Saturday, March 15, 2014

Oil mars Ala. swamp months after crude train crash

Oil mars Ala. swamp months after crude train crash


Photo by Jay Reeves, AP
John Wathen, an environmentalist with the Waterkeeper Alliance, gestures at the site of a train derailment and oil spill near Aliceville, Ala., on Wednesday, May 5, 2014. 
Environmental regulators say cleanup and containment work is continuing at the site, but critics contend the accident and others show the danger of transporting large amounts of oil in tanker trains. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
ALICEVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Environmental regulators promised an aggressive cleanup after a tanker train hauling 2.9 million gallons of crude oil derailed and burned in a west Alabama swamp in early November amid a string of North American oil train crashes.
So why is dark, smelly crude oil still oozing into the water four months later?
The isolated wetland smelled like a garage when a reporter from The Associated Press visited last week, and the charred skeletons of burned trees rose out of water covered with an iridescent sheen and swirling, weathered oil. A snake and a few minnows were some of the few signs of life.
An environmental group now says it has found ominous traces of oil moving downstream along an unnamed tributary toward a big creek and the Tombigbee River, less than 3 miles away. And the mayor of a North Dakota town where a similar crash occurred in December fears ongoing oil pollution problems in his community, too.
As the nation considers new means of transporting fuel over long distances, critics of crude oil trains have cited the Alabama derailment as an example of what can go wrong when tanker cars carrying millions of gallons of so-called Bakken crude leave the tracks. Questions about the effectiveness of the Alabama cleanup come as the National Transportation Safety Board considers tighter rules for the rail transportation of Bakken oil, which is produced mainly by the fracking process in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana. Oil production is increasing there, boosting the amount of oil being transported across the country.
Environmentalist John Wathen, who has conducted tests and monitored the Alabama site for months for Waterkeeper Alliance, said Genesee & Wyoming railroad and regulators did the bare minimum to spruce up an isolated, rural site and left once the tracks were repaired so trains could run again.
"I believe they really thought that because it's out of sight, out of mind, out in the middle of a swamp, that nobody was going to pay attention," said Wathen.
Regulators and the company deny any such thing occurred, however.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which oversaw the cleanup, say more than 10,700 gallons of oil were skimmed from the water after the derailment, and workers collected about 203,000 gallons of oil from damaged rail cars using pumps. Another 290 cubic yards of oily dirt was excavated with heavy equipment, or enough to cover a basketball court with soil nearly 2 feet deep.
Yet four months later, officials still say no one knows exactly how much oil was spilled. That's mainly because an unknown amount of oil burned in a series of explosions and a huge fire that lasted for hours after the crash. Since no one knows how much oil burned, officials also can't say how much oil may be in the swamp.
About a month after the crash, the head of Alabama's environmental agency, Lance LeFleur, promised "aggressive recovery operations" in a written assessment for a state oversight commission. He said the oil had been contained in a "timely" manner and none had left the wetlands.
Michael Williams, a spokesman for the Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming, which owns the short-line Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway line where the crash occurred, said the company is still monitoring the site closely and maintaining a system of barriers meant to keep oil from spreading. The work is continuous, he said.
But regulators and the railroad confirm one of Wathen's worst fears: That environmental agencies let the railroad repair the badly damaged rail bed and lay new tracks before all the spilled oil was removed. Wathen calls the move a mistake that's behind the continuing seepage of oil into the water.
"I do agree that they needed to get the rail cars out. But there were other ways to do it," said Wathen. "Those would have been more expensive."
James Pinkney, an EPA spokesman in Atlanta, said the rail line had to be fixed quickly to remove oil and damaged rail cars that still contained crude from the wetland.
Agencies are now working with the company and its contractors to recover the remaining oil trapped in the rail bed, but it's unclear when or how that might happen.
"The EPA and ADEM are continuing to work together to insure all recoverable oil is removed from the site," Pinkney in a written response to questions.
Ed Overton, an environmental sciences professor at Louisiana State University, said spilled crude can linger at a site indefinitely if it's buried in the ground. Depending on the amount of oil that remains, he said, containment devices may be needed in the swamp for at least a couple of years.
But Bakken crude evaporates quickly once exposed to air because of its composition, said Overton, so the fact that oil remains in the swamp isn't "the end of the world."
"It's going to look bad for awhile," he said. "It's amazing how quickly Mother Nature can handle such things, but it will take time."
The cause of the derailment - which happened at a wooden trestle that was destroyed by the flames and since has been replaced by buried culverts that let water flow underneath the tracks - remains under investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration.
The crash site appears in better shape now than right after the derailment, partly because burned tanker cars misshapen by explosions are gone. Much of the water surrounding the site appears clear, and the odor from the site isn't bad enough to reach the home of Leila Hudgins, just a few hundred yards away.
"I haven't smelled anything," said Hudgins. "They did a good job. They hauled off truckload after truckload."
The crash site, located off an old dirt road and a new one that was built during the response, is accessible both by car and foot, but Hudgins said she hasn't looked closely at the spot where it happened.
The railroad said testing hasn't detected any groundwater contamination, and EPA said air monitoring ended about a month after the crash when it became apparent there were no airborne health hazards.
Still, questions linger. Wathen said he has been taking water samples several hundred yards downstream from the crash site and has detected the chemical fingerprint of so-called Bakken crude, which the train was carrying with it derailed.
"There's no question it is outside their containment area, and I think it's even further away," said Wathen. "This is an environmental disaster that could go on for years."
The Alabama train was on a southbound run when it derailed less than 3 miles south of Aliceville, a town of about 2,400 people near the Mississippi line. Another oil train derailed and burned in December at Casselton, N.D., and 47 people died in July when a train carrying Bakken oil exploded and burned in Quebec.
The mayor of Casselton, Ed McConnell said he has been keeping up with the Alabama cleanup because spilled oil also was buried under the rebuilt railroad tracks near his town of 2,400 people. He worries that oil will reappear on the ground at Casselton as the spring thaw begins in coming weeks.
"It's still in the ground here, too," said McConnell. "They've hauled a lot of dirt and stuff out. But they covered up the (oily) dirt before getting it all up and rebuilt the track to get it going."
Alabama's environmental agency said it still regularly visits the wreck site, which is encircled with the same sort of absorbent fencing, oil-snaring pom-poms and plastic barriers that were used on the Gulf Coast after the BP well blowout in 2010.
Once the "emergency" phase ends, the state environmental agency will install wells to monitor groundwater, said spokesman Jerome Hand.
Government regulators will approve any plans for removing remaining oil from the site, he said.



Friday, March 7, 2014

Aliceville a day after "repairs"

Aliceville a day after "repairs"

After my trip to Aliceville on Sunday, 03/02/14 I posted the results of the trip as being far less then cleaned up.

I returned a couple of days later for followup after a rain event. When I got there it was obvious that someone had been there since my last visit. There was some new boom in place in a few places as well as a new string of "pom-pom" booms had been placed around the tracks. There had been a fairly significant rain event Sunday night and Monday so in all likelihood the repairs were made on Tuesday. There was a lot of oil gone but I can't say whether they cleaned it up or the rain washed it through the wetland downstream.

It was good to see some degree of effort but it was minimal at best. Oil was still weeping out of the  ground with sheen on the surface.
Downstream of the tracks the new products seemed to be containing the oil for the time being but more oil was pouring of of the ground fast enough to see with the naked eye.
10:24 A.M
11:13 A.M.
11:15 A.M.
11:15 A.M.
As the sun warmed the soil, the crude came out faster. It's hard to say when if ever this will stop.

On the upstream side of the tracks there had been some boom replaced up close but the outside perimeter screens were down and or flapping in the breeze. Some oil collected in this fabric is being released back into the water when the wind blows it high enough to start flapping. Try wetting a towel and snap the water out of it, you'll probably get wet. Same principal.



Weathered oil could be seen inside and outside the containment.

It seems to me like if they were going to go to the effort of replacing the products along the tracks it would be more feasible to complete the job all round instead of piecemeal slap and dash repairs.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Aliceville Alabama Train Wreck Site 4 month update

Aliceville Alabama Train Wreck Site 4 month update.

A train carrying Bakken Crude derailed just outside Aliceville Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013. This video and subsequent photos were taken and edited 03/02/14, 4 months after the wreck. Nothing here resembles ongoing oil removal as proclaimed by Lance LeFleur, ADEM Director, on Dec.09, 2013.

At the South Providence Church Road, there was sheen visible and weathered oil in the wetland upstream from the road.
At the Railroad wreck site, I found some new boom had been installed but it was the same old inefficient white boom and oil screen. Much of it was already saturated.
As with any product, the efficiency is greatly diminished when it isn't installed and maintained properly. In this case, the oil screens were down, not properly secured, and not all inclusive of the site.

Much of the white boom was in similar condition with some of it completely saturated. Oil was weeping out of the ground on both sides of the tracks.

Some of the boom looked as if it had never been changed or removed. Much of it was completely saturated and sunken in the swamp. Once it has absorbed all it can, it should be removed and new product installed. If not, it just gives off the oil it absorbed back into the water. The sunken boom seen below has been there since the "cleanup" began 4 months ago.
Weathered oil was present in all areas. That indicates no oil removal for some time. According to Lance LeFleur, Director of ADEM (Alabama Dep. of Environmental Maniacs) in a letter to the ADEM Commission on Dec. 09, 2013.
"Aggressive recovery operations are ongoing".