W.Va. Oil Train Derailment Has NW Lawmakers Thinking About Safety

Reports say up to 18 oil trains a week travel along the Washington side of the Columbia River, and up to six oil trains a week are traveling through the state of Oregon along the Columbia River and through central Oregon.Tony Schick
Reports say up to 18 oil trains a week travel along the Washington side of the Columbia River, and up to six oil trains a week are traveling through the state of Oregon along the Columbia River and through central Oregon.
Tony Schick


By Courtney Flatt, OPB


This week’s fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia has lawmakers thinking about oil-by-rail safety through the Northwest. There has been a dramatic increase in oil trains traveling through the region to reach West coast refineries.

Committees in the Washington legislature are considering two bills. Senate Bill 5057 — supported by the oil industry — would expand the barrel tax to include oil shipped by rail. House Bill 1449 — supported by environmental groups — could change how oil-by-rail is regulated across the state.

“If there were to be an accident in Washington state, I, personally, would want to be able to say I did everything I could do to make sure that didn’t happen,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said during a Ways and Means committee hearing.

Oil safety bills are also moving through the Oregon Legislature.

Darcy Nonemacher, the legislative director for the Washington Environmental Council, said the recent derailment has more people thinking about how oil is transported.

“I think the lesson is that we do need to act. There’s lots of things that need to happen whether it’s at the federal, state, or local level,” Nonemacher said.

The train that derailed in West Virginia was hauling oil with newer tank cars. Those newer designs are supposed to better handle derailments than older cars.

That’s why oil-by-rail critic Eric de Place says oil transportation safety is a major concern.

“We need to just hit pause. We need to stop doing it until we have a way to transport that oil safely, which we don’t have right now,” says de Place, a researcher at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, which doesn’t support oil-by-rail.

In Washington, the oil and rail industries are supportive of Senate Bill 5057. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, will also take $10 million from the Model Toxics Control Account to allow the state Department of Ecology to provide grants for equipment and first responders.

“We believe it’s critical to implementing the policy in the underlying bill. We also believe this funding complements the efforts we have underway within the railroad to train locally first responder preparation efforts,” said Bill Stauffacher, with BNSF Railway.

House Bill 1449 would require planning for oil spill response in Washington state and it would require companies to disclose information about transportation routes.

Grain Car Derailment Could Have Been Oil: Quinault Raise Alarm Again

KXRO: If this grain were oil…. The third train-car derailment in as many weeks has Pacific Northwest tribes that oppose oil-rail transport on edge.
: If this grain were oil…. The third train-car derailment in as many weeks has Pacific Northwest tribes that oppose oil-rail transport on edge.


Indian Country Today


It has happened again, this time not with oil but with grain.

However, the Quinault Nation pointed out on May 16, the derailment of a grain train in Grays Harbor County is all the affirmation needed to show that transporting something more hazardous, namely oil, in this manner has too much chance of ending badly.

“Another train derailment in Grays Harbor County? Three in three weeks? Rails ripped up, Cars tipped over. Cargo spilled out,” said Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp in a statement. “That cargo may have been grain this morning, but it might just as well have been oil, and that would have been disastrous.”

Sharp was alluding to a May 15 incident in which seven cars carrying grain tipped over when 11 cars on the train they were part of derailed. It was the third such occurrence in as many weeks on the network of tracks operated by Puget Sound & Pacific Railway in the Grays Harbor area, the Quinault statement said. This came right on the heels of two earlier derailments—one on April 29, when a grain car tipped over in Aberdeen, and another on May 9 in east Aberdeen, when some cars came off their tracks, the Quinault said.

The cargo was different, but the propensity of train cars to derail no matter what they were carrying says that transporting oil via this method is not safe, the Quinault said. Around the country and in Canada, derailments of trains bearing crude oil, much of it from oil sands and deemed especially flammable, have resulted in destruction and even death.

RELATED: Exploded Quebec Oil Train Was Bringing Crude From North Dakota’s Bakken to New Brunswick Refineries

Lynchburg Oil Train Explosion Refuels Rail-Terminal Opposition in Northwest

However, Puget Sound & Pacific Railway, a division of Genessee & Wyoming, said it was investigating the cause of the derailment.

“This series of minor derailments is a highly unusual, unacceptable occurrence and subject to a rigorous investigation,” company spokesperson Michael Williams, Genesee & Wyoming, told radio station KXRO on May 16. “The first two derailments were caused by localized failure of railroad ties that were saturated with moisture from recent heavy rains. Other locations experiencing this issue have been identified and are being corrected prior to receiving another train. The cause of yesterday’s derailment is still being determined.”

Several tribes in the Northwest are opposing railroad terminals in or near their territory that would handle oil and coal. Oil traffic in particular has troubled the Quinault.

“Now, one-two-three, it’s as easy as that. Any argument in favor of bringing Big Oil into our region has been knocked out cold,” said Sharp in the statement. “As we have consistently stated, our people and our treaty-protected natural resources are jeopardized by these oil shipments. This danger is real. We have invested millions of dollars to protect and restore the ecological integrity of our region, and we will not allow Big Oil to destroy it.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/05/19/grain-car-derailment-could-have-been-oil-quinault-raise-alarm-again-154940

More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades, federal data show


By Curtis Tate

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Jan 21, 2014 Bellingham Herald

WASHINGTON — More crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents last year than was spilled in the nearly four decades since the federal government began collecting data on such spills, an analysis of the data shows.

Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.

The federal data does not include incidents in Canada where oil spilled from trains. Canadian authorities estimate that more than 1.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, when a runaway train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cargo originated in North Dakota.

A fireball goes up at the site of an oil train derailment Monday, Dec 30, 2013, in Casselton, N.D. The train carrying crude oil derailed near Casselton Monday afternoon.

Nearly 750,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a train on Nov. 8 near Aliceville, Ala. The train also originated in North Dakota and caught fire after it derailed in a swampy area. No one was injured or killed.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn’t yet have spill data from a Dec. 30 derailment near Casselton, N.D. But the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the lead investigator in that incident, estimates that more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled there. Though no one was injured or killed, the intense fire forced most of Casselton’s 2,400 residents to evacuate in subzero temperatures.

The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, estimates that railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year. That’s more than 11.5 billion gallons, with one tank car holding roughly 28,800 gallons.

Last year’s total spills of 1.15 million gallons means that 99.99 percent of shipments arrived without incident, close to the safety record the industry and its regulators claim about hazardous materials shipments by rail.

Czdvw.La.91But until just a few years ago, railroads weren’t carrying crude oil in 80- to 100-car trains. In eight of the years between 1975 and 2009, railroads reported no spills of crude oil. In five of those years, they reported spills of one gallon or less.

In 2010, railroads reported spilling about 5,000 gallons of crude oil, according to federal data. They spilled fewer than 4,000 gallons each year in 2011 and 2012. But excluding the Alabama and North Dakota derailments, more than 11,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from trains last year.

Last week, the principal Washington regulators of crude oil shipments by rail met with railroad and oil industry representatives to discuss making changes to how crude is shipped by rail, from tank car design to operating speed to appropriate routing. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the meeting productive and said the group would take a comprehensive approach to improving the safety of crude-oil trains.

Foxx said the changes would be announced within the next 30 days.


Click here to view map here.


Train carrying oil derails, explodes in Alabama

Derailment is latest in string of incidents as US increasingly relies on rail to transport oil


Smoke rises from derailed train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013.WBMA via Reuters


Source: Climate Connection

A 90-car train carrying crude oil derailed in western Alabama on Friday, causing flames to burst hundreds of feet into the air.

The train was heading from the oil boomtowns of North Dakota to a Shell chemical plant near Mobile, Alabama. Unlike in recent oil train derailments, there were no reports of injuries or deaths. But the incident was another reminder of the dangers of North America’s increased reliance on a patchwork of railroads used to transport billions of gallons of newly discovered oil across the United States and Canada.

Concern had already been raised after a July accident in Lac-Megantic, Canada, in which 47 people were killed.

In Alabama on Friday, 20 of the train’s cars derailed, throwing flames 300 feet into the air. Those cars were being left to burn down, which could take up to 24 hours, according to the train owner, Genesee & Wyoming.

If full, the train, which passes near schools and crosses rivers in the area, could hold up to 65,000 barrels of crude oil.

It was not initially clear what caused Friday’s accident in Pickens County, Alabama. The train was being driven by two engineers, both unharmed, officials said.

The accident happened in a wetlands area which eventually feeds into the Tombigbee River, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Booms were placed in the wetlands to contain the spilled oil.

Accidents involving oil being transported via train have become more common as oil production has dramatically increased in places like North Dakota and Canada. That has led to flurry of debate over how to best transport the highly-flammable oils, with some advocating for an increased use of pipelines, and others arguing that rail systems make for more environmentally secure transport.

The East and West coasts in particular turned to rail years ago to draw in U.S. and Canadian crude. With no major oil pipelines in operation, or even planned, rail allowed them to tap into the burgeoning shale market.

In the last three months, crude-by-rail shipments rose 44 percent from the previous year to 93,312 carloads, equivalent to about 740,000 barrels per day or almost one tenth of U.S. production.

The practice shows no sign of slowing down. Analysts expect up to 40 times more oil to be transported by trains in the next five years.

While many are concerned, the alternatives for transporting vast amounts of oil don’t seem to please activists and safety experts either. Environmentalists vehemently opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the biggest proposed pipelines in the country.

And research shows that pipelines, if they leak, can spill much more oil than trains do.

The most recent round of controversy over transporting oil by freight started over the summer when a train derailed in Lac-Megantic.

That incident, which the operator Montreal Maine & Atlantic blamed on a train engineer not applying enough brakes on an incline, fueled a drive for tougher standards for oil rail shipments.

Since then, there have been several new regulations proposed for oil-by-freight operations, including better labeling for what’s contained in each train, but nothing permanent has been signed into law.