New Oil Train Rules Get Mixed Reactions In Northwest

File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland railyard.Tony Schick/OP

File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland railyard.
Tony Schick/OP

 

By Tony Schick, OPB

Oil trains are getting stronger tank cars, better brakes, slower speed limits and  possibly new routes. Many in the Northwest say that’s still not enough.

Federal transportation regulators in the U.S. and Canada released a sweeping set of final rules Friday with more stringent requirements for railroads hauling flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol. The rules come one day after Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and four of their Democratic colleagues introduced a wide-ranging bill intended to bolster oil train safety including a fee on oil shipments made in old, puncture-prone tank cars.

“It’s a meaningful step but it doesn’t do enough,” Wyden said Friday of the federal rule. “It doesn’t move quickly enough to secure Oregon communities from the risk of flammable oil trains.”

The Department of Transportation rules would require new electronic brake systems for all trains carrying flammable liquids at speeds above 30 miles per hours by the year 2021. Current air brake technology is nearly a century old. The brake system has been involved in a number of derailments, including the deadly explosion in Lac Megantic in 2013 that set off widespread concern about oil by rail.

 

Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The photo was taken the day after the train of crude oil derailed in 2013. It claimed 47 lives. Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The photo was taken the day after the train of crude oil derailed in 2013. It claimed 47 lives. Transportation Safety Board of Canada

 

Air brakes have also been cited in several whistleblower complaints against railroads, in which workers claim they were pressured to skip or shorten brake tests to keep trains moving on time.

Oil trains would have new speed limits of 50 miles per hour — 40 mph in densely populated areas — and a thorough analysis of routing based on security and safety risks. Oil trains currently move through populated areas in the Northwest like downtown Spokane and Seattle.

Friday’s rules call for a decade-long phase-out of old tank cars, which have been known since 1991 to be puncture-prone. The initial replacement for those cars has increased shielding to protect against punctures, but has also been called inadequate by the National Transportation Safety Board after these newer-model tankers, were involved in a string of fiery derailments. Under the rules, these flawed models would undergo a gradual phase out until 2025.

Many of these requirements are expected to carry significant costs to railroads. BNSF Railway currently hauls more oil by rail through the Northwest than any other railroad. The railroad supports instituting a new generation of tank cars, but indicated in its response to the new rules a resistance to costly upgrades.

“Any regulatory changes that automatically take away capacity will have a devastating impact on our shippers and the economy,” BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino wrote in an email. “Most importantly, capacity is not abundant. The supply chain’s experiences with the recent disruptions at the West Coast ports is clear evidence of the negative impacts substantially reduced capacity will have on the economy.”

Oil-by-rail barely existed a few years ago. But booming North American oil production outpaced pipeline capacity and railroads offered greater flexibility and new markets for energy producers. As many as 17 oil trains per week move through parts of the Northwest, carrying crude from North Dakota, Canada and Utah to refineries and marine terminals in Oregon and Washington. Several other crude-by-rail facilities have been proposed.

Environmentalists, rail workers and safety experts called the rule a positive step, but each pointed out what they think are significant safety gaps.

Jared Margolis, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said he thinks the speed limits are too high and the phase-out of old tank cars too dragged out.

The Center for Biological Diversity has previously sued to prevent oil trains in older tank cars from moving through parts of the Northwest, like the Columbia River Gorge.

“We’ll continue to see derailments and spills even with these new rules in place,” Margolis said.

George Gavalla, a railroad safety consultant with 37 years in the industry, including seven as former head of the FRA safety office, called the new rules “a significant improvement,” particularly for requiring improved tank car designs.

“They also put forth an aggressive, yet reasonable timetable for retrofitting (or replacing) the existing tank car fleet,” Gavalla wrote in an email. “At first blush, the tank car standards appear to go a long way toward improving the tank car safety.”

But, he added, “a big issue that the rule does not address is the volatility of the crude oil, especially the Bakken crude oil.”

Herb Krohn, legislative director for the United Transportation Union in Washington, said the rule appears to be a positive development but it ignores what he calls the “larger issue of monitoring the movement of Haz-Mat trains including adequate crewing.”

Krohn’s union has been pushing for shorter trains and minimum mandatory crew sizes, opposing a railroad movement toward one-man crews.

“The railroad carriers strongly oppose any government regulation regarding train crew size and placement;  this is clear from the complete absence of any mention of this critical safety issue,” Krohn said Friday. “The omission of this issue leaves a huge gap in public safety.”

 

More Oil Trains Could Roll Through Puget Sound To Shell Refinery

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery. Matt Krogh

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Skagit County for a proposal by Shell Oil to build a rail expansion to receive oil trains at its Anacortes refinery.
Matt Krogh

 

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell’s refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington’s five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Skagit County had previously approved the necessary shoreline permits granting the go-ahead to Shell to construct expand rail at its Anacortes refinery to receive mile-long oil trains, six of them per week. Environmental groups appealed the decision, calling for a more comprehensive review of the potential health and environmental impacts.

The room was packed Thursday, when the Skagit County Hearing Examiner heard public comments pertaining to the shoreline development and forest practice permits necessary for Shell to proceed with its proposed expansion.

Roughly 15 oil trains already travel along Puget Sound each week, servicing the US Oil, BP Cherry Point, Phillips66 and Tesoro refineries.

“That’s a lot of trains, with no studies whatsoever about human health impacts, chronic exposure, risks, all that sort of thing.” said Matt Krogh of ForestEthics, which has raised concerns about the increase in oil train traffic in the region. “There’s pent up frustration.”

In November, a car in an oil train arrived at the BP refinery 1,611 gallons short, with an open valve and a missing plug, according to a report from McClatchy, a news organization.

There were 30 Shell refinery employees at the hearing, and six of them registered to give testimony.

The company says that the rail expansion project is not intended to increase the refinery’s capacity but to partially replace crude oil that currently arrives by marine tanker.

“Shell is committed to following the permitting process and taking all appropriate measures to meet rigorous safety and environmental standards,” said Tom Rizzo, Shell Puget Sound Refinery general manager, in an emailed statement. “Shell needs the ability to bring oil in by rail to ensure enough crude to keep the refinery viable so that it can continue to produce gasoline and other fuels for Pacific Northwest consumers, and to generate jobs, economic development and tax revenue for the local community.”

The Skagit County Hearing Examiner will decide whether an environmental review must be conducted before final permits are issued for the Shell Refinery to build the necessary rail spur to receive oil trains.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also reviewing permits for the project.

Lummi Totem Pole Journey Rallies Voices Against Environmental Destruction

Courtesy of 'Kwel Hoy: A Totem Pole Journey'A 19-foot pole carved by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers is being taken on a journey to 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. James carved the pole to compel people to speak out against coal and oil transport projects that could have a devastating impact on the environment. The pole will be raised at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation on September 6.

Courtesy of ‘Kwel Hoy: A Totem Pole Journey’
A 19-foot pole carved by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers is being taken on a journey to 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. James carved the pole to compel people to speak out against coal and oil transport projects that could have a devastating impact on the environment. The pole will be raised at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation on September 6.

 

Richard Walker, 9/2/14, Indian Country Today

 

LUMMI NATION, Washington—At each stop on the totem pole’s journey, people have gathered to pray, sing and take a stand.

They took a stand in Couer d’Alene, Bozeman, Spearfish, Wagner and Lower Brule. They took a stand in Billings, Spokane, Yakama Nation, Olympia and Seattle. They took a stand in Anacortes, on San Juan Island, and in Victoria, Vancouver and Tsleil Waututh.

They’ll take a stand in Kamloops, Calgary and Edmonton. And they’ll take a stand at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, where the pole will be raised after its 5,100-mile journey to raise awareness of environmental threats posed by coal and oil extraction and rail transport.

“The coal trains, the tar sands, the destruction of Mother Earth—this totem [pole] is on a journey. It’s calling attention to these issues,” Linda Soriano, Lummi, told videographer Freddy Lane, Lummi, who is documenting the journey. “Generations yet unborn are being affected by the contaminants in our water.… We need people to take a stand. Warrior up—take a stand, speak up, get involved in these issues. We will not be silent.”

The 19-foot pole was crafted by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers. The pole and entourage left the Lummi Nation on August 17 for 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. The itinerary includes Olympia, the capital of Washington State, and Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The pole is scheduled to arrive at Beaver Lake Cree on September 6.

The journey takes place as U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to ship 400 tanker loads of heavy crude oil each year out of the Northwest; a refinery is proposed in Kitimat, British Columbia, where heavy crude oil from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia; and as Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal at Cherry Point in Lummi Nation territory. Cherry Point is a sacred and environmentally sensitive area; early site preparation for the terminal was done without permits, and ancestral burials were desecrated.

In a guest column published on August 11 in the Bellingham Herald, James wrote that Native peoples have long seen and experienced environmental degradation and destruction of healthy ecosystems, with the result being the loss of traditional foods and medicines, at the expense of people’s health.

And now, the coal terminal proposed at Cherry Point poses “a tremendous ecological, cultural and socio-economic threat” to Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples, James wrote.

“We wonder how Salish Sea fisheries, already impacted by decades of pollution and global warming, will respond to the toxic runoff from the water used for coal piles stored on site,” he wrote. “What will happen to the region’s air quality as coal trains bring dust and increase diesel pollution? And of course, any coal burned overseas will come home to our state as mercury pollution in our fish, adding to the perils of climate change.”

James wrote that the totem pole “brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects.… Our commitment to place, to each other, unites us as one people, one voice to call out to others who understand that our shared responsibility is to leave a better, more bountiful world for those who follow.”

‘This Is the Risk That Is Being Taken’

Recent events contributed to the urgency of the totem pole journey’s message.

Two weeks before the journey got under way, a dike broke at a Quesnel, British Columbia, pond that held toxic byproducts left over from mining; an estimated 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand flowed into lakes and creeks upstream from the Fraser River, a total of four billion gallons of mining waste. A Sto:lo First Nation fisheries adviser told the Chilliwack Progress of reports of fish dying near the spill, either from toxins or asphyxiation from silt clogging their gills; and First Nation and non-Native fisheries are bracing for an impact on this year’s runs.

RELATED: Video: Watch 4 Billion Gallons of Mining Waste Pour Into Pristine B.C. Waterways

On July 24, a Burlington Northern train pulling 100 loads of Bakken crude oil derailed in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. The railcars didn’t leak, but the derailment prompted a statement from Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians.

“People need to know that every time an oil train travels by, this is the risk that is being taken,” she said. “These accidents have occurred before. They will occur again. … The rail and bridge infrastructure in this country is far too inadequate to service the vast expansion of oil traffic we are witnessing.”

RELATED: Seattle Oil-Train Derailment Hits Close to Home for Quinault

A year earlier, on July 6, 2013, an unmanned train with 72 tank cars full of Bakken crude oil derailed in a small Quebec village, killing 47 people. An estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil spilled from ruptured tank cars and burned; according to the Washington Post, it was one of 10 significant derailments since 2008 in the United States and Canada in which oil spilled from ruptured cars.

RELATED: Lac-Mégantic Rail Tragedy Resonates in Quinault Nation as Victims Are Memorialized

Feds Call Bakken Crude Volatile as Quinault Warn Against Oil Rail Transport

Some good news during the journey: As the totem pole and entourage arrived at the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Wagner, South Dakota, word was received that the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected Ambre Energy’s application to build a coal terminal on the Columbia River; the company wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia through the terminal.

RELATED: Treaty Victory as Northwest Tribes Celebrate Oregon Coal Train Rejection

One of the concerns that communities have about coal transport is exposure to coal dust; those concerns are shared by residents of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where proponents of a coal terminal on the Mississippi River forecast an increase in Gulf Coast coal exports from seven million tons in 2011 to 96 million by 2030.

Dr. Marianne Maumus of Ochsner Health Systems told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that coal dust contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium and mercury, and can cause cancer, neurological, renal and brain-development problems.

“I think the risk is real. I think there is a lot of potential harm from multiple sources,” Maumus told the Times-Picayune.

James said there are alternatives to coal and oil—among them energy generated by wind, sun and tides.

“But we’re not going to move toward those until we move away from fossil fuels,” he said.

In his Nation’s territory, Yakama Chairman JoDe L. Goudy told videographer Lane he hopes the pole’s journey will help the voice of Native people “and the voice of those people across the land that have a concern for the well-being of all” to be heard.

“May the journey, the blessing, the collective prayers that’s [being offered] and the awareness that’s being created lift us all up,” he said, “lift us all up to find a way to come against the powers that be … whether it be coal, whether it be oil or whatever it may be.”

Albert Redstar, Nez Perce, advised young people: “Remember the teachings of your people. Remember that there’s another way to look at the world rather than the corporate [way]. It’s time to say no to all that. It’s time to accept the old values and take them as your truths as well.… They’re ready for you to awaken into your own heart today.”

To Unite and Protect

The totem pole journey is being made in honor of the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually. Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, walked on in May.

RELATED: The Fire That Was Billy Frank Jr.; Indian Country’s Greatest Defender

James said the pole depicts a woman representing Mother Earth, lifting a child up; four warriors, representing protectors of the environment; and a snake, representing the power of the Earth. The pole journey has been undertaken in times of crisis several times this century.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004, to help promote healing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, James and the House of Tears Carvers journeyed across the United States with healing poles for Arrow Park, New York, 52 miles north of Ground Zero; Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed; and Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery, seven miles from the Pentagon. And In 2011, James and a 20-foot healing pole for the National Library of Medicine visited nine Native American reservations en route to Bethesda, Maryland. At each stop on the three-week cross-country journey, people prayed, James said at the time, “for the protection of our children, our communities and our elders, and generally helping us move along with the idea that we all need to unite and protect the knowledge that we have, and respect each other.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/02/lummi-totem-pole-journey-rallies-voices-against-environmental-destruction-156696?page=0%2C2

 

New Rule To Reveal How Many Oil Tanker Trains Passing Through Wash.

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2013 file photo is a warning placard on a tank car carrying crude oil near a loading terminal in Trenton, N.D. U.S.Matthew Brown AP Photo

FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2013 file photo is a warning placard on a tank car carrying crude oil near a loading terminal in Trenton, N.D. U.S.
Matthew Brown AP Photo

By Bellamy Pailthorp, KPLU

The rapid increase of trains carrying crude oil across the region has raised alarm bells in the wake of a series of serious accidents. Communities and first responders say they can’t adequately prepare for possible disasters because railroads are not required to give any information on the shipments.

That’s about to change, at least to some extent, with a new regulation that takes effect Friday.

An emergency order from the U.S. Transportation Department will require railroads to tell states how many trains carrying highly-volatile Bakken crude are expected to travel through each week, and on which routes.

The order was issued just a week after the latest oil train accident — a derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia — that sent eight-story fireballs into the sky.

A ‘Small Step’; ‘Hardly Where We Need To Be’

“I think it’s a very small step in the right direction,” said Eric de Place, policy director with Seattle’s Sightline Institute, an environmental think tank that has been reporting on what it calls an emerging “pipeline on rails.” He says the new federal rules don’t go far enough.

“Let’s keep in mind, this is not requiring them to use safer tank cars. This is not requiring them to slow down in our neighborhoods. This is not requiring them to inform emergency responders of the dangers,” de Place said. “All they’re having to do is tell us some very rough figures about how many potentially explosive trains are in our states. So, it’s better than nothing, but it’s hardly where we need to be.”

Sightline has been documenting the growth in oil train traffic. DePlace says nationally, it’s increased nearly 60-fold over the past five years.

Info Will Help Communities Better Prepare

Barb Graf, director of emergency management for the city of Seattle, testified at a recent hearing on rail safety before the U.S. Senate.

She says fire departments need to know when mile-long oil trains are passing through. The new rule will help communities better prepare for disasters “in the same way that we have ongoing discussions with geologists and scientists about what’s our earthquake threat, what’s the recurrence rate and that type of thing,” she said.

“This just gives us more information about the kinds of hazardous materials that would be in our community at any given time,” Graf said.

Advocates for more regulation say they’ll keep pushing. They want more specifics on the shipments, as well as tougher standards for tank car safety. They also say it should apply to all shipments of oil by rail, not just the longest trains carrying Bakken crude.

Wyoming Governor Visits Washington To Promote Coal Exports

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead talks with Millennium Bulk Terminals general manager Bob Steward about the loading dock at the proposed coal export terminal site in Longview, Washington. | credit: Cassandra Profita

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead talks with Millennium Bulk Terminals general manager Bob Steward about the loading dock at the proposed coal export terminal site in Longview, Washington. | credit: Cassandra Profita

By Cassandra Profita, OPB

LONGVIEW, Wash. — A controversial coal export terminal proposed for this Columbia River town has a big supporter from the state of Wyoming.

Its governor was in Longview Tuesday to tour the old aluminum smelter where the The Millennium Bulk coal export terminal would move up to 44 million tons a year of Wyoming coal off trains and onto ships bound for Asia.

It’s a terminal he says is important to coal producers in his state – especially as the industry faces new regulations on coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said he sees coal exports as way to expand the market for the 400 million tons of coal his state produces annually. He’d like to see more terminals like the Millennium project, which would export up to 44 million tons of coal per year.

“That’s a lot of coal, but relative to the amount of coal we produce it’s 10 percent,” Mead said. “So this port and other ports are important to Wyoming in terms of the coal industry.”

MeadTour5
Gov. Mead on the bridge of a ship delivering alumina.

 

But what he calls “unreasonable” new regulations on coal-fired power plants in the U.S. are making it harder to expand coal markets here. Even before those rules came out, coal producers in his state had been looking for Asian buyers for all that Wyoming coal.

“We’ve got to have a continuation in a real way, in an economical way so these companies can keep going, and exports are part of that future,” Mead said.

Companies hoping to be part of that future have proposed a half-dozen coal export terminals around the Northwest. The three proposals still under consideration face a long permitting process and strong local opposition.

In addition to the Longview export project, coal and transportation companies want to build a train-to-ship facility for coal exports on Puget Sound north of Bellingham. The third proposal would involve transporting coal by train to barge to ocean-going vessel with two transport facilities on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

In all they would help transport roughly 100 million tons of coal annually from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.

Mead said expanding the overseas coal trade with export terminals like Millennium will be good for the U.S. and its trading partners. But not everyone sees the benefits he does.

Mead’s visit sparked a protest from opponents of the Millennium project. Outside the terminal site, about 30 people gathered with a bucket of coal.

MeadCoalbucket
Protesters put a bow on a bucket of coal for Mead.

 

Diane Dick of the opponent group Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community spoke at the protest. She said her group has a bucket of coal that came from Wyoming, and she wants to give it back to Gov. Mead while he’s in town.

“We believe his coal should be kept in the ground in Wyoming,” she said. “We don’t want it here. We don’t want it shipped to Asia, where it will be polluting the skies in Asia and will blow back pollution and creating poisonous air for us.”

Mead followed the terminal site tour by meeting with a group of Washington legislators in Longview. He said he wanted to hear their concerns and help answer their questions to build support for the Millennium project.

Marysville project could help traffic avoid train waits

 

By Chris Winters, The Herald

MARYSVILLE ­— A long-term project that will ultimately alleviate some of Marysville’s downtown traffic backups will take a step forward this month.

Traffic flow downtown is hampered by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line that cuts through the heart of the city. All the local streets downtown cross it at grade, leading to major backups whenever a freight train rolls through town.

Key to untangling that mess is where I-5 and Highway 529 meet just south of downtown. The idea is to rebuild the interchange, making it possible for northbound traffic on I-5 to enter town on Highway 529, bypassing the railroad tracks.

The current on- and offramps in the interchange only serve traffic going across Steamboat Slough and the Snohomish River to and from north Everett. The Fourth Street exit off I-5 drops traffic just west of the tracks, and a long train can keep traffic backed up all the way onto the freeway.

The city has budgeted $1.5 million this year for an initial design and planning proposal for the interchange project, Chief Administrative Officer Gloria Hirashima said.

That money, plus another $500,000 provided by Snohomish County, will fund the initial design work.

Mayor Jon Nehring highlighted the project in his State of the City speech last week, pointing out that the city would be able to take that preliminary plan to the state or federal government to get money to build the full interchange.

While it is still too early to put a price tag on the project, similar types of interchange expansion projects run in the $35 million to $40 million range, Hirashima said.

The City Council is expected to award a contract for the work to Bellevue-based engineering firm HDR Inc., probably this month, Hirashima said.

Over the longer term, the city also plans to investigate two other interchanges on I-5 for possible changes.

The main downtown interchange to Fourth Street needs improving, Hirashima said, and traffic backups there are also a contributor to downtown congestion.

The second location is where 156th St. NE crosses over I-5 near the north end of the city. The city’s Smokey Point Master Plan would transform 675 acres of agricultural land east of the overpass into a commercial and light industrial manufacturing center that could provide 10,000 new jobs to the region.

Transforming the overpass into a full interchange would improve access to the area and reduce the amount of traffic on 172nd Street NE that development is expected to bring.

“We’re very dependent on I-5 to move people back and forth, so we’re interested in working with the state to talk about improving interchanges,” Hirashima said.