ExxonMobil’s oil spill emergency response plan is redacted by the federal government. Not a joke.

Burst Pipeline’s Spill Plan Is None of Your Business, Suggests Regulator

Federal regulators have released ExxonMobil’s 2013 emergency response plan for the pipeline that ruptured in an Arkansas residential neighborhood on March 29, but the document is so heavily redacted that it offers little information about Exxon’s preparations for such an accident.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) completely blotted out more than 100 pages of the 290-page document, including Exxon’s worst-case scenario hypothesis and its plans to repair any damage caused by an accident. Via

Remember the oil spill in Arkansas neighborhood? People in the area were evacuated from their homes and the abutting wetland was “cleaned” up with paper towels.

Arkansas is suing.

More from InsideClimateNews

No One is Really Monitoring the Pipeline in Your Back Yard

Last Friday the Associated Press reported that approximately 300 oil pipeline spills have occurred in North Dakota since January 2012 – and that none of those spills were reported to North Dakota residents and landowners. This sort of news raises the question of who, if anyone, is paying attention to the integrity and efficacy of America’s pipelines.

The most recent publicly known spill in North Dakota was discovered by a wheat farmer in Tioga, near the northwestern corner of the state, on September 29. Over 865,000 gallons of oil, enough to ooze over seven acres of land, had leaked from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline. Tesoro didn’t know about the leak until the farmer, Steven Jensen, called another oil company with a pipeline in the Tioga area to report that oil was gurgling up from the ground on his property. After being relayed to Tesoro the same day, notice of the problem got to the North Dakota Department of Health, whose officials did not alert the public of the accident until several days later, according to the New York Times. According to the AP, “officials kept it quiet for 11 days - and only said something after the AP asked about it.”

Read more. [Image: Kevin Cederstrom/Associated Press]

Wiese told several hundred oil and gas pipeline compliance officers that his agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA), has “very few tools to work with” in enforcing safety rules even after Congress in 2011 allowed it to impose higher fines on companies that cause major accidents.

"Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No," he said.

What’s going on with pipelines? Has there been a high number of major pipeline tragedies recently, or are such incidents just more in the news with widespread attention to potential federal approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline?

As someone who has worked on pipeline safety and associated environmental protection issues since I began serving on a pipeline federal advisory committee in the mid-1990s, I can say confidently that the period from 2010-2013 has had a very large number of serious transmission pipeline tragedies compared to the previous decade (serious in the lay-person’s sense of the term, i.e., not the relatively narrow definition developed by federal pipeline regulators).

DOT Proposes Rules for Rail Transport of Flammable Materials: New Standards for Classification, Tank Cars, Emergency Preparedness

DOT Proposes Rules for Rail Transport of Flammable Materials: New Standards for Classification, Tank Cars, Emergency Preparedness

Following recent events highlighting the potential devastating effects of accidents involving rail transportation of flammable liquids, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a pre-publication copy of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on July 23 designed to improve the safety of transporting such materials.…

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According to a new review by the Wall Street Journal, this scenario is common in the U.S. — more often than not, it’s people who discover pipeline leaks, not the pipeline’s leak detection equipment. The WSJ looked at Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data for 251 pipeline incidents over four years, and found that nearby residents or company employees were nearly three times as likely to detect a leak in a pipeline than pipeline technology was. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring discovered leaks just 19.5 percent of the time.

The review points to the dangers of transporting oil by both pipeline and rail, concerns that are especially relevant as the State Department’s release of the final Environmental Impact Statement of Keystone XL draws nearer. The section of Tesoro pipeline that leaked wasn’t required to have leak monitoring or pressure sensors, which makes the spill’s discovery 11 days later by a farmer unsurprising. In an October interview with the New York Times, Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, said the federal government hasn’t moved quickly enough to improve leak detection standards

U.S. DOT - New Emergency Order on Crude oil Rail Shipments

U.S. DOT – New Emergency Order on Crude oil Rail Shipments

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued an Emergency Order which requires all railroad trains carrying large amount of Bakken Crude oil to issue notification to inform State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) about the operations of said trains through their states.

FRA, Federal Railroad Administration and PHMSA, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, has…

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Train derailments aren't an argument for pipelines.

Early on Friday morning, November 8, 2013, a 90-car train carrying crude oil derailed in Pickens County, Alabama. Investigators have not determined a cause for the accident, but initial reports differentiate it from the Lac-Megantic accident in at least one regard: the tank cars were T108s rather than DOT-111s. In both cases, however, the tank cars were carrying crude originating from North Dakota. The fires subsided on Sunday allowing investigators access to the scene.

(Source: Reuters)

For those of you that don’t know, the July 6 accident at Lac-Megantic, Quebec, was the worst dangerous goods by rail accident in forty years. Friday’s accident didn’t crack the headlines, as no one was hurt (thank goodness) and nothing was poisoned but Alabama swamp (still a problem). But in Quebec, the problem and solution were obvious: don’t leave rail cars unattended without the brakes on. Here? A symptom of the U.S.’ ever-more dilapidated rail infrastructure.

This is going to be used in pro-pipeline rhetoric and when it does, it will demonstrate a misunderstanding of the real problem. Pipelines are a really bad thing because even if their total incidence failure rate is lesser than rail’s, that doesn’t take into account the damage caused by incidents, both in release of product and ecological harm. 30 tank cars of crude oil burning in a marsh is pretty bad, but nothing compared to a pipeline spewing thick toxic explosive unchecked.

The product is dangerous, yes, but that danger is invoked by the act of transporting it. Unfortunately my solution of “stop the crude oil boom” would be poorly reviewed by government auditors as bad for industry, so if we won’t stop exploiting nonrenewable resources we could at least try to do it safely and cleanly.

Rail is not perfect, but the industry regulation is responsive and creaky wooden trestles can be maintained even in the most backwoods of the American Southern short lines. Not a pleasant job, but we need them - and better to scrape mud and mosquitoes from your face than a Packing Group III hazardous material.

Of course, then there’s the matter of how much fuel those trains are burning and how big THAT carbon footprint is, but since I haven’t seen any numbers on that I’ll just dream of electric trains.

Oil Industry Study Claiming Bakken Crude Safe Contains Whopper of a Disclaimer

Oil Industry Study Claiming Bakken Crude Safe Contains Whopper of a Disclaimer

by Justin Mikulka / DeSmog Blog

On December 30, 2013, a 

train carrying Bakken crude oil crashed in Casselton

, North Dakota resulting in a massive explosion.

In January of 2014, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released their preliminary testing results stating that Bakken crude from North Dakota was more explosive than other crude oils. PHMSA is a part of the…

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Emails obtained by In These Times show a cozy relationship between North Dakota’s oil industry and a chief federal inspector charged with monitoring the safety of shipping crude oil by rail. The emails cast serious doubts on the integrity of the federal government’s supposed crackdown on the industry’s shoddy shipping practices—a subject of growing concern in the midst of a largely unregulated, and in some cases, deadly, transport boom.

Last August, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration announced they were rolling out the “Bakken Blitz”—a crackdown on shippers and carriers that mislabel their cargo. Federal hazmat regulations require trains carrying oil to properly classify and identify their shipments with placards. These practices are supposed to ensure that oil is safely packaged before being shipped. They’re also aimed at informing railroad personnel and, in the event of a mishap, any emergency responders.

Regulators introduced the Blitz just one month after the Lac Mégantic disaster, when a runaway freight train carrying oil exploded in the small Quebec town, killing 47 people. In that case, Canadian safety investigators found American shippers in North Dakota’s Bakken region had understated the volatility of the oil that ignited and destroyed much of Lac Mégantic’s downtown area. Improper classification caused the shipment to be transported in an improper package. Emergency responders, too, were caught by surprise at how quickly the fire spread and how long it burned.

As part of the Department of Transportation’s new enforcement effort, PHMSA officials show up unannounced at rail facilities to conduct classification inspections—at least that’s what an agency spokesperson told In These Times at first. An email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request strongly suggests that Kipton Wills, Central Region Director of PHMSA’s Office of Hazardous Materials Enforcement, pre-arranged at least one of his agency’s visits to a Hess Corp. rail yard in Tioga, North Dakota, last October.

Oil Industry Study Claiming Bakken Crude Safe Contains Whopper of a Disclaimer

On December 30, 2013, a train carrying Bakken crude oil crashed in Casselton, North Dakota resulting in a massive explosion. In January of 2014, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released their preliminary testing res


The U.S. agency in charge of regulating pipelines and oil-shipping rail cars could shrink its staff by 9 percent by mid-June, if employees accept the buyouts the agency is offering them.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is offering buyouts to 33 employees on top of the 13 buyouts it offered at the end of last year, InsideClimate News reports. If all the employees accept their buyouts, the agency would experience a net loss of 40 workers (it hired six recently).

A PHMSA spokesman told InsideClimate News that the agency would continue to hire in other key areas, and that the buyouts were done to help manage the agency’s workforce in areas where a large percentage of workers are eligible for retirement. But some pipeline safety advocates are worried that, in this period of surging oil-by-rail activity and blossoming pipeline networks across the U.S., a smaller PHMSA could be bad news for fossil fuel transport safety.

“It seems like a lot of people … [and] an inopportune time,” Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust and a member of a PHMSA committee said. “They have all these Congressional mandates, they have all these requests from [the National Transportation Safety Board] to fix things, there’s been a series of incidents that they’re trying to investigate, and they’re even saying out loud how they don’t have enough inspectors and how they would like to do more.”

The following is a guest post from Jeffrey Insko, who lives along the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline route in Groveland Township, Michigan […]

I traveled from my Michigan home to Washington DC, along with other concerned citizens, conservationists, and representatives from the National Wildlife Federation.

Our mission: To talk with regulators and legislators about the dangers – to our stable climate, to wildlife, and to our communities – posed by the increased production and transportation of tar sands. But one agency wasn’t listening.

For me, this issue literally hits home – Enbridge has a pipeline running right through my backyard. As the oil industry barrels forward with various complicated schemes to move tar sands oil from Alberta through our communities to export off of our coasts, our government has been slow to react. It’s been left to citizens to call for caution and reasonable measures designed to safeguard our natural resources and the rights of landowners in the face of the oil industry’s overwhelming resources and influence.

Among those reasonable measure is a citizen petition calling for new regulations to protect wildlife and people from the risks of tar sands. Spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation and signed by a broad coalition of conservation groups and individuals, the petition seeks stricter rules that account for the unique properties of tar sands oil.

The rules we seek are so sensible, so uncontroversial, that it’s hard to believe they don’t already exist. For instance:

  • Industry reporting of what materials are being transported through pipelines
  • The development of spill response plans that account for the unique properties of tar sands
  • A requirement that operators immediately shut down and repair lines carrying tar sands as soon as operators discover safety defects
  • greater transparency in pipeline inspection reporting

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Department office charged with overseeing the 2.6 million miles of pipelines in the United States is spending more time at oil and gas industry conferences than it is addressing spills and other incidents, a watchdog group contends in a new report. Between 2007 and 2012, staff from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spent 2,807 days at conferences, meetings and other events sponsored by the oil, gas and pipeline industries, according to the report from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).