up due to increased use of unregulated barges and tugs, which the Congressional Research Service calls “Rule breakers.” What’s more, says Felleman, “State refineries are already operating at twice their built capacity. Yet the draft oil train study continues to parrot the oil industry’s baseless assertion that they have no intention of increasing capacity at this time.” This flies in the face of history, he notes. Every five years, industry has asked for and been granted more permits to build increased capacity. “So we could be in a situation where not only are we supplying oil by land and sea for our own domestic consumption, but for export.” The oil industry’s number one priority, he says, has been to lift the domestic export ban in order to ship crude overseas. With a Republican-controlled Senate and Congress, that may very well be possible.
States have had some success in blocking permits for expanded refinery capacity and crude trans-loading operations based on inadequate public and environmental review. Earthjustice appealed a permit granted to Shell by a regional clean air agency to expand capacity in Anacortes, WA. On October 22, the Sacramento air district reversed course after rubber-stamping a permit allowing Inter-State Oil Company to transfer Bakken crude oil from rail to truck without public or environmental review. Meanwhile, in response to inadequate federal proposals for regulating transport of volatile crude oil by rail, the Center for Biological Diversity, Adirondack Mountain Club and Friends of the Columbia Gorge have called for an immediate ban on puncture-prone tank cars involved in several explosive accidents.
Washington State’s preliminary oil train report is scheduled to be delivered to Governor Inslee in December.
5. Groups hail suspension of crude oil plan in New Windsor, NY
By John Ferro, Poughkeepsie Journal, Nov. 7, 2014
Local environmental groups are hailing the shelving of a plan to bring crude oil processing operations into New Windsor [New York state]. Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson issued statements Friday applauding news that Global Partners of Waltham, Massachusetts, has withdrawn its permit applications with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In August 2013, the company requested regulatory approval to redevelop a former industrial shipyard in New Windsor near the Hudson River. The project would have allowed Global to receive and distribute petroleum products there.
It also called for the installation of boilers to heat rail cars and tanks. That technology can be used to reduce the viscosity of thicker, tar sands crude so it can be pumped from one container to another.
The withdrawal of the applications comes as the state has made it increasingly difficult for Global to expand its crude operations both in New Windsor and in Albany, where a similar proposal is under review.
In March, the state notified Global that its New Windsor application was incomplete. In a six-page memo, the DEC outlined a series of additional steps the company had to take.
Last month, Global threw in the towel. In a one-page letter to the DEC, it withdrew its application without comment.
Meanwhile in Albany, the DEC has extended the public comment period on the company’s application there at least four times this year. The most recent extension set the public comment period to end Nov. 30.
The state’s steps come after permits were approved in 2012 and 2013 with virtually no public comment to allow Global and another company to bring as much as 1.8 billion gallons of crude through Albany. The oil makes its way down the Hudson by rail and vessel.
“Putting Global’s New Windsor expansion plans on the shelf for now reduces the potential for spills at this gateway to the Hudson Highlands — one of America’s true scenic and ecological treasures,” Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said in a statement Friday.
“The withdrawal of Global’s plans to develop a major crude oil export terminal in New Windsor,” Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said, “is proof positive that the public outcry and legal actions taken against Global have thrown a wrench into Global’s ambition to turn the Hudson River Valley into a ‘virtual crude oil pipeline.’ ”
6. Oil spilled in derailment at Moncton, New Brunswick train yard
CBC News, Nov 8, 2014
About 150 litres of oil spilled when a number of rail cars derailed Saturday morning at CN’s Gordon Yard in Moncton, a CN spokesperson says.
Louis Antoine Paquin says the train derailment happened at about 12:20 a.m. There were 16 cars on the train, all remained upright. Ten were carrying unrefined crude oil, while the remaining six were empty cars that are used to transport vehicles. The leak was quickly plugged and the clean up is complete, said Paquin.
Paul Bruens, a platoon chief with the Moncton fire department, said they weren’t informed of the derailment until 7:45 a.m. “They requested us for their assistance on a standby mode while they transferred fuel from a damaged rail car into an undamaged rail car,” he said.
Bruens said the incident happened on private property, away from homes and businesses. No one was injured.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board says it likely will not investigate the accident.
7. Tories tout safety measures amid slashes to transport budget
Spending by Transport Canada on marine safety has shrunk 27 per cent, while aviation and rail safety spending are down 20 per cent or more.
By Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press, in Toronto Star, Nov 11, 2014
OTTAWA—The Harper government has made dramatic cuts in spending on aviation, marine and rail transport safety over the past five years, even as it was touting new safety measures in the transportation sector. The latest figures from the federal government’s public accounts show actual spending by Transport Canada on marine safety has plunged 27 per cent since 2009-10, while aviation and rail safety spending are both down 20 per cent or more.
Budget cuts to marine and rail safety have come over a particularly sensitive period, during which oil-by-rail shipments increased exponentially and the government spent millions promoting the safe transport of oil by tankers on Canada’s coasts in order to bolster pipeline approvals.
Last month, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced that 10 additional rail safety auditors would be hired across Canada in response to last year’s horrific oil train crash in Lac-Mégantic, Que., which claimed 47 lives.
Raitt says Transport Canada has plenty of budget room to handle the new hires without additional funding. “While there have been spending cuts, rail safety oversight activities have not been cut,” Ashley Kelahear, Raitt’s spokeswoman, said in an email Monday. “The safety and security of Canadians remain our government’s top priorities.”
An official with Transport Canada said in an email that “core services remain properly funded and aligned with departmental priorities.”
“Savings were deliberately focused on reduction of overhead, consolidation of administrative and support services.”
That’s precisely the claim that the independent Parliamentary Budget Office wants to test, but has been repeatedly stonewalled by multiple government departments — Transport Canada included — that refuse to disclose how and where they are slashing their budgets.
“There’s a stark contradiction between the statements coming from the minister in the House, saying our first priority is the safety of Canadians, and how they manage those departments,” Matthew Kellway, the NDP deputy transport critic, said an interview.
Improved safety during funding cuts is “entirely implausible,” he said. “While they’re cutting, the issue they have to contend with is growing — particularly in rail safety, where it’s growing at exponential rates.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that by 2016 the rail industry will move 700,000 barrels of western Canadian oil a day, up from less than 300,000 barrels in all of 2009.
“It is very difficult to believe a department can find efficiencies at a time when the transportation of dangerous goods, the transportation of oil, has increased by over 1,600 per cent in the last three years,” said Liberal transport critic David McGuinty.
“If they have evidence to substantiate their claims that this is all about efficiencies, let them provide it.”
Last February, a rail safety audit of Transport Canada found that “continuing budget reductions have had a major impact on the (Transport Dangerous Goods) Directorate and it is most likely that new funding will be needed to manage the additional workload” associated with new, post-Lac Mégantic rules on rail safety.
In fact, funding under the “transport of dangerous goods” did increase to $14.7 million last year, up from $12.7 million spent in 2012-13. Spending on the dangerous goods directorate averaged $13.9 million in the three previous years.
By way of comparison, the Conservatives budgeted $16.5 million last year, according to supplementary estimates, to advertise “responsible resource development,” a program that includes new safety rules for the marine transport of oil, such as double-hulled tankers.
“We’ve been raising concerns about changes in the way that Transport Canada is moving for a number of years now,” said Christine Collins, the national president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees. “We’ve been raising concerns for the safety of the travelling public.”
Collins, whose union represents 8,000 federal transport workers, including about 2,000 at Transport Canada, said the department’s safety groups appear intent on hiring about 130 people in all by next spring.
However, retirements and poaching by the more lucrative private sector mean real employment gains are difficult, she added. “At the end of the day, in rail safety and transportation of dangerous goods, we’ll be slightly above current numbers. But in civil aviation and marine, we will be struggling.”
8. Rail carriers keep emergency response plans secret from residents
By Jessica McDiarmid, Toronto Star, Nov 12, 2014, page one
Railroads cut through almost every community in Canada, but the companies that operate them are keeping secret from the public their emergency response plans.
A Toronto rail safety community group wrote Canada’s two largest rail carriers in late September asking for information on emergency response plans, insurance coverage, worst-case scenarios and track maintenance. The response was “extremely disappointing (but not surprising),” said Helen Vassilakos via email. “We as the public keep getting asked to take on the risk to both public safety and the public purse but are refused basic information. Everything seems to be done in secret with the assumption that we should just quietly go along with it.”
Vassilakos and Patricia Lai, co-founders of the Safe Rail Communities group, wrote to Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway. “We appreciate the importance of rail transport to our local and national economy, but after Lac-Megantic we feel it behooves us all to explore every option to guard against another such disaster,” they wrote.
In a response sent a month later, CP’s director of government affairs, Randy Marsh, said the company has an emergency response plan that is “continually updated and improved” and reviewed with local officials, but it is not a public document. Information on track maintenance and insurance coverage isn’t public, either, but the company meets or exceeds federal requirements, he wrote.
“For safety, security and proprietary reasons, we do not publicly discuss a number of the items you have raised,” Marsh wrote.
CP spokesperson Breanne Feigel told the Star it isn’t feasible to share the company’s emergency response plan with the public. The document runs tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pages and contains complex information. “It’s not relevant and palatable to (someone) sitting at the dinner table,” Feigel said.
Vassilakos and Lai both live near the CP Rail corridor that runs through the Junction neighbourhood and along Dupont St. They founded Safe Rail Communities to advocate for greater rail safety in the wake of the July 2013 train derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Que., that killed 47 people.
While companies do not divulge information publicly about what dangerous goods they transport, a Star investigation found that substances such as crude oil, methanol, radioactive materials and sulphuric acid are transported along the rail corridor that passes their homes in the heart of the city. And the transportation of dangerous goods, particularly crude oil, by rail is on the rise. In 2009, only 144 carloads of oil were shipped by rail in Canada. By 2013, that figure was nearly 128,000.
Late last year, Transport Canada ordered railways to provide historical, aggregate data to municipalities to help them prepare for emergencies, information CN and CP have said they already provided upon request. But municipal officials who receive that information are sworn to strict confidentiality. Companies argue that sharing the information publicly would threaten security and potentially harm business.
Transport Canada did not answer questions about the rationale behind not releasing emergency response plans, instead sending information about the 2013 order that required companies to share dangerous goods information with municipalities. The department said that in the event of an incident, its emergency response centre, CANUTEC, would provide first responders with advice.
Transport Canada does not require railways to disclose their insurance coverage, as it is considered commercially sensitive. Nor does the department release information on track maintenance and inspections reports, as they contain what is considered third-party and commercial information.
Peggy Nash, the NDP MP for Parkdale-High Park, said people in the community want basic information about the goods moved past their homes and what to do if there is an emergency. “People are looking for some guidance … They are also looking for reassurance,” said Nash. “They have discovered there is a very real danger.”
Feigel, who did email the Star additional information on the notification process the company would use if an accident occurred, as well as data on track inspections, said the company shares its emergency response plan with local responders, as well as providing training, and there are detailed processes and protocols in place to deal with an emergency. In the event of an incident that threatened the public or the environment, local responders would assume command and CP would assist with rail expertise and extra resources as needed, said Feigel.
The company has trained more than 700 Toronto firefighters, and its fire chief is an expert in fighting crude-oil fires, with 25 years of experience in the oil fields of Alberta, said Feigel.
Feigel said Marsh attended the September meeting organized by Nash in Toronto for concerned community members and answered 80 per cent of the questions from the room. “It’s a really well-regulated, well-run, safety-conscious industry that had a really awful event occur,” said Feigel. “We are doing our due diligence. We are doing it properly.”
CN spokesperson Mark Hallman told the Star, via email, that the company has taken steps to improve safety following the Lac-Megantic disaster, such as acquiring new defect-monitoring equipment, conducting risk assessments of rail corridors and urging mutual aid protocols for emergencies. The company has $1.24 billion in accident liability insurance and a “strong, comprehensive emergency response plan,” said Hallman. CN sent a similar response to Safe Rail Communities after being contacted by the Star.
When asked to clarify whether CN would share emergency response plans or worst-case scenarios publicly, he said the company had nothing further to add.
Mark Winfield, an associate professor at York University who studies public safety regulation, said the secrecy surrounding emergency plans is “very problematic” because it prevents the public from seeing if they are adequate or up-to-date. “The issue again goes to basic issues of accountability and the balance between the economic interests of the railways and the safety interests of the public being struck in the plans,” said Winfield.
The Transportation Safety Board’s scathing final report on the Lac-Megantic incident, released in August, identified 18 factors that led to the crash, such as mechanical problems, unsuitable tank cars, lax safety standards and human error.
Transport Canada issued a series of regulatory changes over the 16 months since the disaster, but the safety board still recommended the government force rail companies to use more physical defences to prevent runaway trains and take a more aggressive approach to enforcement.
Nash said the Lac Mégantic tragedy shone a light on Transport Canada’s “lack of enforcement and poor safety culture.” People have lost trust in the government systems designed to protect the public, she said. “We need to rely on the federal government to do its job when it comes to rail safety, and they are not,” said Nash. “We should not have to have the residents policing CP Rail.”
Toronto has communications protocols in place with both CN and CP for emergencies, said city spokesperson Leisa Odlum. First-responders would be in charge of the incident site, with support from rail companies; an evacuation, if required, would probably be ordered by the city’s emergency services.
The city has an “all-hazards” emergency response plan that covers all potential incidents available online.
“The City of Toronto encourages the public to be emergency-ready for any potential event, not just a rail incident,” said Odlum.
CP provided the Star with information on response and preventative measures it takes to avoid accidents.
- Emergency procedures: In the event of a train incident, CP notifies local first responders (fire, police, ambulance). The company determines the products involved and notifies on-scene responders, while CP staff are dispatched to the site. Regulatory agencies such as the Transportation Safety Board and provincial authorities are given preliminary information and the shipper is notified (if the incident involves dangerous goods, shippers will dispatch staff to the site). Depending on the incident severity and type, specialized contracted services may be directed to the site. Environmental containment and remediation takes place. If evacuation is necessary, CP will advise and coordinate efforts with public information, housing, social and food service agencies.
- Track maintenance: CP staff do visual inspections regularly, as required by Transport Canada’s Railway Track Safety Rules. Additional inspections are carried out during extreme heat and cold or environmental conditions such as high water, excessive rainfall or earthquake activity.
- CP has a rail-defect detection car that uses induction and ultrasonic technology to find flaws that are not visible. It also has a computerized track evaluation car used to pinpoint areas of concern. These cars traverse CP’s mainlines four times a year and the entire network at least once per year.
The print edition of the above article contains a map showing the recommended emergency evacuation zone should a chlorine rail car disaster occur in the ‘Junction’ district of central Toronto (near Dufferin St. and Dupont St.). The Junction is home to where CN and CP mainline rail corridors cross. Depending on weather factors (eg. wind), the recommended evacuation zone could include the entire city of Toronto and part of its immediate suburbs of Scarborough and Mississauga. On Nov 10, 1979, a CP Rail train pulling chlorine gas car and explosive fossil fuel cars through Mississauga derailed and exploded, causing the evacuation of 200,000 people from their homes and workplaces. This was the largest peacetime evacuation in North America until Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.–RA
9. Threatened oil train terminal in coastal California
Nov 14, 2014
There is currently a proposal to build a tar sands offloading facility in Santa Maria, CA [north of Los Angeles] that would increase oil train traffic through large population centers throughout the state (Sacramento, Oakland, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, etc.). The San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors is currently accepting comments through Nov. 24th on the draft Environmental Impact Report.
Along with our partners (CBD, CBE & The Sierra Club) we have developed the attached tool-kit for people to use with sample letters, op-eds, LTEs etc. We’re hoping as many groups as possible could go to their California lists before the 24th.
A link to our action alert is here: http://bit.ly/NoCAoiltrains
Shareable graphics are here: https://drive.google.com/a/forestethics.org/?tab=mo#folders/0B4sUNspfJvffUEJ1d1pyencxdWs
There will be a hearing at the end of January so we’ll also be mobilizing heavily for that with the goal of generating a big turnout.
Ross Hammond US Campaigns Director
415.863.4563, ext. 309 skype: rossfctc https://twitter.com/RossHammondSF www.forestethics.org
10. Empty crude train derails in North Dakota
Houston, 14 November (Argus) — BNSF crews worked overnight to clear and repair tracks around Casselton, North Dakota, where 12 empty crude tank cars derailed after being knocked off the tracks by a parallel train that derailed 21 mostly paper and lumber cars.
None of the empty crude cars was compromised, a BNSF spokeswoman said today. There were no injuries.
Casselton was the site of a similar accident on 30 December, when a grain train derailed and caused a full crude train to derail. That accident resulted in the derailment of 21 tank cars, some of which ruptured and caused a massive explosion and fire. There were no injuries in that accident, either.
The December Casselton wreck was one of five fiery crude-by-rail accidents since July 2013, when 47 people died when a runaway crude train crashed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The other wrecks have not caused any injuries or deaths.
The spate of accidents have prompted a series of regulator moves, including more inspections, slower speeds and development of stronger tank car requirements in Canada and the US. This week, North Dakota proposed rules to limit the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) — a measure of potential volatility — in crude to 13.7 psi starting on 1 February.
11. North Dakota delays crude-by-rail safety rules
Mike Lee, E&E reporter, Energy Wire, Nov 14, 2014
North Dakota regulators delayed a decision yesterday on oil safety regulations intended to make the state’s crude safer for rail transport. The state Industrial Commission opted to reopen the comment period for the regulations and scheduled a meeting to adopt them Dec. 11. They will take effect in 2015.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that questions have arisen about the accuracy of scientific tests used to write the regulations. Lynn Helms, head of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said the proposal is still sound despite the concerns about the tests. “These rules are part of a commitment we made to the federal government to do our part” on oil safety, Helms said.
Oil from the Bakken Shale has caught fire following a string of derailments and other rail accidents, leading to concerns that it’s more prone than other types of oil to ignite in an accident. One fire last summer killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.
Separately, the U.S. Transportation Department is considering tougher construction standards for rail cars.
North Dakota’s proposed rules are intended to lower a measurement of volatility known as Reid vapor pressure. If they’re approved, operators will have to take steps to ensure that vapor pressure of any oil shipped by rail is below 13.7 pounds per square inch. Most companies would be able to comply by using existing equipment to heat oil and release volatile compounds like propane and butane.
In other parts of the country, oil companies build more extensive plants known as stabilizers to separate volatile compounds from crude oil. The plants are relatively rare in North Dakota, and the state rules are designed to help operators avoid the cost of new plants.
North Dakota based its regulations on a study conducted by the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which found that the vapor pressure of Bakken oil didn’t vary significantly from other types of crude.
Scientists including an engineer from Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Canadian subsidiary and a Canadian trade association said the North Dakota study used a flawed test method, the Journal reported.
The study relied on tests taken on oil in an open container, which could allow volatile chemicals to evaporate before being detected — the equivalent of measuring the fizz in soda after opening the bottle. They suggested using other tests that measure how the oil behaves in a closed container.
12. Oil trains are disasters-in-waiting
By Fred Millar, op-ed in Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov 16, 2014
The knee-jerk reaction in Minnesota and elsewhere to the spate of North American crude oil disasters — beefing up emergency capabilities — is predictable, but dead wrong. The glum, vivid consensus from fire chiefs and emergency managers at the April 2014 high-level expert National Transportation Safety Forum on Ethanol and Crude Oil Transportation is that derailments of 100-tanker oil trains are “way beyond our current capabilities.” Following long-standing, prudent U.S. Transportation Department “Orange Book” guidance, fire chiefs testified that “even if we had an infinite amount of foam” they can only do defensive firefighting, pulling back at least one-half mile and letting the explosions and fires happen.
Minnesota, as a crude-by-rail corridor facing huge risks and no benefits, should be loudly demanding to see the railroads’ hidden documents, forcing the railroads to prove that they have selected the “safest and most secure” routes for all their highest risk hazmat cargoes, as a 2007 federal law requires. In the recent, sobering documents from the ongoing federal rule-making on high-hazard flammable trains, the Transportation Department concedes that routing trains to avoid urban areas could improve safety and security, but says it has seen only “modest” railroad hazmat rerouting.
The DOT documents say it is “impossible to know” whether the railroads have prioritized safety in their routing decisions. Each railroad makes secret decisions based on 27 routing factors, which each can weight as they will, with no federal guidance. No federal oversight body has reported on whether such decisions are protecting a single U.S. city, major water reservoir or Native American land.
Railroads, under sustained local public pressure, have told citizens in only two U.S. cities that they have “voluntarily” rerouted unit trains of crude oil onto unspecified safer routes. Angry citizen uproars in Washington, D.C., prompted CSX to say this publicly in 2013, and St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson recently pressured railroad officials to reroute crude oil trains around his city.
Pushback on tank cars
The current vigorous pushback from the oil and railroad industry on federal regulatory proposals for improving crude oil safety virtually guarantees that we will not get significantly stronger tank car design in future, nor fast retrofit of the existing, inadequate DOT-111 tank cars. We will also not get significantly slower train speeds: the railroads say rail network speed cannot be lowered.
Congress enacted two major disaster prevention measures in 1986 and 1990 — Community Right-to-Know laws to provide information to the public on high-risk industries. Even though 13,000 U.S. chemical facilities have been complying with these laws, and providing their required “worst-case scenario” calculations for potential disasters, the railroads got themselves exempted from both laws.
Some of the other railroad documents that Minnesotans should be demanding are the worst-case scenarios for crude oil unit train derailments, catastrophic insurance coverage documents and comprehensive emergency response plans.
Crude-by-rail is a born-yesterday, ultrahazardous, transcontinental enterprise that does not need to exist at all. Americans learned 30 years ago of the disaster risks of a similar ultrahazardous industry, the government plan for massive rail and truck transportation through American cities of high-level nuclear irradiated fuel from nuclear power plants for deep geologic “disposal.” Assessed storage sites included Minnesota’s excellent granite and Louisiana’s salt domes, but after massive citizen protests at all sites, politicians chose politically weak Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site.
When the U.S. public learned of the worst-case release potentials of highly irradiated nuclear waste casks, and of the 40-year plans for rail and truck routing through St. Louis-Kansas City-Denver-Salt Lake and other U.S. cities, they soon assessed all this as an “unacceptable risk” and mounted vigorous counter pressure. Public officials finally mandated that the fuel be stored by power plants in on-site, heavily shielded dry cask storage.
The bottom line: The planned massive transcontinental radioactive waste transportation industry was not allowed to exist.
In recent regulatory documents, DOT estimates that we could have many more serious crude-by-rail disasters in major cities that are five times the density of tiny Lac-Mégantic, where 47 died in July 2013. Even DOT’s package of proposed safety improvements would not prevent all of these.
Citizens need their leaders to make the life-or-death decision on the continuance of this insidious metastasizing of oil patch disaster risks into America’s cities and neighborhoods.
Fred Millar is an independent consultant on chemical facility and transportation safety and security based in the Washington, D.C., area.
13. You might be surprised by Puget Sound Energy’s coal power supply
Op-ed in Seattle Times, Nov 18, 2014, by Anne Blair, mayor of Bainbridge Island, Bruce Basset, mayor of Mercer Island, and Stephen Buxbaum, mayor of Olympia. The city councils of all three communities unanimously support their viewpoint.
IF your electricity comes from Puget Sound Energy, it may surprise you to learn that one-third of your supply comes from coal power. And most of that coal power is generated by a single outdated, out-of-state coal plant in Colstrip, Mont. The Colstrip plant is one of our region’s largest greenhouse-gas polluters and its leaking toxic ash ponds (a byproduct of coal burning) threaten the health of our Montana neighbors.
What does that mean for you? It means your cellphone, laptop, television and refrigerator are powered with highly polluting coal. If you drive an electric vehicle, it means coal is powering part of your investment: Your carbon footprint is higher than you think. And it means that our green Northwest is contributing much more to climate change than we think.
The time is ripe for a change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its clean-power proposal, which would address carbon pollution from coal power plants across the nation, such as Colstrip. Washington state is also at an energy crossroads: This spring, Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a climate action plan for our state, and transitioning away from coal power is a top priority. In his executive order, the governor specifically identifies out-of-state coal power as an area that needs immediate attention, and he has invited PSE to serve on the state’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce.
Western Washington cities are fortunate to have PSE as a trusted partner and utility provider. An accomplished nationwide leader in wind energy, PSE has earned our respect for its support of energy conservation and clean, renewable energy technology. In this spirit of appreciation, we encourage PSE to take the natural next step toward a better energy future for our communities. As it has in the past, PSE can continue leading the way on clean energy and climate change mitigation by rethinking its current reliance on coal power.
Economic conditions necessitate a quick move. The national and state-level efforts to curb carbon pollution mean that coal plants are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and operate — to say nothing of repairing Colstrip’s dirty, dangerous and outdated system. In fact, the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission has questioned PSE’s continued investments in Colstrip. The commissioners have recommended that PSE begin a special process to re-examine its future commitment to coal power.
We urge PSE to take action and start planning today for a post-coal future.
In doing so, PSE could capitalize on opportunities for continued innovation in state-generated clean power. Renewable energy is an expanding field, creating Northwest jobs for the 21st century. Already, the state Department of Ecology has documented more than 47,000 green jobs in Washington, many of which are in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Thousands more family-wage jobs would come from the transition away from dirty coal to clean solar, wind and energy efficiency. Our future lies in this direction.
The bottom line is that we don’t need coal. The potential is there for Washington to meet its energy needs with efficiency programs, wind, solar and other technologies. We just need to rise to the occasion.
As public officials, we not only have accountability to our communities today, but also to our children’s children who will inherit this world tomorrow. Our families need clean air, clean water and a stable climate. We cannot sacrifice these basic human rights to keep a dying industry on life support.
As we see it, moving away from coal and investing in better energy alternatives would in the long run create new jobs, promote innovation, reduce electricity bills and protect the health of our families. PSE is a forward-thinking company, and we ask that it continue along this path. A coal-free PSE would be better for the people of Bainbridge Island, Mercer Island and Olympia, and for the rest of our communities.
14. Coal forecast: No need for new Northwest terminals
U.S. coal exports have plummeted from their 2012 peaks, making it more difficult to make the case for building new export terminals in Washington and Oregon, according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
“There is simply too much port capacity in the United States, and not enough demand,” said Tom Sanzillo, the author of the report.
Sanzillo forecasts that total U.S. coal exports this year may not exceed 80 million tons, down from a peak of 125.6 million tons in 2012. At that level, U.S. coal-export terminals this year would be operating at only 34 percent of capacity.
Coal prices on export markets also have dropped sharply from 2012 levels, and the long-term prospect for a price rebound has dimmed as international coal growth has slowed, Sanzillo said. All of this weakens the financial viability of the two major coal-export terminals proposed for Longview and Cherry Point, as well as a smaller facility proposed for Oregon, he said.
The Ohio-based institute that employs Sanzillo has frequently undertaken critical examinations of the coal industry and previously worked under contract for Power Past Coal, a coalition opposed to building new export terminals in the Northwest.
Sanzillo released the report in Seattle at the office of Climate Solutions, a member of the Power Past Coal coalition.
Proponents of the coal-export terminals on Monday contested the report’s findings. They have a much more bullish outlook on the future of international coal markets and prospects for U.S. coal exports.
“Our members believe that privately funded terminals in the Northwest will grow trade for the entire region and play a critical role in responsibly meeting the global energy demand for years to come,” said a statement released by the Alliance For Northwest Jobs & Exports, which represents companies, labor groups and other organizations that support construction of the terminals.
15. Inslee says state will act on oil trains
By Andy Hobbs, The Olympian, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014
The number of oil trains running across Washington is unacceptable, and the Legislature will consider bills in the upcoming session that mandate advance notification of oil shipments by rail as well as more funding for railroad crossings and emergency response training, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.
King County Executive Dow Constantine added that oil companies are raking in profits while “the rest of us are picking up the costs.”
“Those who are profiting should shoulder the financial burden,” Constantine said.
They were speaking to the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance* that met Friday at Olympia City Hall to address the surge of oil and coal trains passing through Washington. The alliance is a coalition of local, state and tribal leaders from the Northwest who say the trains threaten the environment, economy and public safety.
As shipments of oil increase in the Puget Sound region, so does the likelihood for spills and accidents. The Department of Ecology reports that 19 fully loaded oil trains crisscross the state every week, with the number expected to reach 59 oil trains if current refinery proposals are approved. Each train hauls about 3 million gallons of crude oil in 100 tanker cars. Between 11 and 16 trains pass through rural and suburban areas of Thurston and Pierce counties every week, according to reports from BNSF Railway.
Participants in Friday’s meeting included elected officials from across the state along with Oregon and Canada.
“It is clear that we have to take significant action including being better prepared to handle an oil train explosion or large scale spill,” Inslee said.
Although the federal government is the main regulator of the railroads, Inslee said there are some actions the state can take now, such as lowering speed limits of the trains. “We don’t want vehicles speeding through school zones, and we shouldn’t let oil trains speed through Washington cities,” said Inslee, noting that changes in state permits are at least a year away.
Friday’s meeting included a detailed report on the coal industry by Tom Sanzillo, finance director of the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis. Sanzillo encouraged states and cities to keep putting pressure on the coal industry, which has seen demand and prices decline worldwide in the past few years.
“The U.S. coal industry is shrinking,” said Sanzillo, adding that the industry needs “robust growth” to meet its potential and compete in the global market despite record demand for coal by nations like China. “Hooking your wagon to the coal industry is not a particularly promising outlook right now.”
At the local level, Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the City Council will seek a resolution next week to add Olympia to the list of cities that oppose the increase in crude oil transport.
“We are at a crossroads,” Buxbaum said Friday. “We could see up to 60 trains a day and 4,000 supertankers in our waters.”
As for the coal issue, Buxbaum recently co-authored a guest column titled “You might be surprised by Puget Sound Energy’s coal power supply” that ran Nov. 19 in The Seattle Times. Also signing the article were Bainbridge Island Mayor Anne Blair and Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett, and all three mayors’ respective city councils endorsed it.
The article urges Puget Sound Energy to take immediate action and plan for a “post-coal future.” About one-third of PSE’s power supply comes from coal that’s shipped from out of state, according to the article. The mayors also cite Gov. Inslee’s recent executive order to reduce pollution and transition away from coal power.
“The bottom line is that we don’t need coal,” the article states. “The potential is there for Washington to meet its energy needs with efficiency programs, wind, solar and other technologies. We just need to rise to the occasion.”
* “The Safe Energy Leadership Alliance (SELA) is a coalition of local, state, and tribal leaders from across the Pacific Northwest, Montana, and Canada working to raise awareness of the safety risks of oil and coal trains and their economic, cultural, environmental, and health impacts.”
And: That is why we brought together more than 100 other elected leaders from across the Northwest and British Columbia to form the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. It’s a broad coalition of local leaders from urban and rural areas who share a mission to better understand the potential safety and economic impacts from oil and coal trains, and call for stronger safety standards.—By Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello and King County Executive Dow Constantine are members of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance. From: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/10/24/3448437/pierce-county-gets-all-risks-no.html
16. What happened when a hazardous substance train derailed on a Puget Sound beach
True story from 2011 raises questions about railroad’s ability to manage oil trains.
By Eric de Place, Sightline Institute, Nov. 21, 2014 (go to weblink to see photos)
This post is 53 in the series: The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails
If you’ve ever wondered how an oil train derailment might go down on the shores of Puget Sound, it might look a bit like the winter night derailment in 2011 that spilled sodium hydroxide on a beach at Chambers Bay south of Tacoma. It was hardly the kind of disaster that has resulted from oil trains derailing, but it still makes for a rather instructive lesson in how these things happen.
Sodium hydroxide, more commonly known as lye, is used as a chemical base in the production of pulp and paper, textiles, drain cleaners, and other products. (It’s also the major ingredient that makes lutefisk unpalatable.) It’s caustic, corrosive to metal and glass, and it can cause fairly serious burns. You want to be careful handling it but—notably unlike the volatile shale oil traveling daily on the very same rail line—it does not erupt into 300-foot-tall fireballs.
If it had been an oil train, things could have been much, much worse.
What happened is this: around 8 pm on February 26, 2011, a north-bound freight train derailed, sideswiping a south-bound train that was carrying (among other things) four loaded tank cars of sodium hydroxide in a liquid solution. One of those cars was damaged in the collision and leaked a relatively modest 50 gallons onto the beach before response crews plugged the leak.
At the time, of course, no one knew how serious the incident was—and things did not go smoothly that night. The 911 call went out at 8:02 and firefighters were responding by 8:10. At 8:31 the Pierce County Sheriff alerted the National Response Center, the agency that in turn notifies all the relevant federal and state agencies. The Department of Ecology learned of the accident at 8:52.
By contrast, BNSF, owner of the railway and operator of the train—not to mention the nation’s leading carrier of volatile Bakken shale oil—did not contact emergency management authorities until 8:56. And then things got worse. As the government responders assembled—sheriff’s deputies, fire fighters, US Coast Guard officials, oil spill clean-up experts—they were unable to get the railway to respond to their requests for information, or even to show up at the fire department’s incident command post.
By 11:00, three hours after the accident, the responders held their incident briefing to plan how to enter the site yet they still were unable to get a BNSF officials to appear. According to Ecology’s official account, “local, state, and federal responders did not know who was participating on BNSF’s response team, their level of training nor their plan of action.”
Finally, at 11:45, almost four hours after the derailment and still without a line of communication to BNSF, local fire fighters moved into the scene. Not until 11:50 did an railway representative show up and at that point responders were finally able to establish reliable communication with the railroad. But it was almost too late: just as the fire fighters were entering the scene, BNSF began moving rail cars on the site, putting them directly into harm’s way.
Local and state responders were eventually able to secure the site and clean up the material. Yet it took days to accomplish, during which time several high tides inundated the spill area. And the story wasn’t over: a few days later, on March 1, a contractor for the railway spilled another 100 gallons of sodium hydroxide when the equipment operators lost control of a damaged tank car they were removing from the shoreline.
For jeopardizing incident responders, and for failing to coordinate with state agencies as required under Washington law, Ecology fined BNSF $3,000. The state also sent the railway a bill for $6,370 to cover the response and clean up costs. (By way of comparison, BNSF regularly reports quarterly earnings in the billion-dollar range.)
The Chambers Bay derailment should be seen as a cautionary tale because it all could have been much worse if the train had been loaded with 3 million gallons of Bakken shale oil, a typical quantity for the several oil trains that pass over that every same rail line several times a day. Not only might the oil explode catastrophically—as it has on at least four occasions recently—but it would almost certainly contaminate the Sound and beaches that the tracks run alongside. It’s worth noting too that the incident occurred directly adjacent to the Chambers Bay Golf Course, which will be hosting the 2015 US Open and a projected 235,000 fans.
Sightline Institute is a community-supported resource and we can’t do this work without you! Please make a donation today and help keep us running. Previous post in series:
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17.Vancouver Energy’s oil-by-rail capacity would be tops in U.S., analysis shows
By Eric Florip, transportation & environment reporter, The Colombian, Nov. 24, 2014 (Vancouver WA) (Go to weblink to see extensive photos and charts.)
By any measure, the size of the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver, Washington is eye-catching. The oil-by-rail facility would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day, or up to four oil trains daily. The terminal would dwarf anything currently operating in Washington.
In fact, at full capacity, the proposal known as Vancouver Energy would handle more oil by rail than any single facility in the United States, according to an analysis of crude-by-rail terminals by The Columbian. “On paper, it’s the biggest facility of that type,” said Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics for Texas-based consultant RBN Energy. “As far as I’m aware, there’s not an existing terminal that handles that type of capacity.”
There are dozens of facilities across the country that handle oil transported on rail cars. But it’s difficult to find a comprehensive list of those operations in one place. A domestic oil boom has dramatically altered the U.S. energy landscape in recent years as regulatory agencies scramble to keep up.
Vancouver Energy, a joint venture by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, is among a spate of recent proposals hoping to capitalize on the emerging trend. Some are entirely new terminals; some are expansions of existing facilities.
Other sites may have more storage capacity than the Vancouver terminal. Others may process more total oil — a refinery, for example, could handle oil that arrives by pipeline and other means in addition to rail cars. But Vancouver Energy, proposed as a transloading terminal that would transfer crude from trains to marine vessels on the Columbia River, appears to surpass all others in terms of oil arriving or leaving strictly by rail.
“It is definitely about the biggest terminal that’s been proposed,” Fielden said. “Whether or how quickly they’ll get up to that rate to me is questionable.”
The companies have said they don’t expect to move 360,000 barrels per day from day one. The Vancouver terminal will likely receive one to two trains daily at first, then build out to full capacity, according to Tesoro and Savage. An economic analysis commissioned by the companies earlier this year assumed the terminal would be fully operational two years after beginning construction.
The Vancouver terminal will be a commercial-scale facility capable of serving several customers, Tesoro spokeswoman Jennifer Minx said in an email. That’s in contrast to other facilities designed to serve fewer users, or just one, she said.
Opponents of the terminal have pointed to the risk of oil spills, derailments and other dangers posed by funneling such a huge amount of crude oil through Clark County and Vancouver. But Minx said that building one large facility, rather than several smaller terminals, allows for the concentration of emergency response equipment in the “unlikely” event of an incident. The project is also going through a rigorous review by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, she added.
“We’re confident we can operate the terminal safely and in an environmentally responsible manner regardless of its size,” Minx said.
Many of the country’s other oil-by-rail facilities are clustered in Texas and North Dakota, the two biggest producers of crude oil. Others are bunched near the Gulf Coast and the eastern U.S., where many refineries operate.
As the rise of oil by rail has played out in recent years, the energy equation has shifted across the country, said Mindi Farber-DeAnda, a team lead with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “It’s phenomenal how much has changed,” Farber-DeAnda said.
The Energy Information Administration tracks volumes of data related to various forms of energy and its movement. The agency has assembled a map of energy infrastructure in the U.S., including oil-by-rail terminals. But the map only includes locations, not sizes.
The Columbian’s analysis found plenty of other terminals that handle multiple oil trains per day, but none on par with the Vancouver proposal. Among the largest:
- An unloading facility in St. James, La., that handles 280,000 barrels of crude per day. Another terminal in the same city handles an additional 140,000 barrels per day.
- A Savage-operated train-loading facility in Trenton, N.D., that handles 175,000 barrels per day.
- A rail hub in Epping, N.D., that loads some 160,000 barrels per day.
- The Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery in Pennsylvania, which receives about 160,000 barrels of oil per day by rail, though the facility processes much more crude than that in total.
A barrel of oil is equal to 42 gallons.
As new proposals emerge, the Energy Information Administration continues to monitor and analyze new trends and data. That’s always an ongoing task, Farber-DeAnda said. “For us, it’s important to be able to put together the puzzle pieces and put together a total picture,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re only telling part of the story.”
Only a handful of sites in Washington now receive crude oil by rail. But Vancouver Energy is far from the only proposal poised to add to that number. It’s not even the only one in Vancouver. A proposal by NuStar Energy would convert part of its existing Vancouver operation to store crude oil. The plan would bring about one-third of a unit train to the site per day on average, according to the company. Other proposed terminals have popped up across the western half of the state.
Two to three loaded oil trains per day already roll through Clark County on the way to existing West Coast facilities. About 17 million barrels of crude moved through Washington by rail in 2013, according to a state report released last month. By 2015, the amount could balloon to more than 68 million barrels. In 2011, that number was about zero.
“We didn’t have any oil trains in our state at all until 2012,” said Lisa Copeland, a state Department of Ecology spokeswoman.
One wild card is the long-standing U.S. ban on exporting crude oil to foreign markets. Last month’s report acknowledged the possibility of that ban ending in the not-so-distant future. Copeland said her department views that as a “real possibility.”
Minx, the Tesoro spokeswoman, said it’s premature to speculate on whether the crude export ban might be lifted, or the possible impact on West Coast markets. The companies have cited reduced dependence on foreign oil as a key selling point of the Vancouver terminal.
The sharp increase in oil trains in Washington has prompted the state to rethink its emergency response plans, Copeland said. That process continues, and some officials have acknowledged that the state is ill-prepared for a major oil-by-rail disaster.
A series of derailments and explosions have heightened worries since last year. Several were linked to Bakken crude oil from North Dakota, which accounts for much of the crude now moving through Washington. Multiple reports and analyses have suggested Bakken oil is more dangerous than other types of crude.
“It’s not just this new mode. It’s a new type of oil,” Copeland said. “It’s a more volatile oil than we’re used to dealing with. It takes new resources. It takes new training.”