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When it comes to the public, the topic of oil by rail knows no governmental boundaries: It’s a heated issue and it doesn’t matter if it’s in Canada or the United States.
It’s emotional because it involves human health and safety. A 2013 Lac Megantic, Quebec, train derailment with the loss of 47 lives rocked people in both countries as they watched the devastation.
After that, it was a train derailment spilling oil into a West Virginia river. More recently, an oil train derailed in northern Ontario in March 2015.
Concerns about oil by rail, especially oil tankers hauling light, sweet Bakken crude, continue escalating across the two countries’ borders.
It’s controversial because it involves a fossil fuel a contentious issue in itself. When combining testy, complex environmental issues with human health and safety concerns the topic of oil by rail heightens to even greater levels across the 49th Parallel of the United States and Canadian border.
Both countries are re evaluating their safety standards for hauling crude oil by rail.
In July 2014, Transport Canada, the federal agency tasked with regulating the transportation industry in Canada, published final rules to build flammable liquid tank cars to higher standards, which includes thicker steel in tanks, half head shields to prevent end to end puncturing, and top fitting protection. However, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) recommended additional, more stringent standards for transporting all flammable liquids.
Transport Canada then announced proposed tougher oil tank car standard in March 2015. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, and the Federal Railroad Administration for stricter standards across North America.
Following the TSB recommendations, Transport Canada proposed additional standards requiring tank cars hauling flammable liquids to be jacketed, thermally protected with thicker steel, full head shields, top fitting protection and new bottom outlet valves. If finalized, the regulations would require crude oil, ethanol and all other flammable liquids tankers to meet requirements by May 1, 2025, according to the Transport Canada website. braking requirements.”
While the derailments prompted both countries to re assess their regulations, David Thomson, Engineered Rail Solutions president in McHenry, Ill., said the key is looking back at what caused the derailments, the history of regulations, and the oil itself that dominates much of today’s oil by rail Bakken crude. and Canada. In looking at the historical railroad transportation of crude oil, regulations in both countries date back to the World War II era when heavy crude dominated in the industry, Thomson described. Both countries require testing and labeling of any hazardous material, as well as tanker car, engine, and track inspections. “That’s an industry standard,” he added. Baker Management, Inc., president, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Each physical tanker inspection at the originating terminal includes brakes, symbols identifying what the car is hauling, valves, wheels, etc. “Everything on that tanker,” Thomson continued. Locomotives are inspected every 90 days and preventative maintenance is done based on the car owner’s standards.
Railroad tracks are inspected visually daily. “They (track inspectors) actually ride and look at every inch of rail,” Thomson described. More crude oil on tracks puts more demand on the tracks and increased need for track inspections.
It may take 5 to 10 years to develop the advanced skills and experience to learn how to inspect tracks, Thomson said. “You get that by experience by working your way up through the seniority system at the railroads. New employees begin by being trained by fellow employees and all railroads have now instituted very comprehensive training programs. As the employee’s seniority increases, so do the jobs and experience they gain. From this trained pool, track inspectors are assigned.”
Despite current regulations and self imposed industry standards, “the industry has expressed that collectively they need to focus resources, and they have to a major extent, on doing a better job when hauling crude,” Thomson said, including additional inspections and mechanical maintenance. is a railroad industry organization focusing on testing, inspection, verification and environmental, consulting service, logistics and engineering and construction. A mid April CORE conference included sessions relating to new regulations, driving safety, and loading and unloading best practices. heavy crude. Chemically, light, sweet crude oil isn’t identical to heavy crude. There are various studies that don’t agree on the volatility of Bakken crude oil, Thomson said.
Alberta has longstanding been Canada’s largest oil producing province, Baker described, followed by Saskatchewan. With the Bakken Play stretching into southeastern Saskatchewan, Baker said the province now produces about 450,000 barrels per day (BPD), a mix of medium heavy crude from western Saskatchewan and medium light crude from southeastern Saskatchewan its portion of the Bakken.
Until the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing, both Alberta and Saskatchewan’s oil production historically outpaced North Dakota’s oil productivity, Baker continued, and the task of getting the oil from the wellhead to market has been in place for years in Canada. “There is a fairly mature pipeline (system) infrastructure in place in Saskatchewan,” he said. For example, Enbridge and the TransCanada pipelines have been in place for decades.
Baker estimates about 10 to 15 percent of Saskatchewan crude oil moves by rail compared to more than 60 percent of North Dakota’s crude moved by rail. and Canada, Baker explained, as the Bakken Play unleashed crude in North Dakota, Montana and southeastern Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan’s Bakken oil play has experienced expediential production growth similar to North Dakota’s Bakken play, Baker said. “If you can’t move it by pipeline, you move it by rail,” he said. Trucking is the least palatable means of long hauling crude and is reserved for transportation from the well site to the pipeline or rail facility.
Currently TransCanada Pipeline Limited is evaluating the potential of re purposing an existing natural gas pipeline from western Canada to eastern Canada to move additional crude oil to refineries in Ontario and Quebec to help meet Canada’s area of highest market demand, Baker said. Baker said he was “comfortable” with Canada’s current regulations regarding crude oil transportation, but he added that it’s imperative for governments in both countries to work with both local and federal governments and the railroad industry as they evaluate regulations. “I think that oil by rail regulatory enforcement really needs to be the main factor,” he advised. “If you don’t have a strong enforcement team . it’s not going to work.”