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Feds Issue Emergency Order On Crude Oil Trains 211

Posted by timothy
from the what-about-a-line-of-pipes dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Joan Lowy writes for AP that the Department of Transportation has issued an emergency order requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials about the movement of large shipments of crude oil through their states and urged shippers not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in accidents, even at slow speeds. The emergency order follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a 'higher body count' as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety regulations to become final. There have been nine oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since March of last year, many of them resulting in intense fires and sometimes the evacuation of nearby residents, according to the NTSB. The latest was last week, when a CSX train carrying Bakken crude derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sending three tank cars into the James River and shooting flames and black smoke into the air. Concern about the safe transport of crude oil was heightened after a runaway oil train derailed and then exploded last July in the small town of Lac-Megantic in Canada, just across the border from Maine. More than 60 tank cars spilled more than 1.3 million gallons of oil. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings destroyed in the resulting inferno. Hersman says that over her 10 years on the board she has 'seen a lot of difficulty when it comes to safely rules being implemented if we don't have a high enough body count. That is a tombstone mentality. We know the steps that will prevent or mitigate these accidents. What is missing is the will to require people to do so.'"
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Feds Issue Emergency Order On Crude Oil Trains

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  • by danbert8 (1024253) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @12:56PM (#46950669)

    You know, a PIPELINE would be a lot safer way of transporting crude oil around the country... Stopping the construction of pipelines results in more of these rail car accidents you know.

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @12:59PM (#46950699) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, we've obviously never had major pipeline spills.

      • by sinij (911942) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:06PM (#46950787) Journal
        I assume you are capable understanding that there is no such thing as perfectly secure system or completely bug free software? If so, then why does your brain takes a vacation when we start talking about petroleum?

        Our civilization is built on oil-derived products, we do not have a choice of not shipping it. If we stop shipping oil significant portion of human population will starve and/or freeze and die.

        Given our available shipping choices, pipelines are by far safest and energy efficient way to do it.
        • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:16PM (#46950897) Homepage Journal

          Our civilization is built on oil-derived products, we do not have a choice of not shipping it.

          In the short term. We should construct incentive networks that slowly migrate off fossil fuels while the costs are reasonable. We are not doing that, and it's going to be hazardous to our entire system.

          Building pipelines, while occasionally useful and necessary, should be done with due attention for the long term economic incentives it creates.

          • by mlookaba (2802163)

            As long as we are willing to include nuclear in that equation, than I agree.

            Without a cheap storage mechanism, solar/wind/etc. cannot satisfy the baseline demand of the power grid. Yes, there are ways to do that. They also impact the environment and come with a steep cost.

            • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:33PM (#46951093) Homepage Journal

              Nuclear is absolutely fantastic, because when done correctly, you create your next generation of fuel using this generation. Potentially thousands of years of energy supply.

              Solar and wind are superior outside of financial constraints, because they don't have any catastrophic failures possible from poor maintenance.

              Properly disincentivize fossil fuels gradually over the course of a couple decades, through taxes, tariffs, and regulations, and let the slack get picked up in whatever way is most market friendly.

        • LMOL yeah ok. RTFA about why they are using rail ways for transporting crude oil then comment. You might understand why your statement is wrong.
        • we do not have a choice of not shipping it. If we stop shipping oil significant portion of human population will starve and/or freeze and die

          There's always choices. People can be relocated to areas where they don't need heating oil, using far less energy than a winter's heating oil contains.

          We've dug a pretty deep hole with the food from oil thing, but that was a hole of our own digging, and will be reversed one way or another before the oil runs out - why not start today?

      • by danbert8 (1024253) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:17PM (#46950913)

        You're right, pipelines built in the 1930s do fail from time to time. Mainly because it's so hard to build new ones that pipeline companies try to run old pipelines at as high pressure as they can get away with. You should see the difference in how pipelines used to be constructed vs how they are built now. A new pipeline is an amazing feat of engineering. Old pipelines were just whatever pipe they could find laid in the ground.

        To make an obligatory Slashdot car analogy: I am suggesting we make new planes so people will be able to travel safer than driving a car. You come back with "yeah, we've obviously never had major plane crashes".

        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @02:42PM (#46951947) Journal

          A new pipeline is an amazing feat of engineering. Old pipelines were just whatever pipe they could find laid in the ground.

          All the engineering in the world means dick if you never inspect it and actively lobby against mandatory spill detection technologies because they make pipelines more expensive.

          To make an obligatory Slashdot car analogy: I am suggesting we make new planes so people will be able to travel safer than driving a car. You come back with "yeah, we've obviously never had major plane crashes".

          Airplanes have been having a lot more problems since the airlines started off-shoring maintenance.
          It's been an ongoing problem for ~10 years now.

          It's no surprise that the cheaper route is not the safer route when it comes to planes and pipelines.

          • by danbert8 (1024253) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @02:57PM (#46952151)

            Never inspecting things is not allowed actually... http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/co... [dot.gov]

            Spill detection is present on every pipeline, it's just a matter of how sensitive it is. It is in a pipeline's best interest to keep product in the pipe as a leak is lost product even if you didn't have to worry about disasters and cleanup.

            Airplanes have the same problem as pipelines. A lot of them were made a long time ago, and people have been trying to string them along past their design lifespans. New pipelines are far safer than old pipelines. Trying to block construction or replacement of pipelines is counter to making pipeline disasters less likely.

        • Not just pipelines made in the 1930s - leaky pipelines are a feature of the system, it costs too much to keep them 100% intact, so a little leak here and there goes unrepaired for long periods of time.

          We looked at buying acreage in East Texas, pipeline easements are pretty common there, as are contamination spots from pipeline leaks.

      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:17PM (#46950915)

        Yeah, we've obviously never had major pipeline spills.

        Major pipeline spills are less common and don't kill dozens of people.

        • All in all, pipelines are safer than trains are safer than supertankers, but each has its place and none are perfect.

      • The vast majority of oil is shipped by pipeline or boat. The amount shipped by rail and truck is very small. It's only been used recently because of environmental opposition to pipelines. We're talking a few percent of what's shipped by pipeline or boat.

        Yet train derailments and truck crashes spill more oil than pipelines. The spills are smaller, a few hundred barrels, so they don't make a lot of news. When pipelines or boats spill, its usually either a major national news event because of the volume, or it

        • by rossdee (243626)

          "The vast majority of oil is shipped by pipeline or boat. The amount shipped by rail and truck is very small. It's only been used recently because of environmental opposition to pipelines. We're talking a few percent of what's shipped by pipeline or boat."

          So why don't they ship this oil by boat then?

          • by Mashiki (184564)

            So why don't they ship this oil by boat then?

            Because landlocked states and provinces aren't on the water, unless you live in another universe where places like North Dakota and Alberta have places that are deep enough to carry fuel loaded ships, or are on a coastline. And in other cases, because the environuts block building pipelines to...did you guess the coastline? Well big shock on that one huh...

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Darktan (817653)
            Because oil tankers never call on ports in North Dakota or Alberta. It's a conspiracy, I tell you.
        • There was a pipeline from Miami International Airport to Homestead Air Force base carrying jet fuel.

          A small leak under Cutler Ridge shopping mall went undetected for years, until somebody noticed the storm drains were all flammable.

      • But have we have had as much oil spilled per unit oil moved by pipelines? If you move 100gal and spill 1gal, versus moving 1000gal and spill 1gal, the second option is better.
        • Yay, someone actually responded reasonably. Thanks.

            I'd say that you're right, except that trains as infrastructure continue to serve a purpose when you're not shipping oil anymore, whereas pipelines do not. Thus they can form a perverse incentive.

          • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:58PM (#46951379) Journal

            Pipelines can ship solids, liquids, and gasses, Some pipelines are fully capable of transporting crude oil, then immediately transporting refined gasoline, then natural gas, then transporting coal, without huge maintenance cycles between. A client need only purchase transport from the shipper and their load will go through the pipeline.

            It surprised me that you could switch between mediums without decommissioning, fully cleaning, and then recommissioning the pipeline at great expense. Quite the opposite, pipelines do allow for low-cost changeover of medium in normal operation. You cannot pipeline water or other food-grade materials in this way.

            • Fair point, I was arguing against the longevity of fossil fuel dependency being a good thing, but my wording absolutely included a flagrant factual error.

              • I did mention you can't transport water; it occurs to me you could refine transported water to potable or grey.

                Perhaps we could transport energy. The system runs high-pressure fluids; we could apply pressure at one end and drive a turbine at a demarcation point. The system could transport biofuels or synthofuels--the stored output of excess hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal by combining air and water into hydrocarbons or other fuels.

            • Tropicana used to pipeline orange juice about 1/2 mile to the Middle School my father taught at - they shut the pipeline down after a few years due to intractable contamination issues.

    • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:00PM (#46950711)
      That's an interesting spin on the recent spate of oil disasters.
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Sarten-X (1102295)

      Well, yes... but trains are romantic. Pipelines are big and ugly tubes running over the land, requiring destroying thousands of acres of forests, while train tracks just require a few rails. Pipelines require maintaining hundreds of miles of pipe (at which, of course, we know technology will fail), while train cars are nice, small, human-manageable pieces that can be inspected with just a quick visual check. Pipelines are managed by people in suits in a remote office in a big city somewhere. Trains are run

    • by boristdog (133725) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:09PM (#46950827)

      Yes, I've been saying this for a while. Pipelines are way safer but we also need stricter pipeline regulations.

      I have three oil pipelines that go through my property. While they are pretty solid, the pipeline companies refuse to do any maintenance (such as when one becomes uncovered in a creek bed where it's supposed to be at least 3 feet underground) until you call the news crews out.

    • Pipelines only reduce the need for rail transport, not eliminate it altogether. Only high production areas like the Alberta sands and the Bakken will get pipelines... the smaller fracking sites dotting the country will still need rail. Your post unnecessarily detracts from the main issue, about the need for stronger regulations.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Trailer Trash (60756)

      You know, a PIPELINE would be a lot safer way of transporting crude oil around the country... Stopping the construction of pipelines results in more of these rail car accidents you know.

      Right. The problem is that President 1%'s buddy Warren Buffett owns a railroad, not a pipeline.

      Do the math.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @02:13PM (#46951593)
      Just so we're all clear about what is bullshit and what is actually the concern: some environmentalists such as myself don't care about safety of moving the stuff around. If you manage to make a new carbon sink that can eat up all the carbon being pumped out by the gas, you could deliver it across the country by strapping tanks to the back of baby seals and throwing them via catapult towards crowded cities for all I care. But you won't, and if gas prices stay artificially low, we won't stop driving for any trip longer than a half a block, which is why I'd prefer to stop the pipeline AND see the rails stopped.
      • You make me think: baby seal catapults probably are viable competition for Amazon drone delivery - more likely to be cleared for legal deployment by the FA whatever that regulates baby seals, and more gentle on the cargo than UPS delivery.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      The pipeline is intended to carry canadian tar sand crude down to the refineries in the gulf, thats why it crosses the canadian border (and has been put on hold by the state dept.

      Piping all this oil down to the gulf is stupid
      They should refine it in North Dakota
      where there is lots of oil, and also natural gas to power the refinery

      • by danbert8 (1024253)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org]

        North Dakota has a total of 80MBBL/day refining capacity. Louisiana has 3,310MBBL/day capacity. Texas also has a huge amount. Oh you want to build a new refinery? Would that be easier or harder than approval for a new pipeline? A new refinery hasn't been built in the US since 1976.

      • by danbert8 (1024253)

        Also, what would you do with all the fuel you just refined in North Dakota? You'd just have to build a pipeline to carry all the products to the rest of the nation instead...

    • Ya know, long pipelines (100s of miles) leak, all of them, all the time. Installing and maintaining a pipeline is a huge expense, even compared to a railroad.

      That being said, they have their places.

  • by sinij (911942) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:00PM (#46950721) Journal
    Shipping crude oil by railroads is not the case where industry was willing to engage in meaningful self-regulation. Railroads showed complete unwillingness to properly classify cargo (some forms of crude are outright explosive) or use proper equipment (modern tanker cars that resist spills/ruptures during derailment) or follow proper safety measures (multiple operators and not shipping through high-density urban areas). Instead, they are playing shell game where liability outsourced to low-asset holding company that rents everything from the mother company.
    • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:10PM (#46950851) Journal

      And, in the oxymoron stakes:

      meaningful self-regulation

      is a clear winner.

    • Ensure that the insurance charges for moving crude oil fully covers the entire cost of the disruption; all deaths evaluated at $10m, $1m for significant injury etc. This will force the rail companies to use only safe methods compared with the alternatives because the use of old wagons will be stupidly expensive in insurance fees.
    • by MarkRose (820682)

      You're blaming railroads for a lot of things they have no control over:

      • Railroads don't classify the goods being shipped, shippers do.
      • Railroads can't refuse to take dangerous goods. They're classified as common carries and have to carry anything that's allowed by regulation, including hazardous materials.
      • Railroads do own older, less safe equipment, such as older DOT-111 [wikipedia.org] tank cars and can reasonably be blamed for spotting the cars they own to industries shipping volatile chemicals. However, they cannot refuse
  • by danielpauldavis (1142767) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @01:09PM (#46950839)
    What I call the "suffering quotient": if 1 person dies, that 1 unkonwn person's death is largely ignored. If 50 or 100 die, we might do something about preventing the next accident (we might not.) Conversely, if a famous person dies, we pay attention and deal with the problem that killed our celebrity. We need to get some famous people killed by these crude oil spills or nothing will be done.
  • "requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials about the movement of large shipments of crude oil "

    there not doing that now? that's the most basic courtesy and emergency preparedness. It's irresponsible.

  • a lot of difficulty when it comes to safely rules being implemented if we don't have a high enough body count

    Congress won't really care unless it's rich people getting killed, Wall Street banks getting destroyed or the accidents are FIIMBY -- Fuck It's In My Back Yard -- (thank you The Daily Show for that acronym).

  • by RichMan (8097) on Thursday May 08, 2014 @02:01PM (#46951435)

    So how much energy is there in a train load of Cude Oil?

    Energy denisty of crude oil ~46MJ/Kg (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density)
    DOT-111 tanker car of Lac Magantic fire is 131,000 L (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOT-111_tank_car)
    Assuming 1L/1Kg - some of these oils float some of the really thick stuff sinks.

    Per Tanker car 6.026x10^12 J/ Tank Car.
    Little Boy explosion was equivalent to 16,000 tons of TNT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Boy)
    16000 tons of TNT is 66944000 MJ of energy (http://www.kylesconverter.com/energy,-work,-and-heat/megajoules-to-tons-of-tnt).
    Or 1 Litte Boy = 66.944x10^12 J
    or 1 Little Boy = 11.11 Tanker Cars of Crude Oil

  • The old DOT-111 standard for tank cars was horribly inadequate. They have adopted a new DOT-111 standard for new cars being built but they have not required the companies that own the older tank cars to upgrade. Most of the tank cars being used in the US are not owned by the railroads but by the companies doing the shipping. If the NTSB and DOT would come out with an emergency order to use only new-standard DOT-111 tank cars or use DOT-112 tank cars, the problem would be largely fixed. The old-standard
  • We live near a big oil refinery in Delaware City, where huge mile-long oil trains arrive all the time. They pass on a track that's about a mile from us. A big house fire happened between us and the tracks about a month ago... we were ready to bug out.
  • Make the companies (and executives) legally liable when disasters happen because of defective equipment or not enough security measures.

  • There was a similar incident [wikipedia.org] in Viareggio 5 years ago: a train carrying LPG derailed and crashed into a platform in the center of town during the night. The resulting explosion killed 32 people and destroyed a whole block of houses. In this case it was LPG, not crude oil, so I guess a tiny leak would have been enough to cause problems. You would have to make the tanks extremely strong to prevent that. And there is even other dangerous goods, there were some nasty accidents with trains carrying chlorine [wikipedia.org], whi
  • I live a couple hours from Lynchburg, and one of those rail lines passes through my town. The problem is these railways were laid down in the late 1800s, and either the rail lines were specifically routed through cities, or towns were literally built on or moved to be on the rail lines. So it is a conundrum that in areas like this, the rails pass through every small town along the way, yet they are now beginning to haul more dangerous cargo, like oil. The funny thing is we no longer have passenger servic

    • Around here the railroads have been doing diversions around towns where it makes sense. The city trades land with the railroad. The city gets the relatively more valuable downtown railway lands (right of way plus railyards), gets to close a whole lot of at grade road/rail crossings (better traffic flow, much safer), plus no more noisy stinky trains downtown, and in return the railroad gets a corridor around the town plus a bunch of extra land on the outskirts of town to build a new (bigger) yard. A lot of t

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