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Tar Sands on the Tracks: Railbit, Dilbit and U.S. Export Terminals

By Ben Jervey - DeSmog Blog, June 17, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Last December, the first full train carrying tar sands crude left the Canexus Bruderheim terminal outside of Edmonton, Alberta, bound for an unloading terminal somewhere in the United States.

Canadian heavy crude, as the tar sands is labeled for market purposes, had ridden the rails in very limited capacity in years previous — loaded into tank cars and bundled with other products as part of so-called “manifest” shipments. But to the best of industry analysts’ knowledge, never before had a full 100-plus car train (called a “unit train”) been shipped entirely full of tar sands crude.

Because unit trains travel more quickly, carry higher volumes of crude and cost the shipper less per barrel to operate than the manifest alternative, this first shipment from the Canexus Bruderheim terminal signaled the start of yet another crude-by-rail era — an echo of the sudden rise of oil train transport ushered in by the Bakken boom, on a much smaller scale (for now).

This overall spike in North American crude-by-rail over the past few years has been well documented, and last month Oil Change International released a comprehensive report about the trend. As explained in Runaway Train: The Reckless Expansion of Crude-by-Rail in North America (and in past coverage in DeSmogBlog), much of the oil train growth has been driven by the Bakken shale oil boom. Without sufficient pipeline capacity in the area, drillers have been loading up much more versatile trains to cart the light, sweet tight crude to refineries in the Gulf, and on both coasts.

Unfortunately, some of these “bomb trains” never make it to their destination, derailing, spilling, exploding and taking lives.

Meeting Logs: Obama White House Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

By Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn - DeSmog Blog, June 15, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).   

During his presentation at NYU, Shelanski spoke at length about how OIRA must use “cost-benefit analysis” with regards to regulations, stating, “Cost-benefit analysis is an essential tool for regulatory policy.”

But during his confirmation hearings, Shelanski made sure to state his position on how cost-benefit analysis should be used in practice. Shelanski let corporate interests know he was well aware of their position on the cost of regulations and what they stood to lose from stringent regulations. 

“Regulatory objectives should be achieved at no higher cost than is absolutely necessary,” Shelanski said at the hearing.

With the “cost-benefit analysis” regarding environmental and safety issues for oil-by-rail in OIRA’s hands, it appears both the oil and rail industries will have their voices heard loudly and clearly by the White House. 

Capital Blight - Aristocracy Forever

By x344543 - June 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

When the union leaders' payoffs by the bosses has begun,
There will be no labor trouble anywhere beneath the sun,
For the AFL trade unions and the management are one,
The union keeps us down.

Chorus
Aristocracy forever,
Aristocracy forever,
Aristocracy forever,

--lyrics excerpted from Aristocracy Forever, by Judi Bari

It happens far too often. Big corporate industrial polluters rape and pillage the Earth, whether by tar sands mining, fracking, mountaintop coal mining, offshore oil drilling, clearcut logging, and more. What's more, much of what they extract they export elsewhere, choosing to remove even the economic benefits of local production from the affected community. These corporations claim to be "good neighbors", but they suck up all the wealth (in the form of profits), and they outsource the costs to the community. And the workers who actually do the labor to produce all of this wealth? Not only are they not paid the full value of their labor, they're often the first to bear the brunt of the toxic pollution and chemical poisoning these companies create in their wake.

It's no wonder that time and time again we witness communities organizing and mobilizing opposition to this state of affairs, often assisted by environmental organizations of various types. What's curious, however, is how often the unions (if the workers in these facilities are fortunate enough to have union representation) defend the companies and even promote the companies' messages--even though it's ultimately not in the workers' interest to do so.

Casey Jones in #LacMegantic

Video and Song by J.P. Wright - Railroad Workers United, June 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. J.P. Wright is a member of the IWW and Railroad Workers United.

Employees’ Complaints Against Canadian National Railway

By John Kristensen - Railroaded, May 20, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On May 7, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled Wayne Laidler had been wrongfully fired by Canadian National Railway (Times Herald). The case, considered a whistleblower lawsuit, stems from Laidler’s firing after he refused to exit his train to conduct an inspection of an oncoming train at a Flint, Michigan substation in December 2012.

Laidler argued, “But my train was stopped on a bridge. It was 3 a.m., it was dark, and it was foggy. It was not safe for me to climb out of my train, and onto the bridge to inspect the oncoming train. There was no safe place to stand.” The OSHA ruling agreed with Laidler’s claims. CN violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act, and has been ordered to reinstate Laidler with guaranteed pay and monetary compensation. He is to receive $92,916 in lost wages plus interest, $6,408 of lost vacation pay, $45,000 for the emotional stress of being wrongfully terminated, $100,000 from Canadian National Railway in order to discourage repetitive behaviour from CN, and an amount equal to his attorney’s fees.

Jessica Ballard, an African-American and former Canadian National Railway worker, is suing CN over alleged racial discrimination when she was fired in 2012 (Chicago Sun-Times). The lawsuit, filed May 15 in U.S. District Court, claims CN violated the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Ballard alleges that a white female supervisor discriminated against her for about a year, manufactured examples of improper conduct, conducted “sham” investigations regarding minor infractions, and intentionally created a harassing and stressful work environment for Ballard. The lawsuit seeks an undisclosed amount in damages, reinstatement to her old job, or receipt of future wages she would have earned in her position before she was fired.

Mistrust, Disagreement Over Oil Terminal Plan Aired at Meeting

By Courtney Sherwood - Columbian, May 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Controversial issue draws about 60 people

Mistrust and disagreement on the risks and benefits of a proposed Vancouver oil terminal were on display Wednesday night at a community meeting aimed at bringing all sides in the controversial issue together. And most of the mistrust seemed directed at Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, the two businesses that want to handle as much as 380,000 barrels at the Port of Vancouver.

Wednesdays event, convened by the East Old Evergreen Highway Neighborhood Association, brought representatives of those two companies together with BNSF Railway officials, property developers who oppose the Tesoro-Savage proposal, an environmental group representative, a longshore union leader, and emergency responders.

About 60 people attended. The Port of Vancouver, which instigated the Tesoro-Savage project by seeking out oil export proposals, originally said it would also participate but later backed out.

Barry Cain, CEO of Gramor Development, outlined details of the planned Columbia Waterfront LLC downtown Vancouver waterfront development and his concerns that oil exports could put that project at risk.

Cain estimated that plans for the former Boise Cascade mill site along the north bank of the Columbia River could ultimately generate $844 million per year in economic activity. After eight years spent developing the property, building roads and improving rail along the site, Columbia Waterfront proponents are in negotiations with restaurants, and could have plans for the first residential and office construction at the site soon, he said.

When we first heard about the oil trains, we thought, well, theyre probably not pretty, but we didnt think that was necessarily a problem, Cain said. Then in July, the accident happened at Lac-Megantic in Quebec. That killed 46 people.

CSX Train Carrying 8,000 Tons of Coal Derails in Company’s Second Wreck in 24 Hours

By Brandon Baker - EcoNews, May 1, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A train derailed early Thursday morning in Bowie, MD marking the second derailment for CSX Corp. in 24 hours.

CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay told the Associated Press that about 10 cars of the train traveling from Cumberland, MD to Bowie derailed Thursday. The train had three locomotives and 63 railcars, all of which were carrying coal. The train originated from a coal mine in Pennsylvania. 

The train was carrying about 8,000 tons of coal.

One of the train cars overturned, spilling its load of coal, but there were no injuries reported in the incident. CSX spokesman Gary Sease said the company would investigate the derailment. He said increased rain may have played a role, but it’s too early to say.

Federal Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulator Making 9% Staff Cut, Confounding Experts

Federal Pipeline and Oil-by-Rail Regulator Staff Cut, Confounds Experts - Job cuts come at a time when PHMSA is struggling to regulate the nation’s aging pipeline network and new pipelines tied to the oil and gas boom.

By Elizabeth Douglass - Inside Climate News, April 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

If employees accept all of the available buyouts, PHMSA will shrink to a full-time staff of 386, putting it 112 jobs short of its approved payroll for the current fiscal year.

The federal regulator for petroleum pipelines and oil-toting railcars is offering employee buyouts that could shrink the agency’s staff by 9 percent by mid-June—a step that has confounded observers because the agency is widely regarded as being chronically understaffed.

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) spokesman Damon Hill said the buyout offers are meant to “help the agency manage attrition in areas where a large and growing number of employees are eligible for retirement by offering an inducement for a limited number of employees to voluntarily retire or resign.”

Hill said PHMSA is continuing to hire in key areas at the same time. “I understand how some folks may be looking at [the buyout effort], but it’s part of an overall plan to retain expertise and plan for retention and things like that,” he said. “There is some good that comes out of this.”

Still, the job cuts come at a time when PHMSA is already under considerable duress. Politicians and the public have been pushing the agency to more rigorously regulate the nation’s aging pipeline network as well as the many new pipelines tied to surging domestic oil and natural gas production. A spate of damaging pipeline spills and oil-by-rail accidents is adding to the workload, exposing PHMSA’s shortcomings and intensifying scrutiny of the agency.

Official Tipped Off Hess Rail Yard About Oil-Carrier Inspection

By Cole Stangler - In These Times, April 29, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Emails obtained by In These Times show a cozy relationship between North Dakota’s oil industry and a chief federal inspector charged with monitoring the safety of shipping crude oil by rail. The emails cast serious doubts on the integrity of the federal government’s supposed crackdown on the industry’s shoddy shipping practices—a subject of growing concern in the midst of a largely unregulated, and in some cases, deadly, transport boom.

Last August, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration announced they were rolling out the “Bakken Blitz”—a crackdown on shippers and carriers that mislabel their cargo. Federal hazmat regulations require trains carrying oil to properly classify and identify their shipments with placards. These practices are supposed to ensure that oil is safely packaged before being shipped. They’re also aimed at informing railroad personnel and, in the event of a mishap, any emergency responders. Regulators introduced the Blitz just one month after the Lac Mégantic disaster, when a runaway freight train carrying oil exploded in the small Quebec town, killing 47 people. In that case, Canadian safety investigators found American shippers in North Dakota’s Bakken region had understated the volatility of the oil that ignited and destroyed much of Lac Mégantic’s downtown area. Improper classification caused the shipment to be transported in an improper package. Emergency responders, too, were caught by surprise at how quickly the fire spread and how long it burned.

As part of the Department of Transportation’s new enforcement effort, PHMSA officials show up unannounced at rail facilities to conduct classification inspections—at least that’s what an agency spokesperson told In These Times at first. An email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request strongly suggests that Kipton Wills, Central Region Director of PHMSA's Office of Hazardous Materials Enforcement, pre-arranged at least one of his agency’s visits to a Hess Corp. rail yard in Tioga, North Dakota, last October.

“We will accommodate your request to inspect trucks at the Tioga Rail Terminal,” Jody Schroeder, the rail terminal supervisor, wrote in an email to Wills dated October 3, 2013—five days before the inspection took place. “At your convenience please let me know your schedule for this event.”

Schroeder later confirmed that Wills reached out to him about the visit.

Earlier this month, PHMSA spokesperson Gordon Delcambre told In These Times that such inspections are impromptu. “They’re unannounced,” he said. “[Inspectors] figure out who they’re going to visit ahead of time, make plans, go to the area and then start knocking on doors.”

Indeed, this is normal procedure. The agency’s handbook notes “the policy of the PHMSA hazardous materials enforcement program is to conduct unannounced inspections.” Exceptions can include cases of “apparent imminent danger to enable the company to correct the danger,” instances where special preparations, records and equipment are necessary, and cases where “giving advance notice would enhance the probability of an effective and thorough inspection.”

Read the entire article here.

How This U.S. Rail Safety Measure Has Been Delayed for 44 Years … And Counting

By Justin Mikulka - DeSmog Blog, April 30, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On August 20, 1969, two Penn Central commuter trains collided head-on near Darien, Conn. Four people were killed and 43 were injured. The crash led the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend that railroads implement new safety technology called positive train control — a system for monitoring and controlling train movements to increase safety.

The NTSB first recommended positive train control in 1970. In 2008, after another fatal train collision that killed 25 people, Congress finally passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act, which mandated positive train control be implemented by the railroad industry by the end of 2015.

Fast-forward another six years to multiple congressional hearings in recent months, during which the railroads have informed Congress that positive train control simply won’t be implemented by the end of 2015. It’s been 44 years since the NTSB first recommended positive train control to improve rail safety in the U.S. and it is still not being used.

Looking at the way the positive train control scenario has played out for the past 44 years offers valuable lessons on how the U.S. is now dealing with safety regulations for shipping oil by rail.

Last week, the NTSB held a two-day forum on rail safety regarding the transportation of crude oil and ethanol. One of the main topics was how to improve rail tank car safety and what to do with the DOT-111 tank cars currently being used to ship crude oil and ethanol.

Much like positive train control, the NTSB has been recommending for decades that the DOT-111 tank cars not be used for ethanol and crude oil transportation due to the high risks they pose in derailments.

So why hasn’t anything been done? Mostly because of opposition by oil and gas industry groups, such as the American Petroleum Institute (API).

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