Governor Wolf Pushes President Obama to Take Action on Oil Trains, but Could Do More on a Local Level

With the recent train derailments carrying Bakken Shale crude oil, Governor Tom Wolf is calling on President Obama to address this issue.  In a letter sent to President Obama, Governor Wolf cites recent oil train explosions in Virginia, West Virginia and Lac-Megnatic, Quebec, which killed 47 people and nearly leveled the whole entire town.  In Pennsylvania, there have been 4 train derailments in a little over a year and two of them occurred within Philadelphia.

Oil coming from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota is some of the most volatile oil in world.  A Wall Street Journal article reported:

According to the data, oil from North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas had vapor-pressure readings of over 8 pounds per square inch (PSI), although Bakken readings reached as high as 9.7 PSI. U.S. refiner Tesoro Corp., a major transporter of Bakken crude to the West Coast, said it regularly has received oil from North Dakota with even more volatile pressure readings — up to 12 PSI.

By comparison, Louisiana Light Sweet from the Gulf of Mexico, had vapor pressure of 3.33 PSI, according to the Capline data.

According to Governor Wolf, “roughly sixty to seventy trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region travel through the Commonwealth destined for Philadelphia or another East Coast refinery” on a weekly basis and “Pennsylvania sees some of the largest volume of Bakken crude oil transportation by rail in the United States.”  An October 2013 StateImpact NPR article reports that Philadelphia Energy Solutions, who owns South Philadelphia’s 140 year old Sunoco refinery, is the “single largest consumer of crude oil from the Bakken Shale.”

Governor Wolf has four points of concern and is calling on the president to:

First, consistent national standards to reduce the volatility of crude oil prior to transportation are a must.  North Dakota currently is taking steps in this regard. But we have to ensure all Bakken crude has been treated to remove dangerous volatiles and is transported under the appropriate pressure and other relevant conditions

Second, current federal standards have reduced speeds to forty miles-per-hour in high-density urban areas. It is instructive to note that recent derailments and explosions have occurred at speeds less than this limit. I therefore respectfully request further review of this matter and revisions to the speed limit as necessary to ensure against explosive derailments.

Third, inspections by government inspectors of rail infrastructure must be enhanced.  In Pennsylvania we have only six inspectors trained with the support of federal resources, even though we have some five thousand miles of track, among the highest in the nation. I request additional federal assistance to assist us in hiring and training an adequate number of rail safety inspectors.

Fourth, the current standards for tank cars and braking systems are not sufficient.  Recent accidents in West Virginia and Ontario both led to large oil fires, even though the tank cars were of new and more stringent design.  Braking systems and tank car standards must be enhanced to reduce risk.

Governor Wolf’s letter to President Obama precedes Monday’s press conference, where PennEnvironment and other organizations will issue their report that examines this issue.

Tracy Carluccio from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network has been working closely on this issue in the Philadelphia area, and says that Governor Wolf’s letter is a good start that does not go far enough.  On the state level, Carluccio believes that “[Governor Wolf] has not allowed basic information about crude by rail traffic to be released publicly as some other states have,” and “should order the release of oil train traffic information so that people will know when, where and what is being carried through communities.”  Lastly, Carluccio suggests that the governor “issue an executive order mandating that tank cars and operations be scaled up to the highest safety levels before any further permits are issued by PADEP and other state agencies.”

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About Sean Kitchen 681 Articles
Contributor and Assistant Editor for the Raging Chicken Press. Stationed in Harrisburg covering politics in the capitol. You can send tips to or reach me on twitter at @RCPress_Sean!
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