Pipelines on Wheels

Pennsylvania adds another hazard to the rails

(Republished blog from December 11, 2019. UPDATE: Since this blog was posted, the Trump administration pushed through new rules that allow rail shipments of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) that took effect in August 2020)

Another oil train wreck in Canada calls attention to ongoing oil and gas danger on the rails. These were only oil tank cars, whereas LPG or LNG tankers, which are far more common in the Marcellus Shale region, could have made the situation far worse, especially in a densely populated area like Pittsburgh, Scranton, Norristown or Philadelphia.

Image: US DOT Placard 1267 Petroleum Crude Oil, Flammable Liquid, Class 3

Dave Deibert of the Saskatoon Starphoenix wrote about the December 9, 2019 Canadian Pacific Railway oil train wreck:

‘How many more lives put at risk?’ asks Sask. MP after train derailment
Tom Lukiwski, the Conservative MP in the Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan riding, said it was fortunate there were no reported injuries or more damage after a train carrying crude derailed early Monday morning and lit on fire. “This could have been a tragedy on the scale of the Lac Megantic derailment in Quebec,” Lukiwski said in a prepared statement, referring to the 2013 train disaster in which 47 people died — the deadliest rail incident in Canadian history that involved a non-passenger train. Source

On December 10, 2019 U.S. News & World Report added this:

Fires From CP Rail Train Derailment Under Control: Safety Officials
(REUTERS) – Fires are still burning at the site where a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed early Monday while hauling oil, but they are under control, CP and public safety officials said on Tuesday. The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) said in a statement the scene was contained, with about 100 responders focusing on suppressing the remaining fires in an affected area of about five to 10 acres. CP said in a statement that 34 cars derailed west of Guernsey, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, spilling crude and causing a fire. Source

It was just over a month ago, when a train pulling empty crude oil tank cars near Greensburg, Pa., rear-ended an intermodal train. This latest story out of Canada illustrates how much worse that Pennsylvania train wreck could have been.

From my November 10th ‘Risky Rails’ blog:
As dangerous as oil tank car wrecks can be, there are likely far more tank cars hauling LPG in Pennsylvania. When wrecks occur with these railcars, it can lead to a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion or BLEVE, which is “an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached temperatures above its boiling point.”


Image: US DOT Placard 1075 Butane, LPG, Propane, Flammable Gas, Class 2

The latest focus on this issue is in eastern Pennsylvania, with proposed plans for trucks and trains to be used for hauling LNG from northern tier counties for ocean going vessel exports from Marcus Hook. There’s a December 23rd deadline for comments.

FROM NEW FORTRESS ENERGY: “Pennsylvania Liquefier – We are developing liquefaction assets near the wellhead in the Marcellus to supply LNG. Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG, is natural gas that has been cooled to the point of liquefying. LNG is odorless, colorless, non-corrosive, non-toxic, and non-flammable in liquid form. It is also much denser than gaseous natural gas, occupying only about 1/600th of the space. This significant volume reduction means LNG can be transported and stored much more efficiently than gaseous natural gas.”

Jamison Cocklin of Natural Gas Intelligence reported on November 20, 2018:

New Fortress Energy Planning Two LNG Plants in Northeast Pennsylvania
New Fortress Energy LLC is developing plans for two facilities that would liquefy natural gas produced in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, according to a recent filing with federal regulators. While the prospectus does not reveal the proposed locations, New Fortress presented its plans to Wyalusing Township officials in Bradford County this month, according to news media reports. According to the reports, it has purchased 265 acres to build a liquefaction plant near the township. By liquefying the gas near producing fields, management also expects to minimize the transport and pipeline costs for producers. The company also operates two downstream terminals in Jamaica and has another three terminals under development in Ireland, Mexico and Puerto Rico. According to the filing, New Fortress over the next five years intends to develop up to 20 downstream terminals and up to 10 liquefaction facilities. Source

Without pipelines, how will the LNG be transported from Pennsylvania’s northern tier Marcellus Shale gas patch to an export facility?
A friend shared these further updates last week:

As reported in various articles in the Rocket-Courier, federal officials from the Departments of Energy …provided reassurance that rail shipments from New Fortress Energy’s planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant will be allowed to take place.  
…predicted that the Trump administration will be successful in updating regulations that will allow New Fortress Energy to ship LNG in rail tank cars from the $800 million LNG plant that it is constructing in Wyalusing Township. … 
On April 10, President Donald Trump issued an executive order which, among other things, was intended to “expedite the regulatory situation” in order to allow LNG to be shipped in rail tank cars…
On June 24, the U.S. House of Representatives, citing safety concerns, voted to block the Department of Transportation from issuing an expedited special permit to New Fortress Energy that would allow the company to transport LNG in rail tank cars.  But Humphreys predicted New Fortress Energy will end up getting a permit to transport LNG in rail tank cars.  …“We’ll get that through,” Humphreys said…  a New Fortress logistics subsidiary, Energy Transport Solutions LLC, has asked for special permission from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, to ship LNG by rail, using cars that hold significantly more liquid than the ones currently allowed to haul the fuel. 
Rail cars currently cleared to carry LNG have capacity of up to around 11,500 gallons. New Fortress wants special permission to use
DOT 113 cars, which carry up to around 30,700 gallons.  The route is redacted from its PHMSA application and not included in other public documents, but Energy Transport Solutions could conceivably — and most reasonably — ship liquid methane on trains of up to 100 cars on lines that pass through Wyoming, Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.

Public comment period is open regarding a proposed rule change:

Hazardous Materials: Liquefied Natural Gas by Rail.
A Proposed Rule by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on 10/24/2019. This document has a comment period that ends in 12 days. (12/23/2019).  SUMMARY:  PHMSA, in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), is proposing changes to the Hazardous Materials Regulations to allow for the bulk transport of Methane, refrigerated liquid, commonly known as liquefied natural gas (LNG), in rail tank cars. This rulemaking proposes to authorize the transportation of Methane, refrigerated liquid by rail in the DOT-113C120W specification rail tank car.


If you click on the link to read the comments, you can see widespread objection to both the regulatory change and the fast-tracking of this rule change. Read Comments

Graph: U.S. liquefied natural gas exports (Jan 2016 – Mar 2019)

As the old saying goes, “Pick your poison.” Industry will export Marcellus Shale gas by whatever means necessary, and if it’s not by pipeline, then it will be by truck and rail. But how carefully are these routes being chosen for all the above?

UPDATE: Delay on liquefied gas terminal is temporary; potential harm is long-lasting | Editorial

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