Bakken crude shipments draw safety scrutiny - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Bakken crude shipments draw safety scrutiny

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JIM ROSS / For The State Journal. Railroads are pushing for safer tank cars known as the DOT-111 model after several derailments involving crude oil from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota exploded and in one incident in Canada killed 47 people. JIM ROSS / For The State Journal. Railroads are pushing for safer tank cars known as the DOT-111 model after several derailments involving crude oil from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota exploded and in one incident in Canada killed 47 people.
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By JIM ROSS
For The State Journal

Efforts are underway to improve the safety of railroad tank cars hauling crude oil, and that has a direct impact on West Virginia.

The same crude oil that has led to explosive derailments in Virginia, Alabama, North Dakota and Canada moves through West Virginia’s largest cities.

Norfolk Southern and CSX both carry Bakken crude, which comes from shale deposits in North Dakota. CSX has an oil route that begins in northern Ohio, crosses the Ohio River near Portsmouth, Ohio, follows the Ohio River until it crosses the Big Sandy River at Kenova and runs through Huntington and Charleston on its way east to an Amoco refinery on the Virginia coast.

Other than that, CSX does not talk much about specific shipments.

“Specific CSX customer shipment data is sensitive and proprietary, and CSX is committed to sharing what it hauls, and where it goes with first responders, security officials, and others who help secure the places where CSX operates,” CSX spokeswoman Carla Groleau said.

That was the route that saw the most recent large derailment of a crude oil train. It happened in Lynchburg, Virginia April 30. In that accident, 17 cars of a train carrying Bakken crude derailed. Three cars of the 17 went into the James River. One caught fire. Parts of the downtown area had to be evacuated.

Norfolk Southern, meanwhile, says it does not ship Bakken crude through West Virginia.

“The crude oil unit trains that Norfolk Southern handles move through the northeastern states, from Chicago where we pick them up from the western carriers to refineries in Pennsylvania and Delaware,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman said. “That corridor does not take them through West Virginia.”

The danger of Bakken crude is that it has a lower flash point — the temperature at which it will catch fire — than most other crudes. It will catch fire at 72 degrees, and vapors may travel a distance before reaching an ignition source.

Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said the state’s emergency preparedness officials are aware of crude oil shipments through the state.

“State emergency planners do look at the volume, frequency and routes of rail shipments to assess risks,” Messina said. “The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management plans both generally for hazardous material incidents, regardless of initial cause, and specifically for rail shipment episodes. For instance, the DHSEM has collaborated with federal agencies to plan for radiological shipment emergencies, and held an exercise in Wayne County.

“The state Department of Transportation may also work with federal officials in this area.”

Efforts to increase the safety of Bakken shipments are being taken on two fronts. One is with the railroads that run the trains. The other is with the cars that carry the crude itself.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring all railroads operating trains containing large amounts of Bakken crude oil to notify state emergency response commissions about the operation of such trains carrying more than 1 million gallons (about 35 tank cars) of Bakken crude through their states. The notification must include estimated volumes of Bakken crude oil being transported, frequencies of anticipated train traffic and the route through which Bakken crude oil will be transported.

“CSX appreciates the Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) continued focus on our shared responsibility for making shipments safer and recognize that the additional volumes of crude oil being carried require additional safety considerations,” Groleau wrote in an email. “CSX has already developed and deployed special technology to first responders and security officials that enables them to track freight shipments in virtually real time.

“This technology, called SecureNOW, provides state and federal public safety officials, as well as law enforcement, in 19 states (including W.Va.) access to data on the location of CSX trains and their contents. We will take additional steps, as necessary, to further promote information sharing initiatives consistent with USDOT’s recent order.”

Also, railroads want safety standards on tank cars improved. Crude oil is shipped in the car design known as DOT-111. The Association of American Railroads speaks for the industry on tank car safety, and it along with the railroads themselves are lobbying the federal government to require new cars to meet tougher standards that will minimizing leaking during accidents.

In 2011 the rail industry’s Tank Car Committee, which is composed of shippers, rail car manufacturers and railroads, voluntarily implemented standards that exceed those of the federal government. Late last year, railroads asked the government require even more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, including asking for retrofitting tank cars to meet the higher standards or phasing those that cannot be made safer.

“Regarding the Safety Advisory on tank car standards, CSX supports the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) 2013 petition to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration(PHMSA) to require all existing tank cars used to transport flammable liquids to be retrofitted or phased out, and new cars to be built to more stringent standards. CSX will continue working with federal and state policymakers, regulators, first responders, communities, shippers and others to improve the safety and security of crude by rail transportation,” CSX’s Groleau said.

As with other railroads, CSX does not own crude oil tank cars. The cars moved by CSX are owned or leased by its customers, she said.

“Safe operating practices are the sum of federal regulations, industry commitments, and additional and distinct CSX initiatives focused on prevention, preparedness and mitigation,” Groleau said. “CSX is actively fulfilling its commitments to further enhance the safe transport of crude oil as agreed between the AAR and USDOT. CSX will continue to promote strong, ongoing and long-term coordination with federal, state and local officials.”