Rail tank-car owners must remove faulty valves
WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration on Friday ordered rail tank-car owners to replace defective valves never approved for installation on thousands of tank cars, causing oil to spill from moving trains.
The directive applies to a 3-inch valve installed on roughly 6,000 tank cars, and their owners have 60 days to replace them. Within 90 days, tank car owners must also replace 37,000 1-inch and 2-inch valves manufactured by the same company. While the smaller valves were not found to be defective like the larger ones, they were not approved for the tank cars.
The affected cars can be used in the interim, but none can be loaded with hazardous materials if they are still equipped with those valves after the deadlines.
The enforcement action comes after a story last month in McClatchy’s Bellingham Herald about 14 tank cars that were discovered leaking en route from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes.
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Oil-loading facility sanctioned in Washington rail car spill
The leak was discovered at the BP Cherry Point refinery near Ferndale, Wash., in early November by federal inspectors. — The Federal Railroad Administration has issued a violation against a North Dakota loading facility over a leaking oil car in northwest Washington state that initially wasn’t reported to state officials for a month.
About 1,600 gallons of oil was missing from the car, which had originated in Dore, N.D., at a facility operated by Musket Corp. and apparently escaped through a valve that was not properly shut. No local emergency officials were notified, and the state Utilities and Transportation Commission first learned about the spill in early December when BNSF Railway sent the agency a copy of a federal report it had 30 days to file.
The FRA violation was issued On Jan. 28, two days after McClatchy first reported on the leaking car. The agency has yet to determine the amount of the penalty, and the company will have a chance to negotiate what it will ultimately pay.
Damaged rail cars enjoy lenient rules as oil train explosions plague small towns
But more often than not, damaged rail cars don't cause a disaster. And sometimes those damaged cars are attached to the end of another long oil train heading in the same direction.
To get cars to the repair shop, shippers plug leaks and seek a special "one-time movement approval" from the Federal Railroad Administration. In other words, they keep moving a damaged oil tank car on the tracks toward its destination. The agency rarely rejects a one-time movement request, according to records.
Instead, the agency will "work with the requestor to ensure the information provided is complete and accurate and that appropriate safety measures are taken prior to moving the cars."
The result? No damaged cars approved for one-time movement leaked any hazardous materials or caused any injuries last year, according to FRA.
While that safety record keeps the agency out of the cross hairs of members of Congress or angry local officials, questions are being raised about a policy that allows cars with significant damage to travel on tracks that pass through hundreds of small American towns. Some of those cars still contain crude oil and other hazardous materials.
Flush with oil
Train crews spotted the first leak on the border of Idaho and Washington last month.
Oil had stained the side of one of 97 tank cars hauling crude from the Bakken Shale play in North Dakota. BNSF Railway Co. employees took the car out of service on Jan. 11 as the rest of the train rumbled past tiny Hauser, Idaho -- a pit stop in the "virtual pipeline" linking oil-rich North Dakota to West Coast refineries via rail.
By the time the train reached Vancouver, Wash., the next day, six more cars had sprung leaks and were pulled aside.
On Jan. 13, yet another seven cars were found to have spilled crude in Auburn, Wash., about 100 miles south of the train's final destination, a refinery in Anacortes run by Tesoro Corp.
In all, a few dozen gallons of crude had slopped over the tops and edges of the 14 cars, but no oil ever reached the ground, according to BNSF.