New Oil Train Car Safety Rules

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/24/business/government-proposes-faster-changes-in-rail-tank-cars.html

Federal regulators said on Wednesday that they would require railroads and oil shippers to use stronger tank cars to transport crude oil within two years.

The new rules lay out a speedier timetable than initially expected to phase out old cars in response to a spate of derailments and spills involving oil trains in the last year.

The timetable, which is faster than a similar effort in Canada to phase out older tank cars within three years, could put pressure on manufacturers to build or retrofit tank cars in time to meet the new mandate.

The rules by the Transportation Department offer a wide range of measures to enhance the safety of oil trains, some of which had already been adopted by railroads on a voluntary basis in recent months, like notifying state emergency responders about train traffic, reducing speed limits or picking the safest route.

After a series of derailments, many local and state officials have expressed concern about the rapid rise of oil train traffic across the country. Many critics have called for retiring older tank cars that have been vulnerable to puncturing and exploding in a crash. Making things worse, the kind of oil that comes out of the Bakken region — which includes shale fields in North Dakota — is particularly flammable and prone to explosion.
Under the new rules, tank cars used for crude oil, ethanol and other petroleum products would require thicker steel shielding and better thermal protection, and would have to be fitted with more crash-resistant valves. Older models that cannot be refitted with these features would have to be retired or used for less hazardous materials.

Transportation officials are still seeking public comment on whether to outfit the new cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection, and whether to use seven-sixteenths-inch or nine-sixteenths-inch steel. The department said the proposed rules would be open to public comment for 60 days. Final rules are expected by early next year.

The Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car makers, had a muted response to the plan, saying it would review the proposed rules and respond.

The Transportation Department has been working on the new standard for several years. But the rapid development of domestic oil supplies from the Bakken shale region has caught many officials off guard. Most of that oil is transported by rail, given the lack of pipelines to take the oil to refineries.

The hazards of transporting crude oil by rail were made apparent last July, when an oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, destroying much of the city center and killing 47 people.

A new tank car design was introduced in 2011 with some enhanced features, but those cars have also been involved in spills — most recently in April, when an oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., and spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River.

About 98,000 tank cars are in service carrying crude oil and ethanol in the United States and Canada, according to the Association of American Railroads. Known as DOT-111s, their design dates to the 1960s, and a majority were built before 2011. About 18,000 have been built since then and could be modified if needed, according to industry officials.

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“We are proposing to phase out the DOT-111 tank car in its current form,” Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, said on a conference call with reporters, adding that current oil trains “obviously present a safety risk.”

Some industry officials point out that phasing out older cars too fast would lead to a shortage that might curtail the surging production of oil from the Bakken. The new standard would apply to cars built after Oct. 1, 2015.

The new rules would classify any train with more than 20 tank cars carrying crude oil as a “high-hazard flammable train.” Regulators are seeking public comment on new speed limits for those trains, including whether to set up 40 miles-per-hour restrictions in urban areas with more than 100,000 people.

The Transportation Department is also working on separate rules that would require shippers to set up a comprehensive emergency oil-response spill plan.

The new rules require railroads to select the route posing “the least overall safety and security risk” when transporting oil by using the same analysis they perform when transporting other types of hazardous, toxic or radioactive material. This requirement had been part of the voluntary set of measures that railroads had agreed to undertake this year. The new rules, however, do not address what critics perceive is the industry’s opacity when picking a specific route for its shipments or the lack of information that railroads provided to local authorities.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said the Transportation Department should further strengthen provisions to notify emergency medical workers and local authorities for oil trains moving through their communities. Shippers are asked to give monthly assessments to state emergency response officials. “The failure to broaden notification requirements is especially baffling,” he said in a statement.

Federal regulators have acknowledged the high level of risk associated with these oil trains. Federal inspectors have tested Bakken crude and concluded that it was “on the high end of volatility” compared with other types of crude oils, Mr. Foxx said. This means it has a higher gas content, higher vapor pressure and a lower flash point and boiling point than other types of oils, making it more flammable.

This assertion drew a sharp denial from the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s trade group. It said: “The best science and data do not support recent speculation that crude oil from the Bakken presents greater than normal transportation risks. DOT needs to get this right and make sure that its regulations are grounded in facts and sound science, not speculation.”

California Rail Safety

http://blogs.kqed.org/science/audio/california-has-little-say-over-oil-train-safety/

California Has Little Say Over Oil Train Safety
Molly Samuel, KQED Science | July 21, 2014

The number of trains carrying crude oil across California is increasing rapidly, and two official reports say the state is not ready. Regulators are preparing, with funds for disaster response and more track inspectors, but they’re limited in how much they can do to make rail transport safer.

“My view is it’s pretty undeniably bringing in extra risks to the state,” said Paul King, deputy directory for rail safety at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

“These trains explode,” King said. “If that were to happen in a town, there’s no telling the damage. And of course we know what happened in little Lac-Mégantic.” That’s the town in Quebec where a train carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken formation derailed last July. The explosion killed 47 people.

‘These trains explode.’
– Paul King, California Public Utilities Commission

Bakken crude is volatile. In the past year, trains transporting crude from the Bakken have also exploded in North Dakota, Virginia and Alabama.
Trains carrying Bakken crude traverse California, too, bringing the oil to refineries here. And while the CPUC regulates rail in California, the state can’t actually do much when it comes telling the railroads how they can operate. Almost all of those rules are up to the federal government.

‘Our Hands in California Are Tied’

The state can’t set speed limits on crude oil trains. It can’t tell railroads to choose less hazardous routes. It can’t tell oil companies not to bring trains carrying the volatile crude through cities. It can’t tell oil companies to ship that crude in stronger tank cars. It can’t require upgraded braking systems.

Neither can local governments, though the cities of Davis, Richmond and Berkeley have all passed resolutions expressing their opposition to the transport of crude oil by rail.

“I almost feel like our hands in California are tied, yet all these trains are going through our communities,” State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a democrat from Santa Barbara, said at a hearing last month.

Trains carried nearly 6.3 million barrels of oil into California in 2013. That’s more than five times more than in 2012. According to the California Energy Commission, by 2016 that number could balloon to more than 100 million barrels.

That’s because there’s an oil boom in the middle part of the continent, and to get that crude from Alberta and North Dakota to California, oil companies have to use trains.

There are ways to make the trains safer.

Most of the tank cars used to transport crude oil, including the volatile Bakken crude, are old, and can’t protect against explosions. After the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada required that the most dangerous of the cars — the same tank cars that carry as much as 82 percent of crude oil in the U.S. — be removed from service, and that the rest be retrofitted.

The U.S. is considering stricter tank car standards. Last week, the advocacy group Earthjustice sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, urging the agency to move faster by issuing an emergency order immediately banning the use of the unsafe cars.

But California can’t require any of this. The CPUC intends to urge the DOT to “move expeditiously” to update its tank car regulations. That, and other recommendations, are laid out in a recent report on crude-by-rail safety in the state. The state wants the feds to require that there be newer braking technology on oil trains and a GPS-based system that prevents accidents on oil train routes. According to King, the CPUC will submit those recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration soon.

The railroads have already adopted some voluntary safety measures, including lower speed limits and increased track inspections. And Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the company that is currently transporting large amounts of Bakken crude in California, is asking railcar manufacturers to submit bids to build 5,000 safer cars. (The railroads typically don’t own the cars used to ship material; the oil companies themselves either own or lease them.)

The CPUC has done one of the main things it can: hire more railroad safety inspectors. The CPUC keeps a list of the most hazardous sections of track, and according to a recent report, the most frequent cause of derailments at those sites are track problems. The new state budget adds seven positions, bringing the CPUC’s inspection staff to 38. CPUC staff checks all the tracks in California once a year and, going forward, will check the tracks on Bakken oil train routes twice a year.

Revealed: Routes for Trains Hauling Volatile Crude Oil in California

Bay Area Cities and Environmentalists Respond to Crude-By-Rail Boom

California’s Not Ready for Influx of Oil Trains, Says Report
A Past Disaster

California once tried to introduce stricter railroad regulations.

In July, 1991, a train derailed in Northern California at a bend in the track where it crosses the Upper Sacramento River, near the town of Dunsmuir. It spilled 19,000 gallons of a pesticide called metam sodium into the river.

“It killed everything down to the bacteria,” said Mark Stopher, who was hired by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to assess the damage to the river.

The poison killed more than a million fish, and every insect and plant in the river for 40 miles. “Nobody’s ever seen anything like that before,” he said. In video from the time, you can see fish struggling to escape the river and get into tributaries. Stopher said they all died.

“It was kind of a blow to the heart to lose the river,” said Phil Dietrich, executive director of a conservation group called River Exchange.

The Upper Sacramento had been a popular fishing destination. So when the fish were gone, the tourists, and their money, disappeared too.

But it was a pulse of poison; metam sodium doesn’t linger. A few years later, the fish were back. The tourists are back, too. It could have been worse, if what spilled had been a substance that lasts in the environment for a longer time. Oil, for instance.

After the accident, the CPUC tried to require stronger track at Cantara Loop, to keep it from happening again.

“We were trying to adopt regulations where there were none,” said King. But they couldn’t. The railroad sued the CPUC, and eventually the court sided with the railroad, reinforcing the Federal Railroad Administration’s jurisdiction. There is a large rail in place on the bridge now, to help keep trains from derailing into the river. According to the CPUC, there have been four derailments in the area since 2009.

“Our role is limited,” King said. “Our role is to ensure that the regulations that the federal government has in place are followed.”

Beefing Up Clean-Up

Even if the the state can’t do all it wants to keep an accident from happening, it can prepare to respond to one.

In June, dozens of fire fighters, public health experts and Red Cross volunteers gathered near Cantara Loop to run a drill. The scenario was that an oil train had collided with an illegal marijuana grower’s truck at the site of the ’91 spill. The truck wrecked, and the train derailed and spilled oil into the river.

Firefighters pulled the casualties (volunteers marked with paint) away from the scene, a helicopter brought tools to treat people who’d been doused in dangerous chemicals and a team deployed a drone to get a view of the (largely imaginary) disaster scene from above.

“We want to make sure California’s prepared to respond,” said Alexia Rettalack of California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). “Spills happen. When product moves, things happen.”

OSPR got more money in this year’s budget, so that it can prepare for inland oil spills. Until now, the agency focused only on marine accidents. The state Office of Emergency Services is also looking for ways to better prepare emergency responders, many of whom are volunteers, for an oil train explosion. And state lawmakers are considering a couple of crude-by-rail bills that would improve emergency responses.

Dietrich emphasizes that what happened in Dunsmuir in 1991 was a rare event, and yet, the memory lingers.

“It comes down to we care about our river and about our towns,” he said. “And we hope that the agencies and the railroad are on top of it.”

“extremely low-frequency” EMF Radiation

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/08/science/debate-continues-on-hazards-of-electromagnetic-waves.html?hpw&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpHedThumbWell&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well

Everywhere in the modern world, the throb of alternating current generates electromagnetic waves — from the television, the blender, the light bulbs, the wires in the wall.
Because the oscillations are very slow (just 60 hertz, or cycles per second), this type of radiation is called “extremely low-frequency.” It was long thought harmless because it is too weak to knock out electrons and directly damage molecules in the body.
But on July 11, 1989, Science Times reported the uncomfortable possibility that this ubiquitous background radiation might cause cancer.
An epidemiological study comparing children in Denver who died of cancer from 1950 to 1973 with a control group of other children found that those who lived near electrical distribution lines were twice as likely to develop the disease as those who did not. A subsequent study, by other scientists who sought to eliminate what were seen as flaws in the first study, had nearly identical conclusions.
Laboratory experiments provided more reasons for concern. Electromagnetic radiation, particularly the magnetic part of it, changed some functioning in cells and altered the action of neurotransmitters. Pulses of 60-hertz radiation increased the number of abnormal embryos in chicken eggs.
The article quoted Dr. David O. Carpenter, then the dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany: “The whole thing is very worrisome. We see the tips of the iceberg, but we have no idea how big the iceberg is. It ought to concern us all.”
25 YEARS LATER Dr. Carpenter is still at the same university, as the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment. He still finds 60-hertz radiation worrisome.
“Almost nothing has changed in 25 years in terms of the controversy, although the evidence for biological effects of electromagnetic fields continues to grow stronger,” he wrote via email last week.
In reviewing the research, the World Health Organization has categorized extremely low-frequency waves as “possibly carcinogenic”: There appears to be an increase in leukemia rates with long-term exposure to magnetic fields stronger than 0.4 microtesla. The earth’s magnetic field is about 100 times stronger, but it is not oscillating, a crucial distinction. (Concerns about other childhood cancers have largely abated.)
But only a small fraction of people are exposed to extremely low-frequency waves that strong. “It’s not a very normal type of exposure,” said Emilie van Deventer, the leader of a W.H.O. project to assess the health effects of electromagnetic fields.
One reason for the continuing uncertainty is that scientists have yet to explain how such waves could lead to cancer. Leukemia is a relatively rare disease, striking fewer than one in 5,000 children in the United States; its causes are hard to study, and even if a link were established, any effort to shield the world from low-frequency radiation would at best prevent a small number of cancers.
“In terms of a public health perspective and in terms of what one would think of suggesting in terms of regulations, you can see that the risk-benefit ratio would be quite unbalanced,” Dr. van Deventer said. “And this is if we were able to show causality.”
In recent years, concerns have migrated to frequencies that oscillate not 60 times a second but millions to billions of times — those used by cellphones, cordless phones and wireless networks. Dr. Carpenter, for example, would like to keep Wi-Fi out of schools, even though there is no direct evidence of harm as of yet and it broadcasts at lower energy levels than cellphones; the W.H.O. calls the radio frequencies used by cellphones, Wi-Fi and other telecommunication devices also “possibly carcinogenic.”
“Which is a little bit difficult to explain to the public,” Dr. van Deventer said. “People like to have a black-and-white answer.
“Looking at trends over the last 20, 30 years, we don’t see an increase” in cancer, she said. “But again, we don’t know. If it takes cancer 10 years to promote, maybe we will see it in the next 10 years.”
The possible hazards have not deterred her from a modern lifestyle. “Yes, I am calling you, talking to you using my cellphone,” she said. “I have a microwave. I have everything. It doesn’t change anything for me.”
She added, ”But from a professional point of view, it’s important that we stay on top of it.”
The W.H.O. project is working on a new report summarizing the health risks of radio-frequency fields, to be published next year.

Rail Safety for Crude Oil Transport

New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

By Curtis Tate
ctate@mcclatchydc.com

Published: Friday, Jul. 4, 2014 – 10:01 pm

A map put together by multiple state agencies in California shows that the location and capability of emergency response teams don’t always align with the biggest risks presented by an expected increase in crude oil shipments by rail in the coming years.

The map shows that the state’s largest population centers, including Sacramento, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, have the most robust emergency response capabilities.

But rural stretches of California’s rail network, including locations with a history of derailments, have the least equipped and least trained emergency response teams, according to the map produced by the Interagency Working Group on Oil by Rail Safety.

The map shows large concentrations of hospitals, schools and neighborhoods around many rail lines through California cities. Additionally, it shows that the state’s rail network frequently intersects with fault lines, rivers and streams and sensitive wildlife habitats.

California has some of the best-trained and best-equipped emergency response teams in the country, according to some experts, but they’re not always where they’re needed.

“Proximity matters,” said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.

Since Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a shift in state oil spill and prevention resources in his budget in January, members of the California Legislature have held hearings and offered legislation to improve the state’s preparedness.

“Everyone recognizes this is a critical need throughout the state,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.

Starting next year, California will begin imposing a 6.5-cent-a-barrel fee on oil transported to the state by rail to fund oil spill response and prevention efforts. State lawmakers have introduced another bill to levy an additional fee to train and equip firefighters who may be called to respond to a rail incident.

California officials soon expect the state to receive as much as a quarter of its oil supply by rail, which means more frequent train movements through the state’s highest-risk areas.

“It makes what we’re doing that much more important,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The map was presented last week by the state Environmental Protection Agency at a workshop on crude oil trends at Berkeley City College. It shows a dearth of response capability in locations where derailments have occurred more frequently, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

These include the Cantara Loop on the upper Sacramento River, the site of a 1991 train derailment that released thousands of gallons of pesticide, killing fish along a 40-mile stretch of the river.

They also include the Feather River Canyon, which according to documents released last week by OES, is the route of a twice-monthly train of Bakken crude oil. The trains, operated by BNSF, pass through Sacramento on their way to a rail terminal in Richmond.

“A spill into these sources of water makes it even more problematic,” Pavley said.

Another vulnerable site: Cuesta Grade, a steep, serpentine stretch of track north of San Luis Obispo. A proposed crude-by-rail terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, south of San Luis Obispo, would bring five 80-car oil trains a week over the line, operated by Union Pacific.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said that the railroad had reached out to fire departments across California in the communities where it operates and has offered “comprehensive” hazardous materials training to first responders around the state.

“We annually train local, state and federal first-responders on protocols to minimize the impact of a derailment in their communities,” he said.

BNSF, the railroad that hauls more crude oil than any in North America, is offering hazardous materials training for hundreds of firefighters, including some in Sacramento, according to spokeswoman Lena Kent.

Trains transporting crude oil are not new in California. From 1983 to 1997, Southern Pacific Railroad operated one such train every day between Bakersfield and South Los Angeles over the Tehachapi Pass.

But that oil was thicker California crude that doesn’t ignite easily, and it was also transported in specially designed tank cars. Much of the crude oil coming into the state today is lighter and more flammable, and it’s loaded into a fleet of tank cars with a long record of failure in derailments.

“In light of new risks, it’s essential for first responders to have the right training and equipment to prepare for and respond to accidents,” said Curtis Brundage, a hazardous materials specialist with the San Bernardino Fire Department, in a state Senate hearing last month.

The worst accident occurred a year ago, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. An unmanned Bakken crude oil train broke loose and derailed in the center of town. Massive fires and explosions killed 47 people and leveled entire blocks of buildings.

More derailments followed, though none fatal, as the railroads and the federal government initiated a series of safety improvements. Emergency response officials from all over the country have testified in Washington in the past few months that local fire departments lack the resources to confront large fires from trains carrying 3 million gallons of oil.

In a report last month, OES made a dozen recommendations to improve the safety of California communities, including increased track inspections, stronger tank cars, more funding for emergency response and better notification of hazardous shipments from the railroads.

Hill gives the railroads credit for taking the issue seriously with stepped-up track inspections, new operating procedures, orders for stronger tank cars and offers to train emergency personnel. But he added that state lawmakers and agencies were right to push for more before a trickle of oil shipments by rail to California turned into a steady stream.

“We saw what happened elsewhere,” he said. “This is just to make sure California is prepared.”

Call Curtis Tate, Bee Washington Bureau, (202) 383-6018. Follow him on Twitter, @tatecurtis

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/07/04/6534524/new-map-shows-california-emergency.html#storylink=cpy

Link

California Rail Safety Authority

POSTED:   06/26/2014 05:57:49 AM PDT

 
 

BERKELEY — California agencies have very little authority to regulate a massive increase in crude oil shipments by rail, and only now are they realizing the magnitude of the potentially explosive situation, according to state officials speaking Wednesday at a workshop sponsored by the California Energy Commission.

“It’s a wake up call when you look at the projections,” said commission Chair Robert Weisenmiller. “We have to plan for the worst case.”

Only in the last month, thanks to an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation, have railroads begun to disclose to the state Office of Emergency Services shipments of 1million gallons or more of highly flammable Bakken crude oil. Before that happened May 7, nobody knew anything about the shipments or where they were going, Weisenmiller said.

Crude oil rail shipments have increased 506 percent in 2013 to 6.3 million barrels, according to a report by the state Interagency Rail Safety Working Group released June 10. That number could increase to 150 million barrels of oil in 2016, it said. Petroleum spills on railroads in California increased from 98 in 2010 to 182 in 2013, according to the Office of Emergency Services.

In California, crude goes by rail to the cities of Richmond, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Carson, Long Beach and Vernon, according to the energy commission.

The only thing state and local governments can do to try and prevent a catastrophic disaster is to enforce federal rules and prepare local first responders, officials said. The regulatory effort falls on the California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey.

“I’m not enthusiastic about having tens of thousands of tank cars running around California because accidents are inevitable,” Peevey said at the workshop. “There’s been a huge increase in volume and we have to step up our awareness and activities, in cooperation with the federal government, but the feds have the ultimate responsibility.”

The commission recently added seven rail safety inspectors who look at rail cars, railroad lines, bridges and shipping requirements, bringing the total to 59 inspectors statewide, which Peevey said was adequate for this year.

Peevey dismissed criticism that the PUC has been too easy on industry it is supposed to regulate, and assured the public it is up to the task.

“We’ve been pretty darn tough,” he said.

Weisenmiller said the state first needs to identify the areas most at risk for crashes and make sure the tracks are maintained. He acknowledged there is no way to prevent shipments from coming into the state, but the state can “get its act together and reach out to communities near rail lines and provide first responders with information and technical expertise,” so they can respond to an accident.

As the state tries to catch up and wrap its collective mind around the increased shipments, oil companies are attempting to add projects that would bring in more oil by rail.

Valero Refining Co. is planning on 100 cars per day to its Benicia facility by the first quarter of 2015; West Pac Energy is planning 70 cars per day to a facility in Pittsburg; Phillips 66 is planning a crude-by-rail project in Santa Maria that could bring shipments through the Bay Area; Alon USA is planning 200 cars a day in Bakersfield and Plains All American is planning for 200 cars a day in Bakersfield, according to the Oil by Rail Safety in California report.

Union Pacific Railroad Spokeswoman Liisa Lawson Stark said the company is not transporting any Bakken crude into the state, but it is bringing in other types of oil.

But Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is bringing in nine full train loads of Bakken per month into California, said spokeswoman LaDonna DiCamillo. She did not know how many tank cars each train has or what the actual volume is.

Lawson Stark said that even though railroads are now required to report shipments of the highly flammable Bakken crude oil to the Office of Emergency Services, the information most likely will not be available to the public. A spokesman for the office did not immediately return phone calls.

Reach Doug Oakley at 925-234-1699. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.

 
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