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29 September 2013 – Oil extracted from massive new fields in North Dakota and other states is rolling into California in growing quantities aboard long-haul freight trains, paralleling a surge in crude moving on rail across North America.
More than 200,000 barrels of crude per month were imported into California this summer, a fourfold increase from early 2012, according to data compiled by the California Energy Commission. Hauling crude into California involves traversing some of the most challenging mountain passes in the nation. The rise in rail shipments in part reflects successful opposition to new pipelines to accommodate U.S.
Though railroads have sharply improved their safety in recent years, moving oil on tank cars is still only about half as safe as in pipelines, according to Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute.
Tesoro and Valero Energy, both based in Texas, say they plan to start or increase their use of crude brought in by rail at their California refineries. The import of shale oil from North Dakota, Colorado and other states is something of a teaser for the California oil industry, which is focused on its massive resource, the Monterey Shale. Though California still ranks as the third-largest oil producing state, its output is only half as much as it was two decades ago. In the Pacific Northwest, where as many as 11 refineries are planning oil-by-rail shipments, hundreds of protesters gathered near the Washington-Oregon border in August to protest the plan. The growth gained little attention until the Quebec accident, which occurred on the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a short-line railroad that is privately owned. Canadian investigators also have determined that the crude was mislabeled on the cars as having a lower volatility, though it was nearly as combustible as gasoline. Meanwhile, the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration moved this month to begin tightening safety standards on tank cars, specifically to make them more resistant to punctures. Since Lac Megantic, there have been a number of derailments, crude oil fires and explosions across Canada and the United States. Nineteen of 25 derailed cars were breached, releasing over one million litres of crude oil to atmosphere or on the ground. On March 7, a 94-car train was carrying Alberta light crude to Eastern Canada when approximately 30 of them derailed near Gogama.
Two factors dominate the discussion of oil by rail accidents: Volatility of the crude oil and construction of the tanker cars. The lighter the oil, the less heat it takes to vapourize the crude, regardless of where it is produced, says Prof.
Fire retardants could be added to light crude oils to make them less flammable, he adds, but that would present serious challenges at the refineries, which would have to remove the chemicals or alter their processes to accommodate them.
Serious problems arise only with rail transport, when during a derailment there is both heat to vapourize the crude oil and an ignition source. This is an area where something can be done, as the Transport Safety Board preliminary inquiry into the derailment near Gogoma makes clear. Around 80 per cent of the Canadian fleet and 69 per cent of the American fleet is made up of older Class 111 tanker cars.
In January 2014, Transport Canada formalized the CPC-1232 standard as a requirement for all new tank cars built for the transportation of flammable liquids, but the TSB warned the federal regulator that the standard was inadequate.

Based on the TSB’s preliminary analysis, the industry is heading backward instead of making progress. Until those more robust tanker cars are put into service, there will be more derailments like Gogoma where crude oil pollutes the environment and catches fire or explodes. The question Canadian and American authorities have to ask themselves is, Are they willing to take the chance that one or more of those derailments turns into a Lac Megantic? Global Partners LP has announced that it will voluntarily begin requiring compliance with CPC-1232 rail car design standards for all crude oil unit trains arriving at its East and West Coast terminals. The CPC-1232 standards, which address transportation of hazardous materials including crude, were developed by the American Railroads Tank Car Committee for rail cars ordered since October 2011. Though the total amount is still small, it marks a little-noticed departure from the state’s reliance on its own declining oil patches, the Alaskan North Slope and foreign nations, led by Saudi Arabia. And though runaway freight trains are rare events, they have the potential to cause big damage. Refiners increasingly like the flexibility of buying crude even when there isn’t a pipeline to carry it. The vast formation under the Central Valley contains an estimated 15 billon barrels of oil, three to four times larger than North Dakota’s Bakken field. Exploiting the deposits by hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, would face sharp opposition by environmental groups, and recently enacted state legislation on the practice could throw a chill on its development when new regulations are implemented in two years. A new terminal to transfer rail oil to ships on the Columbia River would threaten schools and a newly developed waterfront in the event of an accident like that in Quebec, said Trip Jennings, an organizer at the environmental group Portland Rising Tide. The train was parked overnight on a hill on the main line, rather than on a siding, while the engineer went to a hotel. The current rule generally requires a loaded car be able to resist impacts at up to 18 mph.
There were nearly 200 incidents involving crude transported in pipelines in 2012 and 100 incidents involving tank cars, according to the agency’s database. Rockefeller helped pioneer oil pipelines, has the transportation of crude been so much in flux. 14, a CN Rail train left the tracks near Gogoma, Ont., a village of 394 people approximately 600 kilometres north of Toronto. Raj Mehta, director of International Programs in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary about the nature of crude oil and its role in oil by rail fires and explosions. Raj Mehta, director of International Programs in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering. Mehta, “Because of the impact, the heat energy vaporizes the oil and now you have a mixture of hydro carbon vapour and air together- so it’s a flammable mixture. Mehta points out that enormous quantities of gasoline are transported by truck in every Canadian city every day with a high degree of safety. These are the types of tanker cars that were involved in Lac Megantic and numerous other oil by rail derailments and explosions. An unattended train with 72 tank cars hauling crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale fields rolled downhill into the city and ignited an inferno that destroyed half of downtown.

In its aftermath, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an emergency order that requires new safety procedures for hauling crude. A 31-car train rolled downhill for about 30 miles in 2003, crashing in Commerce with a load of lumber that damaged property and injured a dozen people. Environmentalists have fought the construction of new pipelines, such as the Keystone XL that would link Canadian and North Dakota production fields to refineries in Texas.
Some North Dakota crude is also being shipped aboard barges down the West Coast to California, after arriving on rail in Seattle.
The group says that development of the Monterey field would create up to 2.8 million jobs and add $222 billion to the state economy.
It also now requires train crews to confirm with dispatchers the number of hand brakes applied to parked trains, as well as the grade, tonnage and length of the train. Whether stronger tank cars could have prevented the devastation in Lac-Megantic is unclear, though some kind of action seems warranted, officials said. The cars were loaded with grain, intermodal containers, and six tank cars contained propane, several of which were punctured and leaked. The train was hauling 100 Class 111 tank cars, 68 loaded with light crude oil from Alberta and 32 carried petroleum distillates, according to the Transport Safety Board preliminary report. Transport authorities on both sides of the border have been trying to upgrade the fleets for years, but have met resistance from the oil industry, which has balked at paying the estimated $1 billion bill. And the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it may demand more puncture-resistant tank cars.
If it had been highly volatile Bakken crude, which can burn like gasoline, the damage would have been far greater. Phillips 66, which owns refineries in Northern and Southern California, said it had received barged shipments of Bakken crude.
Hull said tapping California’s oil makes more sense for public safety and the environment than importing out-of-state oil by rail. At some point, a fire broke out in the locomotive and disabled the air brakes, which had not been set properly to compensate, investigators believe. Railroad administration spokesman Kevin Thompson noted that rail accidents had dropped by 43% over the last decade.
A large fire initially involved seven of the derailed cars, but when additional product was released, a total of 21 cars sustained fire damage ranging from minor to severe. In the first and second quarters of this year, the volume doubled over similar periods in 2012.

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