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Recording Bakken Crude Trains [protocol]

Draft Protocol developed by FracTracker Alliance and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, modified via pilot counts with PennEnvironment
For more information please contact info@fractracker.org
Draft Last Updated: September 2, 2015

The purpose of this project is to document how many crude oil (1267) and liquefied petroleum gas (1075) train cars go through your area. These types of cars can be identified with their HAZMAT placards:

DT309N12671267 hazmat placarded cars (crude oil): DOT-1075-21075 hazmat cars (liquefied petroleum gas):

Site Selection

Select a set of sites that cover possible train paths through the area of concern with as many of the following characteristics as possible:

  • Public place off of the road
  • Good lighting at night
  • Safe at night
  • Location where trains move more slowly, if possible
  • Avoid more than 2 tracks in parallel.  Parallel tracks create the possibility of missing a train that’s obscured by another train.

Train Counting Equipment

  • 1 clipboard, several pens
  • 30 blank train reports per session
  • Two to three people
  • Phone with camera to record time for each train, and to take photographs and videos where possible (optional)
  • Radar gun (optional)
  • Video camera (optional)
  • A large umbrella or tent that can cover both the observers and the camera, when needed.
  • Chairs and other amenities to make sure observers are comfortable

How to Count Trains

  • There should be at least two, if not three people counting trains at all times. For each train that passes, fill out one Train Report Form. Align yourself perpendicular to the tracks. Capture photos and videos of the trains as you see fit.
  • Before a train arrives, fill out a new report form with all of the train counters’ names, a cell phone number or email address for one of you, and the date.
  • Counter 1 is responsible for counting cars marked with the 1267 HAZMAT placard. Counter 2 counts the cars with the 1075 placards. Counter 3 captures the train’s speed with the radar gun, and counts the total number of cars on each train – including the engine and caboose.
  • Once you hear a train coming, enter the start time on the sheet. Prepare the radar gun to capture the train’s speed as it goes by. While the train passes, count in your head how many cars pass of the type to which you have been assigned. Afterward, mark how many of each type of car the counters saw.
  • After the train passes, enter the final number of each type of HAZMAT cars on the train and the total number of cars. Also, write down the train’s speed, direction (if known), operator (company), and any additional notes about the session (such as placards that you could not distinguish clearly).
  • Turn in these tally sheets to your project coordinator. We would also appreciate it if you were to send information about your train counting results and experience to FracTracker Alliance: info@fractracker.org.

Videotaping Best Practices

If you are using a video camera, here are some suggestions for improving the recording process.

  • Even during broad daylight it might be difficult to clearly videotape the trains if they are moving quickly. Try to find a counting location where the trains move slowly (e.g. 25 mph)
  • Test out the iPhone’s new slow motion camera feature
  • Set the video camera up at least 30 frames per second. 60 frames/second is better.
  • Don’t zoom, as this results in a dark aperture. Try finding a site and setting up close enough that you can get a good shot (but far enough away for safety purposes)

Train Report Form

Before Train Passes

Date:

Time:

Location (address/GPS):

Counter 1 Name:

Counter 2 Name:

Counter 3 Name:

Email:

Phone:

During

While the train passes, count in your head how many cars pass of the type to which you have been assigned. Afterward, mark the number of each type below.

After

Train Car Types

Number

1267 Cars

1075 Cars

Total Cars

Details

Train Speed

Operator

Direction

Notes

Be sure to include information about what might be missing or uncertain — if there were two trains at once, or if you missed some cars for any reason. If you missed or couldn’t discern cars, try to include some insight on whether the situation could be improved in the future by better lighting or site selection, or if the train’s fast speed made it hard to keep up, etc. Remember to send your results to info@fractracker.org.

Regulatory Gaps for Train Spills?

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology

On January 26, 2015, the Columbian, a paper in Southwestern Washington state, reported that an oil tanker spilled over 1,600 gallons of Bakken Crude in early November 2014.  The train spill was never cleaned up, because frankly, nobody knows where the spill occurred. This issue highlights weaknesses in the incident reporting protocol for trains, which appears to be less stringent than other modes of transporting crude.

Possible Train Spill Routes


To follow the most likely train route for this incident, start at the yellow flag, then follow the line west. The route forks at Spokane – the northernmost route would be the most efficient. View full screen map

While there is not a good place for an oil spill of this size, some places are worse than others – and some of the locations along this train route are pretty bad.  For example, the train passes through the southern edge of Glacier National Park in Montana, the scenic Columbia River, and the Spokane and Seattle metropolitan areas.

Significant Reporting Delay

The Columbian article mentions that railroads are required to report spills of hazardous materials in Washington State within 30 minutes of spills being noticed. In this case, however, the spill was apparently not noticed until the tanker car in question was no longer in BNSF custody. Therefore, relevant state and federal regulatory agencies were never made aware of the incident.

Both state and federal officials are now investigating, and we will follow up this post with more details when they are made available.

Oil Trains Passing Through Pittsburgh

A Pilot Train Count

By Samantha Malone – Manager of Education, Communications, & Partnerships

FracTracker Alliance and the CREATE Lab at CMU recently launched a pilot project to track the transportation of volatile crude oil as it passes through Pennsylvania and specifically the Pittsburgh region.

For a bit of background, we were specifically interested in how many cars marked with either a 1075 or 1267 placard (shown below). 1075 placards designate cars that are carrying or recently carried (not yet cleaned out) butane, LPG, propane, or a flammable gas. Alternatively, 1267 placards are warning signs for cars carrying petroleum crude oil or some sort of flammable liquid.

DOT Placard 1075 Butane, LPG, Propane, Flammable Gas, Class 2

DOT Placard 1075 Butane, LPG, Propane, Flammable Gas, Class 2

D.O.T. Placard 1267 Petroleum Crude Oil, Flammable Liquid, Class 3

DOT Placard 1267 Petroleum Crude Oil, Flammable Liquid, Class 3

Oil Train Counts

Over 11 hours we counted 28 trains, 10 of which contained at least one car with the 1075 or 1267 placard. Most of these trains were quite long, with 28 trains hauling 2,874 cars.

The largest inbound train with the 1267 placard that we identified and estimated to be full was hauling 97 crude tankers. If they were indeed full, this train carried between 2.5 and 3.4 million gallons of crude oil. As a point of reference, the Lac-Mégantic derailment that occurred in 2013 in Quebec and killed 47 people was only carrying 74 Bakken crude cars.

Of the 2,874 cars that we counted, 360 were carrying some sort of oil product. Of those oil cars, approximately 70% were of the 1267 variety (Figure 1).

Ratio of oil cars to total over 11 hours

Figure 1. Ratio of oil cars to total documented by volunteers in Pittsburgh, PA over 11 hours

Speed Matters

The fastest oil train that we observed was going approximately 50 MPH. This train was likely full, based on load estimates and the direction it was traveling. This speed violates a voluntary compliance that crude trains run <40 MPH through high-threat areas. A train that derailed in Lynchburg, VA in April was traveling just 24 mph. Our counting location would likely qualify as a high-threat area, as we were near Neville Island, relatively close to ALCOSAN and the City of Pittsburgh, and just a few yards from the Ohio River and residential homes.

While Pittsburgh certainly has its share of oil trains, concern over the dangers that these trains pose to towns along its tracks extends far beyond the Pittsburgh area. Groups as far as California have gathered together to monitor train traffic. We hope that by tracking and monitoring the number of oil trains over time, we can begin to understand the risks that these trains pose should an incident occur.

The Data Collection Process

 

Here is how we collected the above data: On October 21st our staff, interns, and generous volunteers spent designated shifts observing the passing of trains and the contents of their cars between about 7:30 AM and 6:30 PM. Under the cover of a pop-up shelter, teams of at least three participants videotaped trains as they passed in either direction, counted and recorded the number of cars that they carried, and most importantly identified and counted specific placards that labeled individual cars as oil-carrying.

Many thanks to the groups who helped with this pilot count: volunteer citizens, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, Women for a Healthy Environment, our interns from Pitt and Duquesne, and CMU staff.

The CREATE Lab then reviewed and analyzed the collected information and video feed. You can take a look at some of the high-resolution video feed they were able to collect with their BreatheCam. If you have specific questions about the train counting protocol or would like to set up one of your own, please contact us.

About Us

FracTracker Alliance is a non-profit with an office in the Pittsburgh area whose mission is to share maps, data, and analyses to communicate impacts of the global oil and gas industry and to inform actions that positively shape our energy future. www.fractracker.org

The Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies and is based out of Carnegie Mellon University. www.cmucreatelab.org

Train Counts - Call for Volunteers

Help Us to Track Oil Trains in Pittsburgh and Beyond

Call for Volunteers

FracTracker Alliance and the CREATE Lab at CMU are seeking volunteers to track oil trains on October 21st near Pittsburgh, PA for 2-hour segments from 7:00am – 7:00pm.

Sign up to participate (Link Deactivated, Archived Event)

Approximately 400,000 barrels of oil are transported daily from the west, following tracks from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale Play, which typically run through populated urban areas such as Pittsburgh. These trains have been known to derail and cause immense damage. The most recent of cases occurred in Québec in July of 2013, when a derailed train and the subsequent explosions resulted in the deaths of 47 people. The transportation of volatile crude oil from western states to major cities up and down the Eastern seaboard poses a major risk to any town or city through which these trains pass. FracTracker and affiliated groups want to understand the true risk that these volatile train cars pose to our region.

FracTracker and CREATE Lab will use the data collected during this project to analyze the frequency and risk of crude oil freight trains passing through the Pittsburgh area, but we need your help.

We are looking for volunteers that can commit to a two-hour shift throughout the day on October 21st. Volunteers will be equipped with a video camera, tripod, and of course coffee and snacks in order to record the passing of trains in either direction throughout a two-hour shift. The video footage will allow us to identify a plaque that is required to be displayed on cars carrying oil, as well as whether the cars are empty or full.

If you are interested in volunteering with FracTracker and this freight train project, follow the link above to sign up for a shift. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns at (412) 802-0273 or Malone@FracTracker.org. We hope to see you there!

About Us

FracTracker Alliance is a non-profit with an office in the Pittsburgh area whose mission is to share maps, data, and analyses to communicate impacts of the global oil and gas industry and to inform actions that positively shape our energy future. www.fractracker.org

The Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies and is based out of Carnegie Mellon University. www.cmucreatelab.org

Lac Mégantic Derailment, Québec in July 2013. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_derailment

Off the Rails: Risks of Crude Oil Transportation by Freight in NY State and Beyond

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Since 2011, North Dakota crude oil from the Bakken Shale Play has made its way to refineries on the east coast via freight trains. This means of oil transportation is becoming increasingly common, as plans for pipeline development have been falling short, but demand for more energy development continues to climb (see New York Times, April 12 , 2014). In addition to the Bakken crude, there are also currently proposals under consideration to ship crude by rail  from Alberta’s tar sands region, along these same routes through New York State.

Alarm about the danger of these “bomb trains” came sharply into public focus after the disaster in Lac Mégantic, Québec in July 2013 when a train carrying 72 carloads of the highly volatile Bakken oil derailed, setting off a massive series of explosions that leveled several blocks of the small town, killing 47 people (photo above). The crude from the Bakken is considerably lighter than that of other oil and gas deposits, making it more volatile than the crude that has been traditionally transported by rail.

Quantifying the Risk

As estimated by the National Transportation Safety Board, with deliveries at about 400,000 barrels a day headed to the Atlantic coast, about a 20-25% of this volume passes through the Port of Albany, NY. There were recent approvals for 3 billion gallons to be processed through Albany. The remainder of the crude is delivered to other ports in the US and Canada. Any oil travelling by rail through the Port of Albany would also pass through significant population centers, including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, NY. Binghamton, NY is also bisected by commercial rail lines.

In the past year, the New York Times, as well as other media, have reported on the threat of disasters similar to what occurred in Québec last summer, as the freight cars pass through Albany. Not only is the oil itself volatile, safety oversight is extremely spotty. According to The Innovation Trail, “… a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that the Federal Railroad Administration only examines 1-percent of the countries rail road infrastructure.”

RiverKeeper, in their recent report on the topic, notes:

Nationwide, shipping crude oil by rail has jumped six-fold since 2011, according to American Association of Railroads data, and rail shipments from the Bakken region have jumped exponentially since 2009.

This ad-hoc transportation system has repeatedly failed — and spectacularly.

The fires resulting from derailments of Bakken crude oil trains have caused fireballs and have burned so hot that emergency responders often can do nothing but wait—for days—to let the fires burn themselves out.

The Guardian has reported that a legacy of poor regulation and safety failures led to the disaster in Québec, leading to bankruptcy of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways (MMA), and numerous class action suits. Records show that MMA was particularly lax in maintaining their rail cars and providing training for their employees. Meanwhile,  in the US, critics of rail transport of volatile crude oil point to inadequate monitoring systems, training, and, importantly, prepared and available emergency response teams that would be able to respond to explosions or disasters anywhere along the route. The size of a explosion that could occur would easily overwhelm volunteer fire and EMT services in many small towns.

These same trains pass through other major cities in Western and Central New York, including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica. Not only are the railroads in proximity to significant population centers, they are also close to scores of K-12 schools, endangering the wellbeing of thousands of children (Table 1). In fact, across New York State, 495 K-12 public schools, or 12% of the total in the state, are within a half-mile of major railways–the standard evacuation distance for accidents involving railcars filled with flammable liquids and gases, as recommended by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in their Emergency Response Guidebook. The US DOT also recommends an isolation zone of 1600 meters (1.0 miles) around any railcars filled with those materials if they are on fire.

Map of NYS Rail Lines and K-12 Schools


Click on this interactive map or pan through the state to explore regions outside of Rochester, NY. For a full-screen view of this map, with a legend, click here.

Buffalo Rail Lines and Proximity to Schools

Fig. 1. Buffalo Rail Lines & Proximity to Schools

For example, on their way through the City of Buffalo crude-carrying freight trains pass within a half-mile of residences of more than 86,000 people, as well as 20 public schools and 4 private schools, and within a half-mile of homes of nearly 60,000 people, 15 public schools, and 5 private schools, on the way through Rochester. See Figures 1-5.

Our work stands in support of and extends the excellent analyses already focusing on the Port of Albany done this past summer by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Healthy Schools Network. (See their report, which looked at the north-south rail corridor in New York State that passes along the Hudson River, within close proximity to 75 K-12 schools).

Table 1. Summary of population statistics in proximity to railways for five New York State cities

City Population
(2010 US Census)

Within ½ Mile of  Freight Rail Way

% Population # K-12 public schools in city # K-12 private schools in city
Buffalo 261,310 33% 28 8
Rochester 214,989 27.4% 15 5
Syracuse 145,168 16% 4 1
Utica 62,230 28.5% 2 0
Binghamton 47,376 63.5% 6 0

Figures 2-5. Proximity maps for Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Binghamton, NY

Rochester, NY

Rochester, NY

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse, NY

Utica, NY

Utica, NY

Binghamton, NY

Binghamton, NY

Learn more about Oil Transportation and Accidents by Rail

Oil Transportation and Accidents by Rail

Lac-Mégantic train explosion on July 6, 2013.  Photo by TSB of Canada.

Lac-Mégantic train explosion on July 6, 2013. Photo by Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

On July 5, 2013, the lone engineer of a Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic (MMA) train arrived in Nantes, Quebec, set both the hand and air brakes, finished up his paperwork. He then left the train parked on the main line for the night, unattended atop a long grade. Five locomotives were pulling 72 tanker cars of oil, each containing 30,000 gallons of volatile crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Formation. During the night, the lead locomotive caught fire, so the emergency responders cut off the engine, as per protocol.  However, that action led to a loss of pressure of the air brakes.  The hand brakes (which were supposed to have been sufficient by themselves) failed, and the train began to run away. By the time it reached Lac-Mégantic early the next morning, the unattended cars were traveling 65 mph.  When the train reached the center of town, 63 tank cars derailed and many of those exploded, tragically killing 47 people in a blaze that took over two days to extinguish.

With that event came a heightened awareness of the risks of transporting volatile petroleum products by rail.  A derailment happened on a BNSF line near Casselton, North Dakota on December 30, 2013. This train was then struck by a train on an adjacent track, igniting another huge fireball, although this one was luckily just outside of town.  On April 30, 2014, a CSX train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, setting the James River on fire, narrowly avoiding the dense downtown area of the city of 75,000 people.


North American petroleum transportation by rail. Click on the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner to access the full screen map with additional tools and description.

Regulators in the US and Canada are scrambling to keep up.  DOT-111 tank cars were involved in all of these incidents, and regulators seek to phase them out over the next two years. These cars account for 69% of the fleet of tank cars in the US, however, and up to 80% in Canada.  Replacing these cars will be a tough task in the midst of the oil booms in the Bakken and Eagle Ford plays, which have seen crude by rail shipments increase from less than 5,000 cars in 2006 to over 400,000 cars in 2013.

This article is the first of several reports by the FracTracker Alliance highlighting safety and environmental concerns about shipping petroleum and related products by rail. The impacts of the oil and gas extraction industry do not end at the wellhead, but are a part of a larger system of refineries, power plants, and terminals that span the continent.