Wednesday, March 5, 2014
EDDYSTONE — Former congressman Curt Weldon on Wednesday warned that Pennsylvania should be as prepared as possible for a disaster as Bakken crude oil begins to be transported into the state in larger volumes.
He said it’s not a question of if there will be a disaster, but when.
Industry experts, on the other hand, pointed to the statistical evidence that moving materials by rail is relatively safe, although they did acknowledge some high-profile incidents and offered changes that have been made in response to those events.
These testimonies were part of the “Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities Related to the Transportation of Crude Oil across the Commonwealth” hearing in front of the Pennsylvania Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee at the Eddystone Fire Co.
Part of the reason for the hearing was the construction of a Bakken crude oil unloading facility less than a mile away. Through a joint partnership between Enbridge Inc. and Canopy Prospecting Inc., the Eddystone Rail Project will transport 80,000 barrels per day initially, and potentially up to 160,000 barrels, of light sweet crude from North Dakota to be unloaded at an Exelon Generation facility, then pumped out to barges on the Delaware River prior to delivery.
Bakken crude was being transported in Lac-Megantic, Canada, in July when the train derailed and exploded, causing 47 deaths. In January, a CSX train carrying crude derailed as a result of improper track maintenance, according to state officials, although no one was injured and no leakages were reported.
“This crude is not the crude of old,” Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Chief Deputy Director Robert Full said. “This crude has a lower flash and ignition point.”
Weldon was mayor of Marcus Hook during the 1975 Corinthos disaster in which 29 people died after the Corinthos and Edgar M. Queeny ships collided and burned for three days.
“The product that exploded and burned out of control was light crude,” he said. “The same product that is going to be shipped in all those rail cars. Prior to the Corinthos disaster, no one believed that an incident of this magnitude could ever occur in the United States inland waters, let alone in a community with a population of less than 5,000 people.”
He urged the committee to exercise its oversight capabilities to make certain detailed emergency response plans are in place, especially considering cutbacks that have been made over time.
“Every refinery had its own fire department,” Weldon said. “That’s not the case today. I urge you to ask the refineries and the companies what their staffing levels were 20 years ago and what are they today as they increase their operations.”
Weldon said the state should request a grant to create a comprehensive emergency response template that could set a national emergency response standard.
“Make no mistake,” Weldon said, “an incident involving rail transport of oil will occur in the commonwealth and lives, including first-responder lives, and property will be put at risk. These incidents have occurred in the past and they will occur in the future.”
David Julian, vice president of safety and environmental for Norfolk Southern, one of the companies planning to transport the Bakken crude into Eddystone, spoke to the historical safety of these operations.
“Between 2000 and 2013, the U.S. rail industry originated 825,000 carloads of crude oil,” he said. “(And) 99.993 percent of those carloads arrived at their destination without a release caused by an accident.”
Julian said last year alone his company handled 500,000 loaded hazmat shipments, 99.999 percent of which arrived without a release due to an accident.
He and Howard R. “Skip” Elliott, vice president of public safety, health and environment for CSX Transportation, spoke of the voluntary practices put into place last month as part of an agreement reached by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the major American freight railroads.
They included speed restrictions, train inspection requirements and train handling provisions.
In addition, the Association of American Railroads is creating a $5 million fund to train local emergency responders in how to deal with crude.
Another recent standard includes the U.S. Department of Transportation emergency order issue for shippers to test product from the Bakken region and to have it identified when it is being transported by rail.
In the meantime, Weldon urged for caution.
“Throughout the years, we were always told that such incidents could never occur, that industry had all of the answers and not to worry,” he said. “I applaud industry, but I encourage you to exert your oversight responsibility as you have in the past.”
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