Thursday, January 30, 2014

11 Weeks and Counting

11 Weeks and Counting



The last update on Aliceville was at 9 weeks.

This update will cover the period from 01/19/14 to 01/26/14.

On January 19, 2014 I went to the site of the Aliceville Train wreck to assess the site from the ground. I was accompanied by my good friend and photographer, Ken Robinson. We went to the South Providence Church Road first to get samples.
Photo Copyright, Ken Robinson
The water was low enough that we could walk up into the beaver pond a little bit and view the beaver dam ADEM and the rail road said held the oil from escaping the wetland.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 11/14/13 Flights by SouthWings

Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 11/14/13

There was a new dam starting just above the road and it did look to be holding sheen along the top of the dam.

Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
We walked up to the point where the dam was and found heavy white foam coming through the dam. When ADEM said it was contained by a beaver dam, this is exactly what I had in mind. Beavers are smart enough to build them so the leak enough not to blow out. Oil containment wasn't in the beavers plans.
Photo Copyright Ken Robinson 01/19/14
So, how was it the a beaver dam held the oil out or in when there were thousands of gallons lost?

We did see sheen behind the dam and the stream below as full of white foam. When stirred with a stick, it separated and came back together just like oil does.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
We took our samples and went to the rail road tracks. We could hear heavy equipment working on the upstream side of the tracks. It turned out to be some sort of road building into the swamp above the train wreck. Not sure what that is about but we didn't want any confrontation so we kept our work along the downstream side to keep out of their way.

The site was in worse condition than I had ever seen it. It was evident that no one from the rail road "recovery" team or ADEM (Alabama Dep. of Environmental Management) had been there in weeks that I can document. At least there has been no repairs, or removal of saturated oil boom since it was installed in late Nov.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
There was heavy oiling coming from the railroad tracks where they were allowed to rebuild the tracks using the contaminated soil left after the wreck!

Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 11/14/13 (Flight by SouthWings)
 Same site 01/22/14 on another SouthWings flight
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/22/14 (Flight by SouthWings)
Oil was weeping out of the banks in several places thick enough to get a good grab sample from the surface.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
A lot of the "oil recovery" devices were under water now and becoming part of the sediment. Every once in a while you could see droplets of oil sheen come from them and spread out on the surface.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14

Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14
This was 74 days after the wreck.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/19/14

 On January, 22, 2014 I took to the air again with SouthWings pilot Dick McLaughlin. From the air I could see the fencing surrounding the "containment area" was in tatters. Some was visible under the water. Anything good they had done from mid November was now laying on the bottom soaking into the sediment.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/22/14 (flight by SouthWings)
Heavy sheen could still be seen on the water even through the thin sheet of ice on the surface. 
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/22/14 (flight by SouthWings)
Along the downstream side of the tracks a heavy black line of contaminated soil could be seen from 1,500 feet high and about 1/4 mile out.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/22/14 (flight by SouthWings)
For several months now I have been visiting this site and seen no sign of people or remediation. On this flight I saw, 2 men in waders doing what looked like taking samples. 
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/22/14 (flight by SouthWings)
It was the first time since Late Nov. I truly believe it is because of the negative media that has recently surfaced about this so-called cleanup.

Following the Jan. 22 flight, I went back to the site to followup. Since the flight, someone had come in and replaced the white screens or re-hung the old ones is more like it. This was along the front where it could be seen from the tracks.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Along the back and more out of sight, the scene hadn't changed at all except to say there was more of the white screen down.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
A new string of the white pom-pom material was along the rail road but wasn't doing a lot for containing the oil. It still looks to me like this stuff repels the oil instead of soaking it up.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
There were some new sections of white oil boom added as well. It too looked to be fairly ineffective in removing oil. It couldn't have been there more than a couple of days and already looked to be ready for the landfill.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Many of the newly installed pom-poms were already sinking to the bottom again.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
The latest string of these devices actually look like discarded football pom-poms! (GO BAMA)
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Large pools of oil could still be seen along the tracks bleeding out of the ground. Even though the site had new "oil recovery devices" there was plenty of Bakken floating past the booms.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
 I used one of the larger holes along the track to take a sample. It was right against the track and alongside the water. I was expecting to get a sample of oiled water. I was surprised when nothing but pure undiluted Bakken crude ran into the jar! 
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14

Undiluted Bakken Crude from the ground at the Aliceville train wreck site 01/26/14
This was much heavier than it was it weeks ago. Some of the site looked to be in better condition but overall, it is getting worse in my opinion. The ground outside the white screens is saturated and letting off oil.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Unless there is a serious change in plans here for remediation, I am afraid this isn't going to get better for a long, long time.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
I left the rail road tracks to go to South Providence Church Road and collect samples from the beaver pond there. I was once again in for a shock. This is the beaver pond that ADEM claimed was holding back the oil for months. (at least that was their story and they were sticking to it). 

The pond was gone!
South Providence Church Road
Contractors, for some unknown reason, came in with heavy equipment and removed all of the beaver dams! If those ponds were holding back oil, why were they removed? Where is the oil now? We had OPFLEX sample indicators downstream so we will know soon what went through the pipe.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
Looking downstream from the big pond, it is a clear shot now to the road. Any oil that was behind the dams went through the culvert and out into the tributary that feeds Lubbub Creek.
Photo Copyright John L. Wathen 01/26/14
For the most part, this site looked to abandoned before this trip. Now, I can see activity but not too sure what it is all supposed to accomplish. EPA needs to step in here and do the right thing. Hole Genesee & Wyoming Railroad fully accountable for the damages and demand an oil removal plan using products that work better than this garbage! 

When Mike Smith of Opflex came over here with an offer to donate his product, he was threatened with arrest. The status quo isn't good enough any more. We need to get response technology caught up with extraction and transport of these new and explosive crude oils.

Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals

Sun, 2014-01-05 21:01
Steve Horn Steve Horn
Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals Repost This Comment on this StoryEmail this story On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.

 This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.

Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oil downstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLC, incorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The BNSF Direct "bomb train" that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis' terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery. According to Marquis' website, its Hayti, Missouri terminal receives seven of BNSF Direct's 118-unit cars per week, with an on-site holding terminal capacity of 550,000 barrels of oil. Marquis was one of many companies in attendance at a major industry conference in Houston, Texas in February 2013, called "Upgrading Crude By Rail Capacity." Its September 2012 Missouri DNR permit application lends additional insight into how and why BNSF's freight train erupted so intensely in Casselton. "Special Conditions" Rather than a normal permit, Marquis was given a "special conditions" permit because the Bakken oil it receives from BNSF contains high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the same threat PHMSA noted in its recent safety alert. Among the most crucial of the special conditions: Marquis must flare off the VOCs before barging the oil down the Mississippi River. (Flaring is already a highly controversial practice in the Bakken Shale region, where gas is flared off at rates comparable to Nigeria.) It's a tacit admission that the Bakken Shale oil aboard the exploded BNSF train in Casselton, ND is prone to such an eruption. "Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) emissions are expected from the proposed equipment," explains the Marquis permit. "There will be evaporative losses of Toluene, Xylene, Hexane, and Benzene from the crude oil handled by the installation." Benzene is a carcinogen, while toluene, xylene and hexane are dangerous volatiles that can cause severe illnesses or even death at high levels of exposure. Scientific Vindication In a December 31 Google Hangout conversation between actor Mark Ruffalo, founder of Water Defense, and the group's chief scientist Scott Smith, Mr. Smith discussed the oil samples he collected on a previous visit to North Dakota's Bakken Shale. "What I know from the testing I've done on my own — I went out to the Bakken oil fields and pumped oil from the well — I know there are unprecedented levels of these explosive volatiles: benzene, toluene, xylene," said Smith. "And from the data that I've gotten from third parties and tested myself, 30 to 40 percent of what's going into those rail cars are explosive volatiles, again that are not in typical oils."

 Special Conditions

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Smith said Marquis Energy's Missouri DNR permit application is in line with his own scientific findings, a vindication of sorts in the aftermath of the Casselton explosion. "We must work to better understand the risks involved with the transportation of unconventional crude oil, whether diluted bitumen or Bakken fracked oil," Smith told DeSmogBlog. "It all starts with scientifically and transparently understanding exactly what is in these crude oils, and working to set new safety standards to protect human lives and all waterways, wetlands, marshes and sensitive ecosystems." It may be the dead of winter in North Dakota, but the Casselton explosion has shined a bright light on the myriad serious threats of Bakken oil rolling down the tracks through the backyards of thousands of Americans. The industry's secrecy about the explosiveness of this oil just went up in flames. But how will the public react to the news that industry knew this could happen all along? With the Dec. 30 explosion in Casselton, and the deadly Bakken oil train explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec last July, all North Americans ought to question the wisdom of extracting and transporting this highly dangerous oil. Photo Credit: Kyle Potter | Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

Monday, January 20, 2014

Alternate Crude Routes?

When the Bakken crude oil train derailed and exploded, pouring thousands of gallons of toxic Bakken Crude oil in a marsh just outside of Aliceville Alabama, I went to cover it and get samples.

On my way home from a water sample trip to that swamp I followed this train load of crude into Tuscaloosa Alabama Via Northport, over one of the oldest bridges around.

This old bridge has seen a lot of wear and it shows in the multiple repairs visible on both sides of the Black Warrior River. What would happen if one derailed while suspended over a city like this?

It's time to Stop the train and examine the full consequences of LAC-MÉGANTIC, Que. Canada.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Regulator: 18 of 20 oil cars pierced in North Dakota crash

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By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - Eighteen of 20 tanker cars carrying oil that derailed in the fiery crash of two trains in North Dakota in late December were punctured, spilling more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil, safety regulators reported on Monday.
In a preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board said the oil train heading east struck a derailed car from a westbound grain train, leading to the derailment and fire about a mile outside the small town of Casselton, North Dakota, on December 30.
Both trains were operated by BNSF Railway Co, more than 100 cars long each and were traveling well below the posted 65-mile-per-hour speed limit, the NTSB report said. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
The grain train was traveling at 28 mph (45 km per hour) and the oil train at 43 mph when emergency braking systems were applied on both trains, the report said.
A series of powerful explosions and fireballs followed the collision, with the blaze creating plumes of thick, black smoke that passed over Casselton, forcing about 1,400 people in the area from their homes. No injuries were reported.
The incident caused about $6.1 million in damage, according to the NTSB report. A broken axle and two wheels were shipped to the NTSB laboratory in Washington for further evaluation, as were locomotive event and video recorders, the agency said.
"Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this accident underscores the need to work to prevent derailments in the first place, and to upgrade the tanker fleet to reduce the risk of fires and explosions if an accident does occur," U.S. Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said in a statement.
Hoeven said he reviewed the preliminary report and called on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to issue new standards for tanker car construction.
The crash came five months after a runaway oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the center of the Quebec town of Lac Megantic, killing 47 people.
The incident fueled a drive for tougher standards for such shipments, including potentially costly retrofits to improve the safety of tank cars that regulators have cited as prone to puncture.
In early November, two dozen cars on another 90-car oil train derailed in rural Alabama, erupting into flames that took several days to extinguish.
The Association of American Railroads recently proposed costly fixes to older tank cars that do not meet its latest standards, but continue to carry hazardous fuels such as oil.
The fixes include protective steel jackets, thermal protection and pressure relief valves, which could cost billions of dollars. Oil shippers, likely to be saddled with the costs of retrofits, oppose some of the changes proposed by the association.
(Editing by David Bailey, Jonathan Oatis and Andre Grenon)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Update on Aliceville Bakken train wreck.

The Rest Of The Story


When I thought about this blog, it was just after the North Dakota train wreck in Casselton, ND. Since then so much has happened that I can hardly keep up.

After Casselton, there was another explosion and derailment of another train in Canada and a coal washing plant that spilled toxins in the drinking water of some 300,000 people.

While I wish I could cover all of these events, I can not. I will however try to keep you up to speed on what I can cover, such as...
On 11/08/13, .4 miles South of Aliceville Alabama there was a fiery crash when a train load of explosive Bakken Crude derailed and caused massive explosions that rocked the community.

This is a story that many wish would go away. It is one that I refuse to allow to be put to bed yet!

First misunderstanding of facts was right after the wreck when ADEM issued a statement that it was almost cleaned up, just a small "mop-up operation" was still ongoing. I flew over the site with the help of SouthWings pilot Tom Hutchings.You take a look and decide if ADEM was being truthful in it's report of no environmental impact to surrounding wetlands.  Take a look and decide for yourself.

Several weeks later The Alabama Department of Environmental Management proclamation that their program was successful was somewhat premature.
That story ran 7 weeks after the wreck. Since then I have returned a number of times only to find no one around, boom and screens down or flapping in the breeze. It was quite obvious that no one had been to the site to maintain or inspect anything. Oil everywhere and ADEM not in site.

I went back the next week only to find even more deplorable conditions 8 weeks after the wreck. More screening was down, more oil in the water and not a sole in sight.

 Now, some 9 weeks after the wreck, ADEM is still claiming that the "ongoing cleanup operation" is seen as a success. I beg you to look at these photos and video below. Is this cleaned up? Is ADEM telling the truth or is this just another ADEM fabrication to make them look like they are doing something?

Oil boom and screens I saw weeks ago that were failing are in even more deplorable condition this week.

This statement was in a letter from Lance LeFleur, ADEM director.
"The fire was suppressed over several days, oil containment was achieved timely, and NO oil was released into the wetland. Aggressive recovery operations are ongoing"

This is a statement by a man who obviously hasn't seen the site. He instead takes the word of his underlings which sometimes can be misleading.

Here are some shots from 01/11/14, showing the attempt by ADEM to contain, and or maintain it's "aggressive recovery efforts that are ongoing"  Again, I ask you to be the judge.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Exploding oil trains – news links to get you caught up

Exploding oil trains – news links to get you caught up

On December 30th, just outside of Casselton, North Dakota, a train carrying tank cares of Bakken crude oil exploded.  Though I still haven’t figure out what is more scary, the images of flames and smoke so unreal looking that only Hollywoood has come close previously, or the fact that news like this is becoming more regular, one thing I know for sure is that the dialogue over transporting crude oil has reached a level I never could have imagined.  Below is a rundown of some of what you might have missed over the last week or so.

Bcx1s5FIUAIlifGFirst however is the “why” you should care about this.
As is stated on our “Oil-by-Rail” page on our website (which I realize now is horribly outdated, but it works), oil companies want to ship massive quantities of crude oil to Oregon and Washington ports and refineries, putting Spokane and the Spokane River once again in the unfortunate crosshairs of dirty energy.  That train that exploded in North Dakota was traveling east.  However if it was traveling our direction, it would have been maybe a half dozen hours or so from Montana.  No more than a day’s time from downtown Spokane.
There are currently upwards to a dozen proposals for new ports or transit terminals on the west coast, facilities that would handle incoming Bakken crude oil from North Dakota that is destined for refineries up and down the west coast.  All of that Bakken crude would travel through Spokane.  Like with proposed coal export projects, the shipping of dirty crude oil through Spokane would leave Spokane and the Spokane River with all of the risks.
You can read Sightline Institute’s The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails for a comprehensive, region-wide review of all the oil-by-rail projects planned or currently operating in the Northwest.
Casselton, North Dakota could have very well been Spokane, Washington.  Or even scarier, it COULD be.
Here is the rundown of the news in case you’ve missed it.  And for the record, this is in no way meant to be a comprehensive update, just news bits I found interesting and share worth.

December 30th:
News of the accident started breaking in the early afternoon.  Here’s a good recap of some of the images and video captured from various sources across various platforms that was compiled by Business Insider -
News of the accident ended up on the front page of the Spokesman Review’s website, the Huffington post, the New York Times and more.
December 31st:
After the accident, due to the smoke in the air and the risk to residents in nearby Casselton, residents were evacuated.  That evacuation wasn’t lifted until December 31st:
Mark Ruffalo and Scott Smith discuss exploding oil trains in this must watch YouTube video -

January 2nd:
In possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs in the whole oil by rail debate to date, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) on January 2nd issued an alert to, “notify the general public, emergency responders and shippers and carriers that recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”

January 3rd: 
My friend and colleague John Wathen, the Hurricane Creekkeeper from Alabama started this website to keep people up to date on the Bakken oil issue.  John was on the first plane he could hop from Alabama to North Dakota to photo and video document the oil train explosion, as he was when an oil train derailed in Aliceville, Alabama.  In my opinion, John is one of the most important people in the world shedding light on the reality of this mess.  Here’s that website, which is a work in progress -
Similarly, this Facebook page, “Bomb Trains”, popped up around the same time.  This page is based out of Spokane and is a great resource. -
January 5th:
The Spokesman-Review editorializes that better regulation is needed
Meanwhile, the DeSmogBlog got real deep on just what is in crude oil -
January 6th:
Though not related to the North Dakota derailment, this piece on the cost of the cleanup of the the deadly oil trian derailment Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed 47 people shows just how crazy this oil shipping scheme is.
The train derailment and explosions in Lac-Magantic, Quebec, Casselton, North Dakota and Aliceville, Alabama, the pipeline breach along the Kalamazoo River in 2010, and the grounding of the Exxon-Valdez tanker in 1989 are reminders that accidents happen and have devastating consequences when it comes to transporting oil.  One Riverkeeper supporter said it best at a recent public hearing in Spokane over the proposed Tesoro Savage oil transit terminal in Vancouver, WA, “sending exploding oil trains through Spokane is a sure way to redevelop our motto from “Near Nature, Near Perfect” to “Near Nature, Near Disaster”

Unexpected Source Calls For A Slowdown In Oil-Booming North Dakota

Unexpected Source Calls For A Slowdown In Oil-Booming North Dakota

By Andrew Breiner on January 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm

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"Unexpected Source Calls For A Slowdown In Oil-Booming North Dakota"
Train derailment and fire west of Casselton, ND.
Train derailment and fire west of Casselton, ND.
Last week’s derailment and explosion of an oil train in Casselton, North Dakota was enough to prompt a call for moderation from an unexpected source: Robert Harms, the chairman of North Dakota’s Republican party, who is also a consultant for the energy industry.
Harms told Reuters Thursday that the state needed to take a “moderated approach” after the crash, which didn’t cause any deaths but prompted the evacuation of many of Casselton’s 2,400 residents and burned for more than 24 hours.
“Even people within the oil and gas industry that I’ve talked to feel that sometimes we’re just going too fast and too hard,” Harms told Reuters.
There’s particular reason to be careful with North Dakota’s oil. The state’s Bakken shale produces a form of light sweet crude that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) warned last week could be especially flammable, either due to particular properties of the oil or the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract it.
“I think it’s a good wake up call for all of us, both local and state officials,” Harms told Reuters, “as well as the people with the oil and gas industry and the transportation industry.”
The costs of the boom to its workers are huge as well. As fossil fuel drilling grows, companies are hiring more workers for the dangerous work of drilling, which claimed the lives of 823 workers from 2003 to 2010, a death rate seven times higher than other U.S. industries. And violence, addiction, and STDs are cropping up in boomtowns where workers are severed from bonds of community and family, but not provided social support.
Even worse, the death rate is rising due to the boom. While the industry hired 23 percent more workers between 2009 and 2012, the death rate went up over 100 percent. Proponents of fossil fuels tout new extraction jobs in the still-recovering economy. But Ryan Hill, head of the oil and gas extraction program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed some of the spike in deaths to new, inexperienced workers entering the industry.
“During times of high demand like now, there are new workers brought into this industry, and these are workers that may not have relevant training and experience,” Hill told NPR. And drillers “typically work 12- to 14-hour shifts for a week or two consecutively.” Industry critics also allege that the worker shortage means companies are doing less drug testing of the people doing dangerous work.
Flaring, the practice of burning natural gas that drillers simply don’t have the capacity to use or transport, is bad for the climate as well. As long as gas is being pulled from the ground, burning it productively is a better use of its one million cars worth of carbon emissions than flaring it just to light up the North Dakota sky. But companies are too eager to eager to get the oil as quickly as possible to wait and put the proper infrastructure in place.