Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion
When Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner sees rail cars full of crude oil rumble down the tracks that criss-cross his Chicago-area town, he often thinks about the derailment that killed 47 people almost a year ago in Canada.
The disaster focused attention on the design of the oil tankers, yet two-thirds of the tank cars in use today are still older models that safety experts say are vulnerable to puncture. The July 6 derailment last year in Quebec and seven other major ones in the U.S. and Canada since then have spilled more than 3 million gallons of oil, with some cars catching fire or exploding.
“You can see tanker car after tanker car go by on that rail constantly,” said Weisner, whose city is 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Chicago and second to it in population in Illinois.
Thomas Simpson, president of the Rail Supply Institute, a Washington-based group that represents tank car makers and owners like GATX, said the Transportation Department should take a “holistic approach” to rail safety, including steps to prevent derailments and to ensure the oil being transported isn’t especially volatile. The group supports upgrades to the DOT-111 car, though not the thicker shelled car advocated by the Association of American Railroads.
Some safety advocates say mile-long trains filled with oil are inherently unsafe. No tank car design would hold-up in a derailment when the train is traveling 40 miles per hour or faster, said Fred Millar, a safety consultant in Virginia.
You would think that the 47 deaths in Lac Megantic would bring about big changes in rail safety. But the federal government – the only level of government that can regulate what moves on rail lines – has treated this primarily as a public relations problem rather than a public safety problem.
For example, the fed did move quickly to codify some commons sense measures like making it a requirement that rail employees lock the door to the locomotive if they are leaving the train unattended. But as revealed in documents we obtained under Access to Information legislation, the government gave in to industry lobbying and removed the (safer, but more expensive) requirement that oil trains have someone in attendance at all times.
We also got our hands on internal government memos showing that the Harper government was so fixated on getting oil to market cheaply, that they ignored safety warnings from their own experts. And we publicized the behind-the-scenes discussions between the feds, CN Rail and the oil company Nexen about a plan to ship 700 carloads per day of oil through northern British Columbia -- a project that could match the capacity of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, but without a comparable public review process.
These revelations illustrate how the federal government is putting oil and rail company profits ahead of public safety.
There has been some action. In April, the federal government announced that the use of pre-2011 DOT-111 rail cars to transport hazardous liquids must be phased out by 2017, and that better emergency response plans need to be in place in the event of an accident. It is important to note, however, that the Canadian Transportation Safety Board has said that the post-2011 DOT-111 design is also not safe enough for the transport of hazardous liquids like crude oil and there is no timeline for taking them off the rails.
We have been arguing for over a year (for examples, see here and here, and most recently here) that the government should ban the transport of oil in these unsafe cars immediately. Yet the feds continue to allow the construction of new oil-by-rail loading and unloading facilities, even though they know that the cars that will be travelling to and from these facilities are unsafe.
The government and the oil justify this by saying that oil must get to market, so we must choose between new pipelines or increased oil-by-rail.
When energy companies started extracting oil from shale formations in South Texas a few years ago, they invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make the volatile crude safer to handle.
In North Dakota's Bakken Shale oil field, nobody installed the necessary equipment. The result is that the second-fastest growing source of crude in the U.S. is producing oil that pipelines often would reject as too dangerous to transport.
Now the decision not to build the equipment is coming back to haunt the oil industry as the federal government seeks to prevent fiery accidents of trains laden with North Dakota oil. Investigators probing crude-by-rail accidents, including one a year ago that killed 47 people in Quebec, are trying to determine why shale oil has proved so combustible—a question that has taken on growing urgency as rail shipments rise.
Only one stabilizer, which can remove the most volatile gases before transport, has been built in North Dakota and it hasn't begun operation, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal.
Stabilizers use heat and pressure to force light hydrocarbon molecules—including ethane, butane and propane—to form into vapor and boil out of the liquid crude. The operation can lower the vapor pressure of crude oil, making it less volatile and therefore safer to transport by pipeline or rail tank car.
Thanks, I will do some spotting. I found a list here:kuidaskassikaeb wrote:Anyway, if anybody is doing any trainspotting. Placard numbers 1276 are crude oil.
1075 is propane or butane
and gasoline is 1203.
More than three dozen trains carrying volatile crude oil move through Wisconsin each week from the Northern Plains, disclosures from railroads show.
State officials released the information in response to a public records request from The Associated Press.
The disclosures show BNSF Railway is the primary hauler of oil, moving between 26 and 44 trains per week along an eight county route that parallels the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin. Canadian Pacific Railway moves on average 4 trains a week along a route that crosses from La Crosse southeast to Milwaukee, then down into Illinois.
Each train can carry about 3 million gallons of oil.
Federal officials ordered railroads to turn over details of the shipments to states after a string of fiery accidents involving oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada. Before the Bakken began booming about five years ago, very little oil moved by rail in the U.S.
Derailments of Bakken tank cars have caused explosions in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Quebec, where 47 were killed when a runaway train crashed into the city of Lac-Megantic last July.
Highly explosive fracked oil from North Dakota passes through Central New York cities and villages several times a week and could explode on any trip, said environmentalists from several different groups today.
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