Compiled by Roger Annis, Vancouver, Canada email@example.com
Table of contents (article texts and weblinks below):
1. Ecology report details plans to make oil trains safer in Washington state, Dec 1, 2014
2. N.Y. touts progress on crude-by-rail safety, urges federal regulators to ‘step up’, Dec. 2
3. Railroad Workers United to co-sponsor railroad conferences on the West Coast, Dec 2
4. Canada rail safety jobs vacant as budget cuts bite, Dec 8
5. Safety rules on oil trains burn critics, Dec 10
6. Crude by rail ‘is here to stay’ – report, Dec 12
7. CP Rail knew of faulty tank-car wheel before derailment, investigator says, Dec 11
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1. Ecology report details plans to make oil trains safer in Washington state
By Shari Phiel, The Daily News online (Lower Colombia River), Dec 1, 2014
A new, 500-page state report says railroad oil shipments through Washington may increase sevenfold in the next six years and recommends 40 measures to improve safety and protect the environment.
The state Department of Ecology report, released Monday, recommends additional spending for emergency planning, training and equipment, rail inspections and ongoing risk assessments.
The study does not outline the costs of measures it is suggesting to the railroad industry and the Legislature. Lawmakers already are grappling with budget shortfalls to fund court-ordered and voter-approved mandates for improving public schools.
“There’s a lot of people concerned about oil trains, including myself. But I think whatever we do it has to be reasonable and not go so far as to be unrealistic for the industry,” state Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said Monday.
The Legislature requested the study based on recent changes in how crude oil moves through rail corridors and Washington waters.
Ecology’s report says 19 crude oil unit trains — each measuring 100 cars — now move through Washington each week. That number could grow to 137 trains per week by 2020 if the full build-out of proposed oil terminals is permitted, Ecology said.
The oil is coming from the North Dakota’s Bakken area. Many of the trains run through the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main lines that run through Cowlitz County.
“I don’t have a problem with oil trains if the safety stuff that needs to be done is done,” Takko said.
But increased safety measures aren’t the only issues the state is considering. The Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division, which helped research and compile Ecology’s report, also looked at how emergency crews would respond to an oil spill or train derailment.
“In our survey of first responders, we heard from a large percentage of districts that believe they need additional training or resources to effectively respond to a train derailment and fire,” EMD spokeswoman Karen Ferreira said.
Ecology included recommendations for more track, upgrades to equipment and crossing signals, furnishing oil spill response equipment, and developing hazardous materials response teams.
Opponents to crude oil shipments through the Pacific Northwest aren’t looking to the state for answers.
“There’s really not a lot the state can do. This is a federal issue,” Longview activist John Green said.
Burlington Northern spokesman Gus Melonas had not seen the report, but he said the railroad “is committed to safely move all types of commodities through Longview. We have thorough processes for inspection, detection … and will continue to invest to protect the railroad, public and environment complying with Federal standards. BNSF will continue to work closely with Washington state on future safety discussions.”
The final report will be delivered to the Legislature on March 1.
2. N.Y. touts progress on crude-by-rail safety, urges federal regulators to ‘step up’
By Blake Sobczak, E&E reporter, Energy Wire, Dec. 2, 2014
New York regulators have made “significant progress” this year toward protecting crude-by-rail shipments en route to East Coast refineries, according to a report released yesterday by the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
The safety status update cited dozens of state-level actions taken in the wake of several oil train derailments and fires. Since January, agencies such as the New York Department of Transportation and the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services have hired new inspectors and beefed up training programs for handling potential spills.
Cuomo seized the chance yesterday to jab federal transportation regulators as they work on rules that would update tank car designs and crude-by-rail operating procedures nationwide.
“The federal government plays a vital role in regulating this industry, and Washington must step up in order to expedite the implementation of safer policies and rules for crude oil transport,” Cuomo said, lauding his own state’s “swift and decisive action” on disaster preparedness.
A spokesman with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is weighing comments on a draft crude-by-rail rule, did not immediately respond to Cuomo’s criticisms yesterday afternoon.
The risks of hauling crude in rail-bound tank cars became clear in a fiery derailment last year in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed. Later, oil train derailments and explosions in Alabama and North Dakota in 2013 hurt no one but prompted Cuomo to issue an executive order calling on state agencies to review their oil response plans (EnergyWire, Jan. 31).
“Governor Cuomo has been going to great extents to demonstrate that his administration is taking action on this,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. Matteson has pushed for more oversight for crude-by-rail deliveries transferred from rail cars onto barges along the Hudson River. New York is a major hub in the North American oil supply chain, with the Port of Albany alone handling hundreds of crude-laden tank cars on a given day.
Matteson stopped short of calling New York’s oil safety efforts “significant” but acknowledged that “some progress has been made.”
Yesterday, her group requested to drop a lawsuit against U.S. EPA and the Coast Guard after the federal agencies agreed to account for the possible environmental impacts of responding to an oil spill with booms, chemical dispersants and other potentially intrusive equipment (E&ENews PM, July 17).
Separately, the Coast Guard has also agreed to work with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to evaluate tanker and tug spills involving both light Bakken crude and heavier Canadian oil sands crude.
“Other states are ahead of New York to some degree — there has been some very good action in California and Washington,” said Matteson, referring to crude-by-rail safety measures. “Those states really did not start to take action until citizen pressure developed to a certain point, so it has really taken citizen awareness and political engagement to make these things happen.”
3. Railroad Workers United to co-sponsor railroad conferences on the West Coast
This coming winter, RWU will co-sponsor two conferences, one in the Bay Area and one in the Pacific Northwest. Tentatively entitled “The Future of Railroads: Safety, Workers, Community and Environment”, Railroad Workers United is partnering with the Backbone Campaign and other citizens and environmental groups to organize these innovative and cutting edge conferences.
In recent months, public attention has focused on the railroad in a way that it has not been for decades. In the wake of Lac Megantic and other derailments and resulting fires and explosions, the public is alarmed about oil trains and the movement of trains in general through their communities.
Environmental activists are up-in-arms about the amounts of fossil fuels moving by rail. Farmers and other shippers are concerned about the congestion that has occurred in recent months, due in part to the oil boom. All of this attention gives railroad workers a golden opportunity to educate the general public about the railroad, its inherent efficiencies, its value to society, and its potential. It also give us an invaluable opportunity to inform non-railroad workers about the situation that we face on the job every day.
The public generally has no idea what goes on daily on America’s railroads. At this conference, we plan to talk about crew fatigue, single employee train crews, excessively long and heavy trains, draconian availability policies, short staffing, limited time off work and other concerns. These issues are of concern not just to railroaders, but are of concern to environmentalists, the community at large and society in general. Non-railroaders in attendance at the conference will come away with a deeper understanding of our workplace and a greater appreciation of the issues facing us. They will without a doubt, become valuable allies in our future fights with the rail carriers.
Tentative workshops and discussion topics include but are not limited to:
- Single employee train crews, why they will not work, and the safety hazards they pose for workers, communities and the environment.
- Excessively long and heavy trains and their inherent problems and dangers.
- Crew fatigue and the need for adequate time off, proper train line-ups, advance call times, call windows and all the rest to ensure well-rested, alert and safe train crews.
- Building worker-to-worker alliances along the supply chain of all transport workers.
- “Railroading for the General Public 101”.
- “Environmental Politics for Railroad Workers 101” for railroad workers.
- Ensuring safe track, bridges and rolling stock.
- The “Solutionary Rail” campaign and a vision for what a sustainable railroad of the future could look like.
- Building a labor-community alliance around safety issues.
- A history of blue-green alliances and how to build one that revolves around the railroad industry.
The conferences are planned for February though no dates are set at this time. For more information, watch the RWU newsletter, these Monthly Bulletins, the RWU Facebook Page and the RWU list serve. To get involved in organizing either conference and to attend, contact Gifford Hartman at 415-410-9299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Canada rail safety jobs vacant as budget cuts bite
By Mike De Souza, Reuters, Dec 8, 2014
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Budget cuts have left safety-related engineering positions vacant in the Canadian agency responsible for overseeing shipments of dangerous goods, government records show, fueling worries about trains moving oil across the country.
Rail safety is in focus with the boom in oil shipments and a spate of derailments across North America, and the vacancies create a safety risk, industry experts and Canada’s public engineers’ union say.
The chair of the Transportation Safety Board, Kathy Fox, says there is risk of a spill as long as the government fails to address its oversight weaknesses and improve tank car standards.
“We don’t believe that the current standard is sufficiently robust to prevent liquid spilling in the event of a derailment or rail accident, so what we want to see are tougher standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids,” Fox told Reuters.
A recent analysis by the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration estimated that a failure to upgrade existing regulations would lead to the equivalent of 10 major accidents, costing more than US$18 billion in damages, including fatalities, over the next 20 years.
Retired and current employees from Transport Canada told Reuters that engineers in the department’s dangerous goods division would be responsible for developing new standards.
Fox said her board had not determined whether staffing levels were a factor, but said until new standards are in place, “during this period, we continue to be at risk with large transport of flammable liquids by rail.”
Last year, 47 people were killed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.
Mark Hallman, a spokesman for the Canadian National Railway Company, declined to comment on Transport Canada’s staffing and resources. But he said the Lac-Mégantic tragedy highlighted the importance of better standards.
“For CN, tank car design is one of the most important systemic issues arising from the Lac-Mégantic rail accident,” Hallman told Reuters. He said the company “strongly supports” better standards requiring retrofitting or phasing out older model DOT-111 cars, as well as reinforced standards for new tank cars.
Four oil companies contacted by Reuters, Cenovus Energy Inc., Suncor Energy Inc, Valero Energy Corp and One Earth Oil and Gas Inc., declined to comment on Transport Canada’s capacity to introduce new regulations and whether uncertainty was affecting their budget planning.
“Regulations are always in flux, so that’s just an ongoing fact of life in the industry,” said Brett Harris, a spokesman for Cenovus.
Fifteen percent of the jobs in Transport Canada’s dangerous goods and rail safety divisions are open across the country, according to federal records obtained by Reuters. Eight of 19 engineering positions within the Dangerous Goods Division in the Ottawa region headquarters are unfilled.
In Quebec, a position for the manager of dangerous goods transportation in the rail safety division is vacant. Nationally, the vacancies include a superintendent of gas containment and several specialists on containment means for dangerous cargo.
Transport Canada said the openings are due to a combination of budget cuts, early retirements and difficulties competing with the higher-paid private sector.
Public sector engineers earn base salaries as high as C$120,000 ($105,000) but still earn about 20 percent less than in the private sector, based on salary estimates from a survey of professional engineers in Ontario.
The records show that more than 30 positions in the dangerous goods and rail safety divisions have been vacant since 2009. Some resulted from 2012 budget cuts that forced four senior engineers into retirement, including Jean-Pierre Gagnon, who had been working on a North American plan to improve standards for the DOT-111 tank cars, the type that punctured during the Lac-Mégantic tragedy.
“The challenges arising from Lac-Mégantic aren’t negligible,” said Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a retired professor of chemical engineering at Quebec’s University of Sherbrooke, who follows the industry.
“There’s still much work to be done on determining types of tank cars, (what to do with) the old generation of tank cars … and if there’s not enough people to do this work, it’s going to take a lot longer.”
Over the past year, Canada has introduced a series of safety regulations and has pledged to improve its oversight of dangerous goods transportation. It has improved standards for handbrakes and put restrictions on single-person crews.
Engineers are crafting new standards to improve safety and oversight of oil shipments by rail, which have jumped from 500 carloads in 2009 to 160,000 carloads in 2013, according to industry statistics.
But Transport Canada is projecting further reductions to its workforce under government efforts to eliminate the federal deficit. It estimates its overall budget will shrink from C$1.7 billion to C$950 million within three years, including about C$600,000 in cuts to the rail safety and dangerous goods divisions.
“It seems the importance of this role (of qualified engineers) was not taken into consideration when cost-cutting measures were implemented at Transport Canada,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada labor union that represents the engineers.
5. Safety rules on oil trains burn critics
By Brian Nearing, Times-Union (Albany NY), Dec. 10, 2014
Albany–New safety rules on Bakken crude oil shipments imposed by North Dakota will not affect about 80 percent of oil arriving daily on massive tanker trains at the Port of Albany. Some oil opponents in the Capital Region are criticizing the limit as toothless.
Amid opposition from oil companies, the North Dakota Industrial Commission set a limit late Tuesday that is supposed to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude — or potential explosiveness — before it can be shipped out of state on trains. Officials in New York and other states along the routes of oil trains had been pushing for a limit in after major accidents in Canada, and states including Alabama and Pennsylvania.
The new North Dakota standard is well above volatility found in Bakken crude by Canadian safety officials after 47 people were killed in a massive explosion and fire when a crude oil train derailed in Quebec in July 2013.
North Dakota’s new measure was praised as “aggressive” in a joint news release by state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald.
“Reducing the volatility of Bakken crude at the source protects public health, protects the environment and provides an additional safeguard for New Yorkers and communities across the country,” according to the prepared statement. Attempts to obtain further comment Wednesday from DEC were not successful.
“This does not really provide much of a margin of safety for the public. It still does not address the (Bakken) flammability issue,” said Chris Amato, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental legal group and DEC deputy commissioner for natural resources from 2007 to 2011.
In October, Amato’s group filed a petition with DEC claiming the state has the power to immediately ban the most common type of oil tanker rail cars — called DOT-111s — from entering the port loaded with flammable Bakken oil. DEC disagreed that it had the power to take such a step, which would have made Albany the first place in the country to bar the aging tankers, which in derailments have been prone to rupture, leading to fires and explosions.
Amato called the North Dakota volatility standard “better than nothing,” adding that DEC “has its head in the sand on all crude-by-rail issues.”
“The new rule has no effect, zero,” said Sandy Steubing, a spokeswoman for the group People of Albany United for Safe Energy, which wants crude oil shipments into Albany halted. “It is like setting a speed limit of 100 miles an hour and saying we will catch the cars going 120,” she said. “I don’t know if North Dakota just did this for show.”
Assemblyman Phil Steck of Colonie and Albany County Executive Dan McCoy also questioned the effectiveness of the measure.
“Reducing the volatility of crude oil at the source before shipping is welcome news and is something for which I have been advocating. But North Dakota hasn’t set a standard that challenges the oil industry enough,” said McCoy. And Steck, a fellow Democrat, said North Dakota also failed to require removal of hydrofracking chemicals from the Bakken, which he said makes the crude more flammable.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said “any step that makes our community safer is a step in the right direction.”
Starting April 1, Bakken crude shipped out of the shale oil fields of North Dakota can have a vapor pressure of no more than 13.7 pounds per square inch (psi), slightly below a federal hazardous materials stability standard of 14.7 psi.
Bakken crude above this new standard would have to be treated with heat or pressure at the wells to remove its most volatile components.
North Dakota Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms has said about 80 percent of Bakken crude being shipped already falls below this standard. But he also told the Associated Press that the change would “significantly change the characteristics of crude oil that’s going into market.”
A vapor pressure rating is a measurement of how rapidly a liquid evaporates into a gas and spreads into the air, making it more volatile and prone to explosion. The Bakken crude that caused the massive fireball in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people had a psi of between 9 and 9.3, which is well below the new North Dakota safety standard.
In a report after the tragedy, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board found the Bakken crude involved was as volatile as gasoline. The volatility, combined with “large quantities of spilled crude oil, the rapid rate of release, and the oil’s … low viscosity were likely the major contributors to the large post-derailment fireball and pool fire,” the board found.
By comparison, crude oil pumped from beneath the Gulf of Mexico has a psi of about 3, making it much less likely to explode in an accident, according to figures reported this spring in the Wall Street Journal. In Texas, crude oil produced in the Eagle Ford shale formation has a psi of about 8.
According to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, the average Bakken crude has a psi of between 11.5 and 11.8, again below the new state safety standard.
The North Dakota standard is “far from a solution that the communities that are dealing with oil trains on a daily basis are looking for,” said Connor Bambrick, an analyst with Environmental Advocates of New York.
Related: North Dakota to require every barrel of crude oil be filtered, by Ernest Scheyder, Reuters, Dec 9, 2014
6. Crude by rail ‘is here to stay’ despite plunging oil prices — report
By Blake Sobczak, E&E reporter, Energy Wire, Dec 12, 2014
Plunging oil prices won’t put a dent in the volume of crude shipped on North American railroads, which could haul 1.5 million barrels per day next year, according to the research and analysis firm IHS.
“Despite the recent [oil] price volatility, crude-by-rail is here to stay and will continue to play an important role going forward,” said Kevin Birn, director for IHS Energy, in a statement accompanying a report on rail-bound crude released yesterday.
The IHS report predicts that between 2015 and 2016, railroads will move an additional 400,000 barrels of oil per day on top of their current haul. The firm said crude-by-rail shipments will then start to decline as oil production tapers out and new pipelines come online in places such as North Dakota’s Bakken Shale play.
At its peak, crude-by-rail traffic could represent 10 percent of total North American oil production, IHS said — roughly twice the capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Analysts at the firm acknowledged uncertainties in their forecast, including a major rulemaking package now working its way through the U.S. Department of Transportation that could add costs to the crude-by-rail business.
DOT is considering tougher standards for the tank cars typically used to move oil, in addition to capping oil trains’ speed limits and imposing other safety measures. Similar rules are in the works in Canada, which suffered a devastating oil train derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last year that killed 47 people.
Five-year lows for North American crude prices could also cut into oil companies’ exploration and production plans. Union Pacific Railroad reported declining volumes for its crude-by-rail business earlier this month, citing shifting market conditions.
Still, the two biggest railroads with access to the oil-rich Bakken Shale play in North Dakota, BNSF Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., have struggled to keep up with demand for rail service in the region. The IHS report said at least 900,000 barrels per day of crude can be expected to move by rail through 2020.
“There is and will be a role for rail connecting pipeline-deprived producers to refiners or pipeline-deficient refiners to inland production,” Birn said.
7. CP knew of faulty tank-car wheel before derailment, investigator says
By Eric Atkins, Globe and Mail, Dec 11, 2014
Transport regulator is also critical of cleanup effort in Northern Ontario after 2013 spill and fire involving 102,000 litres of crude
A defective rail car wheel that caused a 2013 derailment and oil spill was flagged by Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. as needing replacement, but permitted to run days before the accident in Northern Ontario, the federal rail investigator says.
Two tank cars spilled 102,000 litres of crude oil after tumbling down an embankment near White River in a 22-car derailment in April, 2013, after a broken wheel caused the rail to fracture, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in a report released on Thursday.
Four days before the derailment, the problem wheel was flagged by an automated track-side detector that warned the wheel should be removed from service, based on standards set by the American Association of Railroads.
“There was an opportunity to remove the wheel,” Rob Johnston, a TSB manager for railways and pipelines, said in an interview. However, “company guidelines permitted the wheel to remain in service,” the report said.
The report also found the DOT 111 tank cars carrying the oil did not prevent spillage after the derailment when the top and bottom valves and fittings failed.
The railways do not generally own the cars they haul, but are responsible for their safety and allowed to make repairs and bill the owner. CP spokesman Jeremy Berry said the railway has since toughened its standards but could not say if they matched the AAR guidelines.
The automated system that detected the defect measures the impact of the wheel on the track as the rail car passes. Greater impacts indicate a wheel is cracked or out of round, and should be replaced. The broken wheel that caused the track to break showed readings that said it should be replaced under AAR standards six of nine times in the previous 16 months.
However, the TSB report said CP’s guidelines are more permissive of defects than those of the AAR, and that the wheel was allowed to remain in service until it failed.
Mr. Johnston said Transport Canada regulations are silent on wheel impact measurement, but that Canadian railways have voluntarily installed the detectors. However, they are not bound by the tougher AAR standards when on Canadian tracks.
Since 1999, there have been six major derailments the TSB blamed on broken wheels that were previously flagged for replacement under AAR standards, but deemed by CP or CN to be within acceptable limits.
The report was also critical of CP’s response to the derailment and spill, noting the railway did not set up a safety perimeter and access to the derailment site was not controlled. TSB investigators said communication with CP officials was poor, and the railway made no mention of the fire that occurred in the derailment. “In this case, there were significant gaps in the CP response to the release of highly volatile crude oil,” said the report, adding efforts to clean up the derailment were poorly organized.
The derailment preceded the July, 2013, derailment and explosion of an oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Que. that killed 47 people and wiped out the town’s centre. The tragedy resulted in new standards for carrying crude by rail, including a phasing-out of the DOT 111 tank cars.
Moving crude oil is a fast-growing business for railways capitalizing on a lack of pipeline capacity. CP said it plans to double its crude business to 200,000 cars a year by next year. Analysts estimate the energy business – hauling oil, fracking sand and drilling gear – has grown to account for about 10 per cent of revenues at both CP and Canadian National Railway Co.
Even as oil prices plunge, moving crude to refineries by train is expected to remain a key strategy for producers. Market researcher IHS said the amount of oil on North American tracks will peak at 1.5 million barrels a day, or 10 per cent of production, between 2015 and 2016.