Cause of Ethanol Train Derailment Probed

train-derailFederal investigators are looking into why seven ethanol tanker cars derailed in South Dakota over the weekend. No one was injured in the derailment that occurred early Saturday morning, but at least one of the cars caught fire in the accident involving a 98-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad train.

Senate Transportation Committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) is watching the investigation closely and says they believe the derailment was caused by a broken rail or structural failure in the small bridge where the incident occurred. “Safety has got to be the highest priority,” said Thune. “These were some of the older model cars that actually derailed and started a fire there.” The Department of Transportation has required updates to fuel transportation cars, including the unjacketed DOT-111 cars which commonly carry ethanol.

“Ethanol should have some different treatment with respect to these cars compared to oil tank cars,” Thune said. “Most of the seven cars that derailed were older models that will require upgrades under these new safety standards.” Five of the seven cars were the DOT-111 models and two were newer jacketed models that will still be required to have some upgrades under the new standards.

RFA Honored with 3rd TRANSCAER Award

rfa-transcaerFor the third year in a row the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) was awarded the annual TRANSCAER® Achievement Award for its work training first responders for ethanol-related emergencies.

The award is given to “recognize the achievements of individuals, companies, and organizations which have gone beyond the normal call of duty to advocate, demonstrate and implement the principles of TRANSCAER®.” The volunteer coalition works to ensure the nation’s emergency responders are prepared and educated with the most up-to-date information to handle hazardous material disasters.

RFA established an “Ethanol Safety Seminar” program — in conjunction with TRANSCAER® — to educate emergency responders on the make-up and properties of ethanol as well as proper emergency techniques when responding to potentially harmful scenarios. The curriculum is centered on Ethanol Emergency Response Coalition’s (EERC) “Training Guide to Ethanol Emergency Response,” which has been used over the past five years to educate 4,600 first responders all across the country.

Missy Ruff, RFA’s technical services manager, was on hand to receive the award Tuesday at the AAR/BOE Hazardous Materials Seminar in Addison, Texas.

DOT Announces New Rail Car Standards

rfa-railcarU.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today announced a final rule for the safe transportation of flammable liquids by rail.

The final rule, developed in coordination with Canada, focuses on “safety improvements that are designed to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences in the event of an accident, and support emergency response.”

“Safety has been our top priority at every step in the process for finalizing this rule, which is a significant improvement over the current regulations and requirements and will make transporting flammable liquids safer,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, believes the new rule strikes “a fair balance in setting comprehensive standards while at the same time being sensitive to the limitation of retrofit capacity by giving less hazardous flammables — like ethanol — additional time to retrofit railcars.”

“We applaud the Department of Transportation for working to harmonize these regulations with Canada; for adopting a risk-based approach that prioritizes the most dangerous and highly-volatile flammables like crude oil while giving medium hazard liquids like ethanol additional time to come into compliance, for recognizing the limitations of the retrofit capacity, and, for establishing a regular reporting process for the retrofit schedule,” added Dinneen.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, however, expressed disappointment with the new rule. “Although we are pleased that this rule begins to acknowledge the difference between cars in ethanol and crude service, we are extremely disappointed that regulators are requiring extensive changes to the ethanol rail fleet, while seemingly ignoring the number one cause of these accidents – broken rails and poor track condition,” said Buis.

The new rule requires a phase out or retrofit of all DOT-111 railcars transporting crude oil and ethanol by May 2023. Specifically, the rule requires a phase out or retrofit of all unjacketed CPC-1232 railcars used to ship ethanol by July 2023. Additionally, a new tank car standard has been put in place that establishes the DOT-117 as the new railcar to ship oil and ethanol. The DOT-117 includes a 9/16 inch steel hull, roll over protection, full height head shields, top fitting protection, and jacketing with thermal protection.

DOT Issues Energy Transportation Actions

dotThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), together with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has announced a package of targeted actions to address some of the issues identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipped by rail.

The volume of crude oil being shipped by rail has increased exponentially in recent years, and the number of significant accidents involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil is unprecedented. “The boom in crude oil production, and transportation of that crude, poses a serious threat to public safety,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The measures we are announcing today are a result of lessons learned from recent accidents and are steps we are able to take today to improve safety. Our efforts in partnership with agencies throughout this Administration show that this is more than a transportation issue, and we are not done yet.”

The announcement includes one Emergency Order, two Safety Advisories, and notices to industry intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids.

Forum to Address Ag’s Challenges in Transportation

farmfoundationlogo3News of too few rail cars to move this year’s grain harvest from farming areas to consumers has grabbed the headlines most recently, but agriculture and rural America are facing several other transportation issues this year. Farm Foundation will look to address some key issues, including the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure, which is also important to the movement of biofuels – roads, bridges and waterways – during its next free forum, Wednesday, Nov. 19 from 9 to 11 a.m. EST at the National Press Club, 529 14th St., NW, Washington, D.C. with a live audiocast being made available for those unable to attend in person.

The Forum will begin with presentations by four industry leaders:

Eric Jessup, Vice President, Transportation, Industrials & Energy Services, Informa Economics;
John H. Miller, Group Vice President, Agricultural Products, BNSF Railroad;
Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director, Soy Transportation Coalition; and
Jon Samson, Executive Director of the American Trucking Associations’ Agriculture and Food Transporters Conference.

Moderating the session will be grain farmer Mark Scholl of J&M Scholl, Inc. Mr. Scholl and Mr. Miller are both Trustees of Farm Foundation.

More information and sign-up is available here.

RSI-CTC Calls for Rail Rulemaking Harmonization

The Railway Supply Institute Committee on Tank Cars (RSI-CTC) has submitted comments to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in response to efforts to create new regulations for the shipment of crude oil and ethanol. While RSI-CTC is glad of the government’s work, they are warning of significant disruption to safety and major sectors of the North American economy is mismatched rules are implemented by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Transport Canada. These disruptions, said RSI-CTC, include the loss of a significant portion of the rail tank car fleet during the modification period, and unintended consequences such as a potential increase in truck shipments of flammable liquids on highways.

To address these potential disruptions and safety hazards, the RSI-CTC called for greater harmonization between the two rulemaking bodies in the U.S. and Canada, and provided insight and specific recommendations across a range of issues that will help reduce the risk of transporting flammable liquids by rail in North America. The comments also urged DOT to focus more on the root causes of most derailments which continue to be track failure and human error, not tank car design.

railway supply institute logo“For years we have been advocating for a holistic approach to safety that will prevent train derailments and address tank car standards, among other issues,” said Tom Simpson, President of RSI. “In our comments today, we reiterated our positions and offered a comprehensive set of practical recommendations that will bring the greatest safety benefit in the quickest ways possible. For instance, we believe the timelines for modifications in the U.S. and Canada should be synchronized and feasible to avoid major disruptions of service. Moreover, the specifications for new tank cars and the rules for packaging of flammable liquids need to match up across North America. Without making these important changes to align the rules, the effect will be to deplete the fleet of tank cars available for service, and those effects to safety and the economy cannot be underestimated.”

RSI-CTC and independent third-party research show that the proposed U.S. rules—in their current form—would effectively force approximately 90,000 tank cars to be withdrawn from service at various times during the modification program and parked until the shop capacity required to carry out the necessary modifications becomes available. Between 2018 and 2020, 30-50 fifty percent of the total crude oil and ethanol tank car fleet would be idled at any given time. To replace the loss in 2017, the year the first compliance deadline hits, theoretically it would require 20,000 trucks carrying more than 370,000 truckloads on North American highways, a practical impossibility and potentially more hazardous outcome given the safety risk associated with transport by truck.

In its comments to PHMSA, the RSI-CTC supports a “commodity-based approach” for selecting the proper tank car that requires shippers to ensure materials are appropriately and safely packaged. The RSI-CTC also asked PHMSA to differentiate the requirements for new and existing cars, which will allow more new or modified cars with enhanced safety features to be put into service more quickly, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Ethanol Report with New RFA Chairman

ethanol-report-adRandall Doyal, General Manager and CEO of Minnesota-based Al-Corn Clean Fuel, is the new Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

rfa-doyal-1Doyal’s plant located in Claremont, Minnesota opened in 1996 and now produces 50 million gallons annually. In this interview, he talks about some of the challenges and opportunities facing the ethanol industry in the immediate future. Challenges include the lack of certainty surrounding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and railway transportation problems, while the importance of ethanol as a higher octane fuel and increasing exports are rising opportunities.

Ethanol Report with New RFA Chairman

Railways Not Required to Report Ethanol Delays

stbA few weeks ago, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) directed Canadian Pacific Railway Company and BNSF Railway Company to report their plans to resolve the backlogs of grain car orders and to submit weekly status reports on grain car service.

However, the order failed to address rail service problems for the delivery of ethanol, and Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis has sent a letter to the STB asking why.

growth-energy-logo“With over 61 percent of all ethanol delivered by rail, it is imperative that these issues be directly addressed and given the same priority as grain shipments,” said Buis in the letter. “Earlier this year, we saw ethanol supply dwindle and prices skyrocket solely because of the inability to get rail cars to ship product – even to the point of having many plants reduce production. Ultimately, these service failures hurt the American consumer as these costs are borne in the form of higher gasoline prices, which impact every segment of the American economy.”

BNSF reported recently that they have been moving increasing volumes of grain and ethanol over the last several months and as of last month was “moving more year–to–date in 2014 than the same period in 2013.” In a statement, BNSF said they “have exceeded last year’s totals in ethanol…by 9% in latest year-to-date totals.”

The first report from the railroad companies was due to STB on June 27.

Forecast for Greater GHG Reduction from Ethanol

A new report forecasts global ethanol consumption will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions this year by over 106 million tons.

global-rfaThe Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA), in cooperation with (S&T)2 Consultants Inc., released their Global Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction Forecast for 2014 as the International Transport Forum Summit begins today in Germany.

The annual report shows the reduction in global GHG emissions from global ethanol production is increasing. This year’s figure reveals that 90.38 billion litres of global ethanol production and use in 2014 will reduce global GHG emissions by over 291,000 tonnes per day. Compared to 2013, this is an increase of over 7000 tonnes per day in GHG emission savings.

According to GRFA, the 106.4 million ton GHG emissions reduction is equal to over 21 million cars being removed from the world’s roads in 2014, about 58,000 per day.

“We believe International Transport Forum Summit participants should call for an increase in ethanol production and use given the significant contribution ethanol is making to reducing global GHG emissions today,” said GRFA spokesman Bliss Baker. This year’s theme for the International Transport Forum Summit is “Transport for a Changing World”.

Ethanol on the Rails

ethanol-report-adIn the last couple of weeks there have been two derailments of trains carrying crude oil, one in Virginia on April 30 and one in Colorado on May 9. These incidents are just the latest in a string of accidents that began last summer when a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Other trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed and caught fire in Alabama, North Dakota, and New Brunswick, Canada.

rail-fireWhile crude oil has been the common denominator in these accidents, ethanol has been caught in the cross fire despite its nearly perfect safety record in rail transportation.

In this edition of “The Ethanol Report,” Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen discusses the safety record of ethanol shipments via the DOT-111A railcar, RFA’s program of safety training and best practices within the ethanol industry, and the need to focus on the root cause of recent derailments, track conditions and human error, and not exclusively on railcar design. Most importantly, he emphasizes “ethanol is not oil.”

Ethanol Report with RFA president Bob Dinneen on rail safety

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