Deteriorating infrastructure plus crude oil could lead to tragedy, activists say
BY PATRICIA MADEJ, Daily News Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org, 215-854-5938
POSTED: July 10, 2014
A YEAR AGO, 47 lives were lost in Quebec during a fiery explosion caused by a derailed oil train, and yesterday, about 50 activists demonstrated in Center City to make sure that same kind of tragedy doesn’t happen here in Philly.
“The only way to truly halt oil trains is to keep it in the ground and turn away from the self-destructive development of fossil fuels,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and one of the speakers. “We have to move towards investment on a national scale of renewable, sustainable energy sources and energy efficiency that will support clean and healthy communities.”
In January, a CSX train derailed, leaving an oil-tank car and a boxcar dangling over the Schuylkill for about a week before they were safely removed.
CSX transports 190,000 barrels of crude oil every day through Philadelphia’s aging infrastructure, activists said. With a population of 1.5 million, the city could face disaster if a train accident occurred.
The first step during yesterday’s demonstration, on Locust Street near 25th, was to sign a petition attempting to ban DOT-111 tank cars, nicknamed “Pepsi cans on wheels” because of their tendency to puncture easily.
The demonstration attracted Councilman Curtis Jones and activists from environmental groups such as Clean Water Action, Protecting Our Waters and Philly Rising Tide. They carried signs that read, “Oil Trains = Bombs on Wheels” and “No Exploding Oil Trains.” Activists also held up names of each of the people who died last year in Canada.
They passed around a list of chants including, “Oil trains are not safe, fracked oil is a big mistake” and “fossil fuels – on tracks – is wack.”
Activists said the long-term goal is to do away with crude oil and replace it with cleaner alternatives. But for now, they’re looking for railways and carts to be improved to ensure safer travel.
“There’s one good way to prevent : that’s by being extra cautious, by investing in our infrastructure to have safeguards,” Jones said
Philadelphians Say NO to Oil Trains As Canadians Lost in Derailment Disaster Last Year Are Remembered
Councilman Curtis Jones and Residents Call for Change and Protection
Philadelphia, PA – Activists gathered Wednesday along the train tracks adjacent to the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia to call for protection of local communities, clean air and water supplies from dangerous oil trains that barrel through the City every day.
A moment of silence and the reading of the names of the 47 people who died in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a year ago in a fiery train accident marked the opening of the program with a message that the City must not suffer the same fate. After speakers were heard, the group marched through the Park, led by people representing each of the 47 lives lost.
Speakers included: Reverend Stephen Keiser; Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network; Mary Donahue, Clean Water Action; Jess Gould, West Passyunk Neighbors Association; Kevin Poole, Northeast Grays Ferry Residents Association, Inc.; Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.
The group staged their event at the Schuylkill Banks Trail Park at 25th and Locust Streets next to the rails used by CSX Corporation for transporting 190,000 barrels ofcrude oil every day to Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ (PES) refinery in South Philadelphia.
In January of this year, seven cars of a CSX train derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge, leaving an oil tank car dangling over the Schuylkill River for a week, a major catastrophe narrowly averted. Accidents occur regularly throughout the U.S., escalating with the production of Bakken shale oil from North Dakota. In fact, more oil was spilled in rail accidents in the U.S. last year than in the previous 4 decades, according to federal statistics.
And yet safety and emergency preparedness is lagging terribly behind the ramp up in domestic oil extraction. PES and CSX Corporation plan to expand crude-by-rail through Philadelphia by 50% before the end of the year, making Philadelphia more vulnerable than ever to disaster.
Mile-long trains rumble through the City’s neighborhoods, over the river on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge and the crumbling 25th Street Bridge without warning twice a day – the train schedule is kept secret for “security reasons”, according to Emergency Management officials.
Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. spoke about the dangers for City residents and the importance of preventing catastrophe in Philadelphia. Pastor Stephen Keiser memorialized those lost in Quebec and neighborhood organizations and environmental groups spoke of the need to stop allowing the oil companies to serve their needs above the public’s.
Organizers of the event, a coalition of local groups (see list below), are calling for the dangerous trains through the populated City to stop, for effective emergency preparedness and the release and dissemination of critical emergency response information to the people of Philadelphia, and for sweeping change of oil transport at the federal regulatory level.
For instance, a petition is being circulated calling for a ban of the outdated and unsafe DOT111 tank cars known as “Pepsi cans on wheels” which are known to puncture and explode due to substandard construction and the high volatility of Bakken crude oil.
The groups are advocating for fossil fuels to be replaced by clean, renewable and energy efficient power sources. The event is part of a national Week of Action exposing a myriad of crude-by-rail problems with the ultimate message “Keep oil off the rails and in the ground”. (www.stopoiltrains.org)
“What is truly evil about the train disaster in Lac-Mégantic is the fact that this disaster could have been prevented if human life and safety were valued as highly as maximum profits. The derailment of an oil tanker over the Schuylkill River in January should alarm every Philadelphian and make us realize that what happened in Quebec last year could very easily have happened here. Pennsylvania has the resources to ensure that energy can be produced and transported safely, without catastrophic risk,” said Stephen Keiser, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Philadelphia.
“There is a growing awareness of the crude oil that CSX trains are carrying through our neighborhoods at an increasing rate. We cannot ignore the harm and loss of life that other crude oil derailments have caused across the U.S. and Canada. It is by shear fate that no one has been seriously injured. It is only a matter of time. We are scared and much must be done to assure our safety and alleviate our fears,” said Jessica Gould, President of West Passyunk Neighbors Association.
“We don’t have to look far to see the kinds of derailments occurring and what they can do to destabilize neighborhoods and communities. Whether it’s in Delaware or New Jersey or Pennsylvania, we have seen recent instances when accidents happen and they have unintended consequences that are drastic and long term for communities,” said Curtis Jones, Jr., Philadelphia City Councilman.
“Because of the recent immense influx of crude-by-rail transportation on this aging infrastructure in Philadelphia, we’re concerned about the ability of the rail network to handle it, and our city’s ability to prepare for and respond to an accident. It is only a matter of time before the City is tested with a disastrous derailment,” said Mary Donahue, Program Organizer with Clean Water Action.
“Philadelphia gets a double whammy from shale oil because layered on top of the risk of exploding tank cars, emergency evacuations, and air and water pollution these oil trains bring polluting fossil fuel to the refineries, terminals, and ports that make up the Philly Frack Hub. These menacing oil trains have got to be stopped and families and community health put first,”said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
“The people of Pennsylvania have a constitutional right to clean air and clean water. God forbid a derailment happens; it would be the sum of all fears for communities here. CSX has a responsibility to operate safely but the 25th Street Bridge is a crumbling hazard, along with other dangers. We need our quality of life, and our environmental and economic life in the City improved and people protected from these trains,” said Kevin Poole of Northeast Grays Ferry Residents Association.
“Ticking time-bombs should not be rolling by our schools and neighborhoods on a daily basis. We need to free ourselves from our fatal addiction to fossil fuel, whether it’s carried by oil-bomb trains or pipelines. Another world is possible, a just, ecologically sustainable world, but we can’t build it on a dead planet”, said Cynthia Bertrand Holub of Rising Tide Philly.
“Our local, state, and federal officials have an absolute obligation to protect us from the lethal threat and from the toxic spills into our waterways, from shale oil and gas “bomb trains”. We join in protest and outrage, and remain committed to hold decisionmakers’ feet to the fire until residents’ water, air, and climate are protected, the bomb trains halted, and a safe energy economy is built”, said Iris Marie Bloom, Founder, Protecting Our Waters.
Groups participating in the event include (alphabetical order):
Clean Water Action (CWA) is a million member national environmental organization with 17 statewide offices including Pennsylvania. CWA’s mission is to protect the environment, public health, economic well being, and community quality of life.https://www.cleanwateraction.org/pa
Delaware Riverkeeper Network is a nonprofit advocacy organization with 15,000 members throughout the watershed states working to defend the entire 13,539 square mile Delaware River Watershed. www.delawareriverkeeper.org
Northeast Grays Ferry Residents Association, Inc. is a registered 501 c3 nonprofit organization that believes in equal opportunity, public health and safety, economic development and fights poverty to enhance the quality of life for the people of Northeast Grays Ferry.
Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light (Phila IPL) is a Chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA/IPL), communities of faith responding to climate change as a moral issue.
The state’s department of safety and homeland security confirmed that CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. report oil train shipments in compliance with the Department of Transportation’s May emergency order requiring rail companies to notify state officials when they ship more than 1 million gallons of the highly flammable Bakken crude.
But Lewis Schiliro, the state’s secretary of safety and homeland security, signed confidentiality agreements with both rail companies, agreeing to share the shipment information only with state and local emergency management agencies.
“The disclosure of this sensitive information to the general public could impact transportation security and public safety,” department spokeswoman Kimberly Chandler said.
PBF Energy‘s Delaware City Refinery received an average 102,400 barrels of Midwestern and Canadian crude oil daily during the first quarter of the year. Company officials have said that number could grow to 210,000 barrels daily, the equivalent of three to four trainloads each day.
CSX has said little about its crude-by-rail plans in Delaware, although company tank cars are a regular sight along its tracks in northern New Castle County, and the railroad has ties to an emerging crude by rail operation in nearby Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and other states also have declined to share details on crude oil trains with the public in recent months, as railroads impose confidentiality requirements on emergency agencies as they comply with a federal requirement to notify emergency services about shipments.
Since 2006 there have been 16 significant freight rail accidents in the U.S. and Canada, including one last July that killed 47 people and destroyed much of a small town in Quebec.
Oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana is more flammable and volatile than other crude oils. Since November, train derailments and resulting spills in Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia have all caused fires and millions of dollars in environmental damage.
In recent weeks, states have come under pressure from residents and environmental organizations to disclose the routes, frequency and volume of trains carrying oil. Some, including California, Montana, North Dakota and Virginia, released statistics.
Amy Roe, who works for the Sierra Club of Delaware, compiled a map of where Norfolk Southern trains ship oil based on eyewitness accounts.
The trains cross from Pennsylvania into Delaware through the Susquehanna River and head toward Newark. From there, the trains take three routes to the Delaware City refinery. One route passes through Newark and east along Del. 72 to the refinery. Another travels north from Newark to Wilmington, then follows the Delaware River south. Another route goes southeast from Newark to New Castle before heading south to Delaware City.
Roe said Norfolk Southern keeps trains, many with tankers full of oil, in a storage facility near her home in Newark. Accidents near the facility or crashes involving nearby Amtrak trains could cause explosions, she said.
“There’s all kinds of terrible scenarios about horrible things that can happen,” she said, adding that Newark has “no appropriate facility to fight that kind of fire.”
Rail companies balked at states disclosing too much information, citing security concerns and commercial confidentiality for their clients.
CSX and Norfolk Southern officials said they sent all relevant information to Delaware per the Department of Transportation’s order, but both asked state officials not to disclose any details on crude oil shipments.
“We feel that the disclosure of specific routes, specific amounts, timetables, schedules undermines our competitiveness in this environment,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said.
PBF Energy Inc. told investors in April its Delaware City refinery takes in an average 102,400 barrels a day of rail-shipped crude oil. The plant has the capacity to process 191,000 barrels of crude oil daily.
In Delaware, CSX only operates in northern New Castle County, with trains passing through Newark and Wilmington. No CSX trains visit the Delaware City refinery.
Spokesman for Delaware Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper said the senators were aware the state decided not to disclose details of the oil shipments, but they had not yet taken a position on the issue.
Coons was one of 16 senators who sent a letter to the Senate transportation committee calling for a $40 million fund over two years to increase inspections and research on how to safely transport crude oil.
In March, state legislators held a community meeting in Delaware City on the safety of crude oil transport. Many expressed concerns about the preparedness of local and county officials to deal with an accident and resulting spill.
CSX and Norfolk Southern have increased track inspections, reduced train speed in certain areas and added a monitoring system to detect any issues along crude oil rail tracks, officials said.
Norfolk Southern offers training to emergency responders on how to handle shipments containing hazardous materials, including crude, Pidgeon said. A training took place in Newark in October and another will be held in Wilmington in August.