US Poised to Approve Shipping LNG by Rail for Export With No New Safety Rules

By Justin Mikulka, a freelance writer, audio and video producer living in Trumansburg, NY. Originally published at DeSmog Blog

On June 6, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced that the company Energy Transport Solutions LLC had applied for a special permit to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) in unit trains 100 cars long and for the express purpose of moving LNG to export facilities. The notice in the Federal Register starts a comment period, ending July 8, for the public to weigh in on the proposal, which represents a new mode for transporting LNG and includes no new safety precautions.

The permit documentation and environmental assessment from PHMSA suggest that federal regulators — instead of learning from the deadly mistakes of the essentially unregulated oil-by-rail boom — are poised to allow the fossil fuel and rail industries to repeat the same business model with LNG, with potentially even higher consequences for public health and safety.

For years, the rail industry has been seeking approval for LNG-by-rail, and in April President Trump issued an allowing LNG-by-rail by 2020.

The justification for allowing unit trains of LNG is the same as for unit trains of volatile crude oil. (Unit trains haul primarily a single commodity in trains that can stretch a mile long.) Just like the oil-by-rail industry sprung up to move a glut of North Dakota fracked oil, promoters of LNG-by-rail tout it as necessary due to the flood of fracked natural gas — something PHMSA notes is expected to increase for “decades to come,” according to the Department of Energy.

Growth in U.S. LNG Exports Credit: U.S.Energy Information Administration

PHMSA asserts that transportation of LNG by rail, compared to currently moving it by tanker truck, would be more cost efficient and reduce its environmental impacts. In addition, the agency claims that “the existing regulatory requirements that govern the movement of cryogenic flammable materials similar to LNG are expected to provide adequate safety measures for LNG shipped in DOT-113C120W tank cars.”

Cryogenic materials are “liquefied gases that are kept in their liquid state at very low temperatures,” typically below -238 degrees Fahrenheit, and those which are flammable “produce a gas that can burn in air.”

PHMSA: No Data on Mitigating Risks? No Safety Rule

PHMSA’s environmental assessment for the permit is the document currently open for review. It notes several (but not all) of the risks of moving a flammable material in the heaviest train cars in unit trains of 100 cars or more. It then dismisses all of those concerns.

Train length: Moving crude oil by rail did not raise concerns until the fracking boom led companies to begin filling up trains of 100 to 150 tank cars, and those trains began derailing and exploding. As DeSmog has documented, longer trains are more likely to derail. No regulations exist limiting train length. While this LNG-by-rail application is for unit trains of 100 cars, no rules prevent even longer trains. In 2015, the ethanol industry indicated interest in following the lead of the oil industry and moving to these long unit trains. Most of the major derailments with ethanol have included unit trains, like the one that derailed in Texas in April and burned down a stable, killing three horses.

Train weight: The crude oil unit trains coincided with new regulations allowing for heavier tank cars. Some experts have expressed concerns that these unit trains are too long and too heavy, with those forces leading to derailments. The proposed LNG trains would have the heaviest allowed tank cars.

Train Speed: After numerous derailments and explosions involving unit trains of crude oil, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed new rules to slow down oil trains to less than 40 miles per hour (mph) near major population centers. PHMSA is recommending a speed limit of 50 mph for LNGtrains.  This speed limit is not backed up by data from tests determining what speed the tank cars will suffer punctures in derailment scenarios but instead on the absence of such data. The agency claims that because no testing has been done, it can’t identify a threshold speed that would be safe:

“The risk of puncture increases with speed; but there are no test data or computer models that could be used to predict the probability of puncture at any particular speed, or identify a threshold speed at which the probability of puncture of the inner tank becomes high.”

Instead, the regulators note that the Association of American Railroads, the industry’s main lobbying group, recommends limiting the speed of trains carrying certain amounts of hazardous materials to 50 mph.

Emergency Response: At a 2015 conference on oil by rail, noted rail safety expert Fred Millar told the audience that emergency response for oil train accidents was “a distraction from what we have to do.” Despite industry public relations events about training first responders to deal with oil train disasters, the typical response in actual events is to evacuate anyone in the blast zone and let the trains burn out, which often takes days.

PHMSA admits that this is the only option for dealing with a burning LNG tank car. “Response and mitigation techniques beyond evacuation for breaches in cryogenic tank cars do not exist or are impractical during a derailment scenario.”

BLEVE Events: The nightmare scenario for an LNG rail accident is a BLEVE event, or Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion. This is when a fire engulfs full tank cars and heats them to the point they explode.

PHMSA explains away this issue: “No test data or mathematical models exist to predict whether and when an LNG tank car exposed to an external fire would undergo a BLEVE.” No data, no problem seems to be the approach to safety at PHMSA. Meanwhile, examples of such tests for other materials and tanks are easily found on YouTube, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have developed software that models BLEVEs.

Exposure: One thing PHMSA does definitively state is that “exposure to heat from an LNG pool fire or ignition of LNG vapors could result in fatalities, serious injuries, and property damage for those within the limited zone of hazard.”

In more straightforward terms, the “limited zone of hazard” is a blast zone.

Railroad Rules Are Written in Blood

There is a saying over a century old that says, “Railroad rules have been written in blood.” In other words, the rail industry operates unchecked by safety rules until enough people die to warrant regulation. While that saying has been true in the past, after 47 people died in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic’s oil train disaster, the regulations that followed failed to address the heart of oil train safety risks. Furthermore, the one meaningful safety regulation — requiring modern brakes on oil train — passed in the wake of this disaster was repealed by the Trump administration at the end of 2017.

In May the Trump administration withdrew another proposed safety regulation that would require two-person crews on freight trains. The document outlining the proposed rule’s withdrawal explicitly states a shift for rail regulators. Instead of writing mandatory rules governing safety, the Department of Transportation, which includes PHMSA, is taking an attitude that is quite the opposite.

“DOT’s approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation.”

Under Trump, deregulation is the rule, and safety measures are voluntary. If past is prologue and the federal government approves unit trains of LNG, expect the same scenes as with oil trains: flames, explosions, and deaths.

And all in the name of exporting fracked gas to the highest bidder abroad.

The public comment period ends July 8.

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  1. Peter

    One thing that is positive – no lasting pollution through the combustion of LNG. Just C02 and water…the problem is the collateral ignition of structures lining the right of way…

    1. Punxsutawney

      Or of forests or brush near the tracks. Just what we need out west. We had an oil train derail near The Dalles Oregon that started a fire a few years ago. There was a school nearby as well.

      I also have great concern for these trains moving through urban area without regulation, but hey I’m sure the people making these decisions don’t live on the wrong side (near) of the tracks.

      1. Peter

        CO2 is NOT a pollutant in itself. No plant can exist without the supply of CO2. Important is the balance between uptake by plants and marine life, soil, ocean and the CO2 production by fire, plant metabolism at night, animal CO2 output, volcanic activity and of course – industrial production.

        LNG should be left in the ground

        Again, USA centric thinking, as in so many instances at this site, as if the USA was the end all and be all, be it agriculture or energy use/production.

        I am not sorry to say – there are more people NOT living in the USA than there are. Imagine that.
        If you live in a climate where you have to at least heat your place of residence a substantial part of the year – pray tell what are the options? I have lived in Canada’s North for more than 30 years, with temps dropping to below -40C.
        Yes, in the olden days you heated your house with firewood or if you were Lucky there was a coalmine somewhere – is that it? Or heat with electricity produced by destructive hydro dams, coal fired plants or diesel gen sets? Is that it? Maybe cow manure – no that is out, because cows are bad.
        Or peat moss if you are lucky to have a bog around.
        But maybe you are one of the tough ones to get to bad freezing and hope your husky keeps you warm, living like an Innu?
        Simpleminded proclamations ignoring the reality of those not living in areas where you do not need to heat are definitely not a solution – just bullsh*t non arguments.

        1. RepubAnon

          CO2 is like salt- both too little and too much can cause harm.

          Currently, CO2 is building up in the atmosphere faster than the plants can photosynthesize it away. This is causing problems now, and will cause more in the future. When the oceans turn acidic enough that the plankton providing 10% of the atmosphere’s oxygen can’t form shells, and all the other consequences of excess CO2 hit, it’ll be too late to fix things.

          It’s one thing to, say, heat your house with firewood (either via fireplaces or a wood-gas system) if you’ve got a big enough wood lot to do so sustainably – quite another to start burning firewood faster than the trees can grow back. Look at the hillsides in Haiti denuded of firewood because of folks’ immediate needs to see where that leads.

          We’re treating petrochemical reserves like an irresponsible rich kid with a big trust fund spending both all the income and some of the principal to maintain a lavish lifestyle. One day, the trust fund is gone – and all that trust fund kid’s whining about needing that money to live in the manner the kid was long accustomed to live won’t bring it back.

  2. j7915

    Makes sense to have only one RR-engineer, reduces casualties. The CEOs know better how to spend the saved money, yachts are expensive, do they cut the size of the entertainment and comfort dept?

    Like the NRA pushing for noise suppressors to protect the hearing of shooters from an early age, they won’t be able to hear LaPierre otherwise./sn

    1. Cal2

      By that logic, self driving trains….

      Thank god they got rid of the caboose in America. That guy sitting there at the end of the train, with a pair of binoculars and a radio to the two men in the locomotive cab was so expensive! He cost the stockholders a penny or two per year.

      So they got rid of cabooses a couple decades ago. Then they decided to try and get rid of the brakeman in the cab who served as a backup to the engineer. Cost Savings! The Lake Magantic disaster was caused when the ONE engineer controlling the entire bomb train stepped out for a bite and didn’t let the air out of the train’s brakes which automatically locks the brakes because that would have taken too much time to pump air back into all the cars to hold the brakes open.

      Yes sir. Self driving trains, that’s the future. All railroad CEOs and their families should be required to live in the midst of the largest concentration of their infrastructure to demonstrate to the public how safe everything is.

      1. Tony Wright

        A couple of months or so ago there was a self driving train “mishap” in the Pilbara, Australia. Fortunately the hundred or so wagons were loaded with iron ore, not LNG.
        Bottom line: s… Happens. And that is before you even think of the impact of malevolent actors e.g. Terrorists or foreign powers – imagine a driverless train of LNG hit by an explosive device, or the control system hacked to cause a crash.

    1. Tony Wright

      Preferred the Festival Express – check out the movie, especially Buddy Guy and Janis.

  3. Jack

    One thing left out of this critique is the danger posed by a terrorist attack. LNG carriers have long been high on the list of high profile terrorist targets. Just do a search for “LNG” and “terrorist”. Numerous studies and articles will pop up outlining the concern regarding a terrorist attack against an LNG carrier. Most of these studies are concerning ships, which can be made much more secure than a train. The resulting devastation would be tremendous. Can you imagine an attack on a 100 car LNG train in a high density populated area? Or even an accident? Once one car ignited and blew up a chain reaction would occur. The explosive force contained in just one LNG car is devastating. This BLEVE event mentioned in the article results in “pool fires” that burn so hot steel will melt up to 1200 ft. away. People can receive 2nd degree burns on exposed skin a half mile away from the event. And these are fires that CANNOT be put out. They just burn until all the fuel is expended. All of the cars in the train would likely erupt one after the other with many exploding at the same moment. Train derailments and collisions are common occurrences, never mind a terrorist attack. It doesn’t take much to punch a hole in one of these tanker cars. And rail cars carrying LNG would be very exposed. Imagine someone driving a cement truck at high speed into one of the LNG cars as the train transits a rail crossing on a busy street. And these trains will have to transit highly populated areas. There are no ports that can be accessed that are not in or surrounded by high density areas. It doesn’t seem to make much sense having a huge bomb routinely travel through populated areas.

    1. Svante

      Dont need no steenkin terrorists? I’m thinking of Dilbit tankers packing sidings where that high speed AMTRAK derailment happened, north of Philly, or the bomb trains we hear shuffling down through North Bergen, NJ. every night? Once our cities “green” fracked boilers and power plants ensures fracking’s spread into NY, I’m guessing a LOT of us will get to see LNG & wet-gas explosions like the one shown? Only, a mile of bomb cars or a big ass LNG tanker in Crown Point, Long Island or Boston?

      1. Cal2

        So the entire length of railroad track can be seen as “Twin Towers” running right through our communities, tunnels, underpasses and neighborhoods?

        Double that where two trains pass each other either at speed or one on a siding. “Freedom” gas indeed; freedom for terrorists to pick targets anywhere these trains run. Maybe DHS can make everything within a half mile of railroad tracks a special security zone with checkpoints, machine gun nests and shoot to kill orders for kids putting pennies on railroad tracks?

        1. Svante

          There’s a couple of cool ‘BLEVE’ examples in the above article and comments, when I’d posted the link, previously. It’s not going to be just LNG, CNG, Dilbit, oil and various liquids on rail ROW, YOOJ trucks and pipelines; welded by underpaid, barely trained, overworked, temp, 1099, undocumented… neophytes, scared of know-nothing foremen in Indian or Russian owned mills, with the cheapest, least knowledgeable, most obsequious 3rd Party working for Gas Transmission project engineers who’ve NO IDEA and do NOT care, as long as their ass is covered, with PHMSA… nevermind, just don’t live in a valley! Trump’s simply icing on the cake. Cue moderation hole, in 5… 4… 3…

    2. Peter

      LNG usually evaporates and diffuses fast being lighter than air, different to propane that pools, dissipates slowly and actually can cause massive explosions because of the resultant EL (explosive limit). LNG usually causes less of explosion, more a rapid fire, especially when a tank ruptures and the released gas ignites and just burns off under pressure increasing the evaporation.

      Any gas can only explode when the correct gas/air mixture is achieved. A tank filled cannot explode, because the tank does not contain any oxygen to sustain initiate a combustion. A tank has to be empty of most of its content and it has to be replaced by air ( The UEL of propane is about 10%, NG 15%)
      So yes, at one point a LNG tank might explode, by that time most of its combustible content has however burned off.

      1. ambrit

        I know you are toiling mightily, but how about fuel air explosives, such as those used by America during, at least, the Vietnam War?
        The new normal:
        Done right, a LNG tanker would be a very destructive thing. In a crowded urban centre, one LNG tanker would be sufficient to produce the basic weapon of terrorists everywhere, Terror.
        Considering that no dedicated terrorists can be stopped forever, it becomes a matter of when, not if. So, how much Terror can the population of any place endure? That is a question of morale, not weaponry.
        The LNG issue aside, this looks like a replay of the automobile design debacle of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I know not how true it is, but the popular subconscious has assimilated the idea that automobile company executives figured out a cost benefit ratio of insurance payouts for death and dismemberment per year versus annual profits of the ‘dangerous’ production lines. Business has a long history of putting a dollar amount price on human lives. LNG trains look like more of the same.

        1. Peter

          Sorry, but I among other things a gas-fitter by trade and has to pass exams regarding the properties of gases and how they react, and the simple truth is a tank with no oxigene even with a flame inserted does not explode. A tank can of course rupture and the gas can ignite, but being lighter than air will not lead to an explosion type as we have seen in several propane incidents – or the explosions of liquids like light crude oils.

          Telling me I labour mightily exposes only your ignorance of the facts, not much else.
          Get your physics straight – they do not respond to emotional states or feeling.

      2. RepubAnon

        LNG Tank 1 explodes, rupturing tank 2. Tank 2’s contents, released from pressure, transitions from liquid back to gas, and explodes/catches fire, rupturing more tanks. Chain reactions aren’t just for nuclear reactors.

        True, lighter-than-air gasses don’t have that nasty habit of hugging the ground (where all the ignition sources are*), but long trains of LNG are still a risky business.

        *Helpful hint: if you apply floor coatings with flammable solvents, turn off all the pilot lights in your house first. Heavier-than-air solvents flow along at ground level – if the water heater’s pilot light is lit, the flames run . back along the solvent trail to the floor, and goodbye house. Also check why it’s a good idea to turn on the blower and ventilate your gas-powered boat’s engine compartment before hitting the starter. Gasoline fumes tend to gather in the bilge…

        1. Peter

          but long trains of LNG are still a risky business.
          Again – a tank does not explode, it simply cannot because the fuel triangle is not complete.

          A tank can rupture, and the LNG escaping can then rapidly burn off while evaporating in the air.
          The pressure wave produced could theoretically cause a secondary tank to rupture, but the pressure created by rapid combustion of NG is about 1/2 of that of propane.

          Of course there is always a risk with transportation of any goods – that is why I do not understand the resistance to pipelines as the safer option for transporting gas to port and have the liquification done there.

      3. AndrewJ

        A tank filled with, say, gasoline, cannot “explode” for the reasons you put forth – but a tank of gas kept liquid by pressure and cooling darn well will. See: water boiler explosions. Nice try, though.

        1. RepubAnon

          Not sure I agree – a tank of LNG wouldn’t explode, as it needs oxygen or some other oxidizing agent in order to burn. However, we agree that the tank can rupture (or have the relief valve open), causing the liquid natural gas to vaporize and mix with the air – becoming explosive if there’s an ignition source handy. (Say, sparks from a downed power line.)

          So, a 100 car train derails – at least one of the LNG tanks probably gets a hole punched in it and the liquid “gassifies” and mixes with air. Absent extreme good luck, this explodes/burns and ruptures more tanks – adding to the fun.

          I doubt the survivors would be interested in debating whether the tanks exploded, or merely ruptured.

        2. Peter

          LNG is not kept at high pressure at all, as it is cooled the pressure is at atmospheric pressure. Cryogenic tanks for LNG are rated at allowable 90PSI pressure at most, and any excess pressure is just being bled off.

          So no matter how you slice it or fight against physics (are you a flat earther by chance?) a cryogenic tank will not explode.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “Deliberate misdirection. Both are petroleum based energy sources.”

          I don’t think you’ve looked at the numbers you provided.

          Petroleum/not petroleum is not significant.

          Your quoted source indicates that a gallon of gasoline and an equal weight of candy bars contain a similar amount of energy. If that’s what was the important paramater candy stores would be bombs waiting for terrorists.

          Clearly this is not so.

          Furthermore, petroleum based energy sources range from readily explosive to flammable to ‘you can barely get it to burn with a blowtorch’.

          Broad based assumptions plus hand waving produces results that are essentialy meaningless.

  4. chuck roast

    A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is prepared when the presumption exists that a federal action may result in a significant environmental impact. A determination is made as to whether or not that impact can be mitigated. A Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is prepared including adopted mitigation measures.

    A Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) is prepared when the presumption exists that the federal action will result in no significant environmental impact. There can be two results from an adequately prepared DEA: (1) no significant environmental impact is uncovered and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is issued; (2) a significant impact, or impacts, are discovered and and a DEIS is prepared to determine the extent of the impact(s) and any acceptable mitigation including a “no action” alternative.

    A cursory reading of this DEA reveals that it narrowly examines “…the transportation of LNG in DOT-113C120W rail tank cars.” One hundred car LNG trains are incidental to the DEA. There is no discussion or analysis on the safety of transporting LNG in these cars. It is mentioned that other hazardous materials “…such as cryogenic liquid ethylene…” are currently shipped in these rail tank cars.

    The DUH? question would be, “Has there been derailment testing of 113C120W rail tank cars loaded with LNG to determine if there may be significant environmental impacts.” The answer would be, “No.” And if you think that this will sway a judge in a federal court action to remand and prepare a DEIS, I have a railroad bridge I would like to sell you.

    1. JBird4049

      The DUH? question would be, “Has there been derailment testing of 113C120W rail tank cars loaded with LNG to determine if there may be significant environmental impacts.” The answer would be, “No.”

      Any vehicle built to be used on the road today gets tested in all sorts of ways; while I am sure that there are loopholes they are still done. So can anyone tell why a tanker truck gets them, but not rail cars?’

      Also, while I am sure that everyone involved is counting on Uncle Sugar to save their soulless posteriors, if a derailment were to occur, say at night in one of those heavily populated areas… somehow I cannot think that they would escape judgement. The cost of shielding them would too great. It would not be like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire where the owners made a profit after the insurance payout. Who knows as the apparent sense of invulnerability because of governmental corruption is not unreasonable.

  5. Peter

    If you want to sell NG as a viable heating source or for energy production instead using diesel you have only two choices – run trains with liquefied gas on existing routes, or transport gas compressed but not liquefied in pipelines (the safest option) to the port facilities where it gets cooled down to produce LNG for export.

    Of course you can say – fuck those who need heat…and leave it in the ground, keep burning coal, diesel and build dams and wait till you have enough renewables to replace a fractional amount of energy you need.

    1. Yves Smith

      LNG, which for the most part is shale as in fracked gas = lots of methane generation during production, destruction of water supplies (our most scarce resource) and increased earthquakes. And shale gas wells have short lives. Shale gas production is expected to plunge starting in the early 2030s. So we are building tons of infrastructure (another environmental cost) for a short-lived energy source.

    2. GF

      If the liquefaction isn’t going to be done at the port of export, where will these plants be constructed?

      1. Peter

        In the USA most shale gas – or gas from unconventional vertical drilling – is economically not viable and heavily financed without showing the ROI needed. The USA also produces most of it gas from unconventional wells.
        To therefore cry: leave gas in the ground might be applicable to the USA, but not to other producers of LNG , like Russia, Qatar etc. whose sources are mostly conventional wells.

        Even in Canada most of the production ( A recent report by the National Energy Board estimates that shale gas will account for 28% of Canada’s total natural gas production by 2035… for the home market and for the now diminished US market are conventional sources.

        One has to however note, that almost any gas or oil production is done with the help of hydraulic fracking. In over 30 years in the patch I have yet to remember a well where the fracking trucks where not on standby. The impact because the smaller area of vertical boreholes is however much less than that of a horizontal bore.

        In countries like Canada the impact of the increased shale gas production – especially in Canada – is also far less threatening to any population, as most wells are drilled in remote areas, well away from habitations.

        If the liquefaction isn’t going to be done at the port of export, where will these plants be constructed?

        That what I find rather odd in this whole scenario: why if for export the liquidation should be done inland and then hauled by train or tanker truck to port. That actually makes little sense when high pressure pipelines could bring the product safely to port where it could be liquefied and directly loaded to ships. Instead handling the liquefied product at least three times, liquefaction would cut the process to one or at max two times. A lot less can go wrong.

      2. Ptb

        Yes this doesn’t really make sense to me either, except as a jurisdictional way to save a few cents per MMBtu on bakshish for the environmental permit to put a pipeline thru the states betw. PA and the sea terminal sites. Kindof a stretch though.

        Could also be the result of a trade with Warren Buffet, who is set to lose out on pipelines from Canada cutting into his oil transport business, (he would’ve been the commercial motivation when the Obama admin let the keystone XL etc get blocked). But you’d want to look up at who owns the railroad here.

        And yes, LNG by train is another wasteful and high risk (yet entirely externalized) way to save a small amount of money on a resource we already have too much of.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          “LNG by train is another wasteful and high risk”

          It is not at all clear that this is correct. The evidence would seem to show that the transport of dangerous goods is almost always uneventful.

          Most people are entirely unaware of the number of *potentially* dangerous goods shipped day and night – goods that are necessary for a myriad of processes and products needed by the population.

          I wouldn’t necessarily consider LNG to be the most dangerous of such goods, by a long shot.

          What are some of these dangerous goods, in transportation, or storage, or manufacture, or use?

          Flour. Chlorine. Safety inspection tools for bridges, aircraft, etc. Ammonia. Benzene. Toluene. Sulphuric acid. Oxygen. Nitrogen. Fertilizer.

          Manufacturing things that are good to have entails risk. For that matter, living entails risk. Anyone aiming for a zero risk existence had best give up now… there is no such thing.

          That said, hazardous goods are moved in immense qualities day and night, all over the world, with very few accidents, and most of those are limited in their effect, regardless of the goods involved.

          The worst transport accident of a ‘civilian hazardous goods’ nature I can come up with at the moment would be the Texas City fertilizer explosion. This happened while a ship was being loaded, and it killed 581 people, and injured in 1947. You will note that was over 70 years ago – such major accidents are very rare.

          The worst ‘military dangerous goods transport’ accident I can think of at the moment was the Halifax explosion in 1917 when a ship carrying explosives collided with another ship in the harbour, caught fire, and exploded, killing 2,000 people, and injuring about 9,000 others. That one was over a hundred years ago.

          Better transport containers and fire fighting might have prevented that one, as there was a period of more than 20 minutes between the collision and the explosion – the fire started with barrels of benzol stored on the deck, so it was accessible for firefighting.

  6. anon in so cal

    Aggression toward Russia and attempts to block Nordstream2 at ANY cost to the US environment.

  7. Ken

    Agreeing with everything in the article, and…

    …LNG is a liquid because the natural gas has been cooled to -260°F or less. That’s its boiling point at atmospheric pressure. An LNG tankship keeps the liquid gas refrigerated either by an on-board reliquification (refrigeration) plant or by evaporation where the boil-off gas is used as fuel for the ship’s engine. LNG pressure at ambient temperatures is extremely high and would require a very high pressure containment cylinder.

    LNG rail cars have very limited pressure capacity, maybe 75 to 90 psi pressure limits, and they have relief valves to vent off the gas in case of excess pressure. This means that even if everything else goes right, the LNG MUST be delivered to its destination on time. If the train is stopped for some reason…landslide, etc….the tanks will continue warming from the heat of the day, the pressure will rise, and at some point (“nobody could have known” says the railroaders) the relief valves will do their job and vent off the flammable gaseous natural gas.

    An LNG tank rupture will result in a mist of deeply frozen particles that kills every thing it touches. Until the fire starts. Methane needs between 5% and 15% concentration in air to burn. The outside edges of the LNG cloud will be where the fire starts. The heat of the fire will rapidly cause the vapor cloud to evaporate and expand. It will be very bad. Fighting such a fire is impossible. Escape is the only chance.

  8. Synoia

    LNG in tank cars does not “burn” in the conventional sense.

    It burns in a “BLEVE”,

    One tank care ruptured and burning will cause adjacent tank Cars to “BLEVE” in a chain reaction to the heat.

    The crash could asphyxiate thousands of people near a crash not accompanied by an initial ignition, and the delayed start to combustion will remove all oxygen from the air.

    The worst case is a mixture of the two scenarios. One end of the train instantly burns, and the other release much combustible gas, and then there is a “meeting of the events.”

  9. Janie

    Thanks to all the thoughtful and well-informed commentariat. I need to re-read this thread a few times in order to try to absorb all the information that I might prefer not to know. ?

    1. crittermom

      I understand what you’re saying.

      The article alone had me saying, “What?!”

      Heaviest tank cars allowed.

      Train length leads to more derailments yet there are no regulations regarding length. They want approval, to start off with, of 100 car units. (But remember, there are no limits).

      Then my favorite, speed: (emphasis mine)
      “The risk of puncture increases with speed; but there are no test data or computer models that could be used to predict the probability of puncture at any particular speed, or identify a threshold speed at which the probability of puncture of the inner tank becomes high.”

      So we’re the test dummies.
      And you know they’re going to push the limits, since ‘time is money!’
      I see this as a price has already been decided upon regarding life, limb, and property.

      Adding to that all that I’ve read in comments, and I’m even happier to be moving from this place where 2 major tracks (plus numerous sidings) run right alongside the edge of town and historic main highway. (The backs of businesses in this old ‘city’ border the tracks).
      A derailment with puncture could pretty much eliminate this place.

  10. polecat

    I guess I should be glad not to be living within distance of a freight rail line (nearest is +50 miles east, in, and around the Puget Sound, should fraked gas head west). The down side is that when gasoline becomes unobtainium, for what ever reason, transporation will be rather ‘problematic’… living as we do, at the end of the line, as it ere … but we can wave to those steel Gas Bags of Freedom .. as they float past us though the Strait of Juan de Fuca, onto destinations overseas ..
    Here’s hoping for greater ferry service going forward.

  11. jackson

    Nobody commented on the fact that Warren Buffett(2t’s) and Bill Gates own a majority of stock in BNSF
    and CP as well as a minority interest in UPC and other RR companies. I live a quarter mile from a rail
    center where 100 oil railcars are the norm. If I survive the inintial blast, I will be fighting more than ever for compreshensive regulation and criminal charges against the modern day “Robber Barons”.

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