HAZMAT transportation

  • Crude-by-railWashington State requires railroads to plan for the “largest foreseeable spill”

    Washington State governor Jay Inslee (D) has signed a new state law last month which requires railroad companies to plan with the state for the worst possible conditions when shipping crude oil. The law will require companies to plan for the “largest foreseeable spill in adverse weather conditions.” Much of the impetus for the new bill came after BNSF told Washington emergency responders in April that the company considers the worst-case spill scenario to involve 150,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken region, which includes parts of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan, Canada. That amount of crude is carried by five tanker cars — but BNSF crude-oil trains often consist of 100 or more rail tank cars.

  • Crude-by-railUpdated crude oil regulation worries environmental groups, increases shipments

    Following several deadly explosions of oil-tanker railroad cars in towns across the United States and Canada in the past several years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an emergency order that required railroads publicly to inform states of movements of 100 crude oil tanker cars or more as part of any single shipment. However, on 1 May the agency revised the order with a long-awaited rule which would require carriers to upgrade tanker cars instead of having to report the information, leading some to question the safety of the new ruling.

  • Crude-by-railNew oil trains safety rules short on preparedness, training regs: Critics

    New federal safety measures for oil trains announced earlier this month are being criticized by emergency responders who say the measures fail to address the issue of preparedness.The new rules, which go into effect next year, do not require railroads to notify state officials of Bakken crude oil shipments, and fire departments seeking that information will have to contact the railroads directly. Firefighter groups say 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area.

  • Rail securityNew safety rules for crude oil shipments by rail criticized by both sides

    Regulators with the Department of Transportation(DOT) last Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by rail. The measures are expected to improve rail safety and reduce the risk of oil train accidents, but both the railway industry and public safety advocates have already issued criticism. Lawmakers representing states with oil trains traffic say the regulations do not go far enough in protecting the public, while railway representatives say the rules would be costly and result in few safety benefits.

  • view counter
  • Oil-by-rail transportShipping oil by rail is booming. Technology can make it safer

    By Bryan W. Schlake

    Last year, trains transported more than one million barrels of oil per day in 2014 — a huge jump from 55,000 barrels per day in 2010. This increase in oil-by-rail transportation has come with a number of high-profile derailments. Can technology improve safety? Yes. While the risk associated with oil train derailments has not been eliminated, the transportation of crude oil by rail has certainly become safer through extensive research, development, and implementation of new technologies. Continued efforts by railroads, government agencies, research institutions, and universities will continue to improve the safety of crude oil transportation by rail, reducing risk and potentially alleviating public fears associated with railroad transportation.

  • Oil-by-rail transportDespite disasters, oil-by-rail transport is getting safer

    By Bryan W. Schlake

    Oil production in the United States is booming. Last year, for the first time since 1987, annual U.S. field production of crude oil topped three billion barrels, a 170 percent increase since 2008. As pipelines quickly reached capacity, oil shippers turned to the railroads, which provided multiple incentives, including: flexibility in shipping options and contract timelines, shorter transit times to the refineries (five to seven days by rail compared with 40 days by pipeline), and the ability to choose which refineries to use. Oil production in the Bakken formation in North Dakota has increased from 81,000 barrels per day in 2003 to more than one million barrels by mid-2014 — with more than three-quarters of those barrels moving daily by rail out of North Dakota. With U.S. crude oil transport by rail nearing all-time highs, many are expressing fears about the potential of a crude oil spill in their community.

  • view counter
  • Rail security437,000 crude oil barrels carried daily by rail from North Dakota to East Coast refineries

    In the wake of recent oil train derailments in West Virginia, and Galena, Illinois, the federal government has answered calls to release oil train figures. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, taking numbers from industry and government, report that more than one million barrels of crude oil move by train across the United States every day.Federal crude-by-rail information reveals that 437,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil were shipped daily in January from North Dakota to East Coast refineries. Those shipments passed through the Chicago area, making the region the country’s hub for oil train shipments.

  • Rail securityToronto wants Ottawa to make rail traffic through city safer

    Seventeen city councilors have joined Toronto mayor John Tory to push federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt to adopt measures meant to improve rail safety in the city. Canadian Pacific runs a rail line through Toronto, and the line carries crude oil, highly toxic substances, and radioactive materials. Considering the recent oil train accidents in Canada and the United States, residents near rail lines are concerned.

  • HazmatCrude-oil train accidents endanger 1.5 million Pennsylvania residents

    About 1.5 million people living in Pennsylvania are in danger if a crude-oil train derails and catches fire, according to an analysis which looked at populations living or working within a half-mile on each side of rail lines where trains haul more than one million gallons of Bakken crude oil at a time. A half-mile is the federal evacuation zone recommended when a crude oil tank car catches fire. Within that evacuation zone are 327 K-12 schools, thirty-seven hospitals, and sixty-one nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

  • HazmatDerailments, ruptures of new crude-oil tank cars raise safety concerns

    Following a series of crude-oil train derailments in 2013 and early 2014, the Transportation Department proposed new rules for tank cars carrying crude. The rules suggest three main options for tank cars: railroads would use the improved CPC-1232 tank cars, develop stronger cars, or retrofit existing cars. Critics of the rail industry’s growing volume of crude-oil shipments note that four recent oil train derailments relied on CPC-1232 cars, therefore improvements to crude by rail shipments must extend beyond new tank cars.

  • Rail securityApplying life-saving lessons from past train derailments

    Firefighters and first responders who were called two weeks ago to an oil train derailment near Mount Carbon, West Virginia applied life-saving lessons learned from a rail disaster which occurred thirty-seven years ago. When the CSX train derailed near Mount Carbon last month, local firefighters could have sprayed water and foam on the fire from the explosion, but instead they evacuated residents, maintained a safe distance, and let the fire run its course — which took four days. Choosing not to put the fire out with water likely prevented contamination of the Kanawha River, a local source of drinking water.

  • HazmatCost of derailments of oil-carrying trains over the next two decades: $4.5 billion

    A 2014 CSX derailment led to roughly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilling in and around the James River, West Virginia. Another CSX train derailed last week in the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon. The explosion that followed forced about 1,000 people to evacuate from their homes. The United States will likely experience more oil train derailments as long as Bakken crude oil is transported via rail from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region to U.S. refineries. Oil train accidents often lead to pipeline advocates pushing for more pipelines, but data from PHMSA shows that while oil trains have more frequent accidents, pipelines accidents cause much larger spills.

  • HazmatCalls for improving safety of oil-carrying trains grow in wake of this week’s accidents

    Oil trains transporting crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota and Canada to refineries in the Northeast have suffered several derailments in the past few years. The U.S.Department of Transportation(DOT) has since urged rail companies to adopt new train cars which could better survive derailments, and to retrofit current cars by 2017. Still, railway safety advocates say companies need to do more to ensure the safety of their tracks and cars. Two separate oil train accidents this week support their concerns.

  • HazmatMore crude-oil trains means more accidents, spills

    In 2013 U.S. railroads carried more than 400,000 car loads of crude oil, a sharp increase from the 9,500 they carried in 2008. Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region has fueled most of the surge, and this surge has increased the potential for rail accidents. Each train carrying more than a million gallons of Bakken crude could cause damage similar to what occurred in July 2013, when a runaway train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing forty-seven people. Another derailment near Lynchburg, Virginia in April 2014, spilled about 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the James River.

  • HazmatSimulations help make transport of explosives safer

    In 2005, a semi-truck hauling 35,000 pounds of explosives through the Spanish Fork Canyon in Utah crashed and caught fire, causing a dramatic explosion that left a 30- by-70-foot crater in the highway. The cause of the massive blast on the Utah highway, brought on by a process called deflagration-to-detonation transition (DDT), posed something of a mystery. The semi-truck was transporting 8,400 cylinders of explosives intended for blasting operations in the mining industry. Despite the cargo’s volatile nature, it was not supposed to detonate violently as it did. Such accidents are extremely rare but can obviously have devastating results. So understanding better exactly how such explosions occur can be an important step to learning how better to prevent them.