Archive for the ‘Industrial Accidents’ Category

DOT Wants To Keep Oil Trains On the Rails

via Wikimedia

via Wikimedia

There’s a lot of oil coming up out of the ground in the U.S. right now. Especially in North Dakota and Montana where there is a good old fashioned oil boom underway. We’ve noted before that increasingly that oil is making its way to market by rail. Given the unprecedented ramp up in production, it was inevitable that pipelines wouldn’t be able to handle all that extra goo. But shipping all that oil by rail is causing some problems. For one thing, the massive increase in the number of oil cars rolling across the land is tying up other rail traffic. Wheat farmers, for instance, are having trouble getting their crops to export terminals on the Pacific coast, and face skyrocketing freight charges. The tracks they need to move their grain are too crammed with oil trains.

Also, those oil trains have a tendency to go off the rails. Not only that, the oil from those north plains oil fields, known as Bakken crude, tends to be more flammable than your garden variety oil.  The combination of flying rail cars and volatile fuel has had some very unpleasant consequences. The issue just got close to home here at Knowledge Mosaic. Last week a Burlington Northern train carrying Brakken crude derailed underneath the heavily-traveled Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. Fortunately, the tanker cars didn’t explode and nobody was injured. But having those tanks flip over a mere mile and a half from our offices was a disturbing reminder just how vulnerable densely packed urban areas are to these rolling bombs. The first thought that popped into my mind was the thundering disaster in Quebec when an oil train derailed, killing nearly 50 people.

The dangers oil trains pose has drawn the attention of the Department of Transportation which has released details of proposed rules intended to improve the safe transportation of large quantities of flammable liquids. The Department proposes a wide ranging number of changes, from phasing out older tank cars, requiring upgraded braking systems, requiring more comprehensive flammability testing of oil prior to shipping, requiring future cars to have thicker hulls and rollover protection, and imposing reduced speed limits for oil shipments, especially in urban areas where any explosions would be the most destructive.

There will be a sixty day comment period in which the energy sector is sure to argue strenuously against the proposals. The railroad companies themselves are none too comfortable with the risks these shipments pose and are likely to support the regulations. As are the citizens of the countless cities and towns through which the trains run. Including all those people who drive over the Magnolia Bridge every day.

Bayer CropScience and Methyl Isocyanate (MIC): A Timeline

Photo by Michael D. Heckman. Some rights reserved.

It’s been

…41 years since Aldicarb was introduced to the world. Aldicarb is a pesticide sold under the brand name Temik® by Bayer CropScience; its key component is methyl isocyanate (MIC), a highly toxic chemical.

26 years since MIC gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing more than 10,000 people and setting the record for the world’s worst industrial disaster.

…2 ½ years since an explosion rattled a Bayer CropScience plant in West Virginia, killing two workers and narrowly missing a tank holding MIC.

…seven months since EPA and Bayer CropScience entered into an agreement in which Bayer voluntarily requested cancellation of the registration of Temik, which is to be phased out over a number of years.

…two months and 13 days since Bayer CropScience announced that, after a brief hiatus, they planned to restart production of MIC at their West Virginia facility, continuing until 2012.

…two months and 3 days since the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released their final investigation report on the 2008 explosion at the Bayer CropScience facility.

…one month and 16 days since the citizens of Kanawha County filed a complaint in district court, requesting that the court enter an order declaring Bayer’s operation of their West Virginia facility “a private and public nuisance,” and “barring Bayer From resuming and/or continuing operation of the Bayer’s Pesticide manufacturing plant” until Bayer demonstrates compliance with the recommendations from the CSB report.

…one month and 14 days since the Court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining Bayer CropScience from resuming or engaging in the production of MIC at its chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia

…six days since Bayer CropScience announced their decision to abandon plans to restart production of MIC at the West Virginia plant, the same day that the district judge dismissed the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have barred MIC production at the plant.


The judge has now given the West Virginia plaintiffs ten days in which they can amend their suit on the basis of Bayer CropScience’s recent announcement, after which Bayer CropScience has 20 days to respond to any amended complaint. Stay tuned.

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