Post-derailment, oil shipments draw new concern

A rail car carrying crude oil sits on its side . The cause of the accident is under investigation. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
A rail car carrying crude oil sits on its side . The cause of the accident is under investigation. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 23, 2014

The Monday derailment of a freight train carrying crude oil to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery has triggered a new round of alarm over petroleum shipments by rail, but has not affected operations at the South Philadelphia refinery.

CSX Corp. crews began transferring oil and sand Tuesday from seven cars that derailed on a bridge spanning the Schuylkill in Grays Ferry. The cars were at the end of a 101-car train traveling from Chicago to Philadelphia, carrying crude oil from North Dakota.

No product leaked and there were no injuries in the accident, which occurred about 12:30 a.m. Monday. The 19th-century bridge feeds rail traffic from University City to the 25th Street viaduct in South Philadelphia. The train was bound for CSX's Penrose yard.

The PES refinery, formerly owned by Sunoco Inc., continues to receive crude-oil shipments on an unaffected CSX line that travels on the east bank of the Schuylkill, said Philip L. Rinaldi, chief executive of the refinery. The facility also receives oil transferred by barge from a rail terminal at Eagle Point in Paulsboro.

CSX said an investigation continues into the cause of the accident. Rinaldi, who said he met with CSX executives Tuesday, said the derailment was most likely caused by a failure of the tracks or of a rail car, and was not an "overspeed" issue. Freight trains cross the bridge at about 8 m.p.h.

The accident was the latest in a series of crashes or derailments of crude-oil trains in North America that highlight the increasing reliance on rail to move petroleum from mid-continent oil fields unserved by pipelines.

The 355,000-barrel-a-day Philadelphia refinery, which formerly received African and North Seas crude by ship, now buys about 70 percent of its raw material from domestic suppliers. The availability of cheaper domestic crude is a major reason the new owners say they are able to keep the facility operating.

The refinery receives domestic crude by ship and rail from several oil fields, but Rinaldi said North Dakota's Bakken Shale oil field is the main source. He said PES now consumes about 20 percent of the Bakken's output.

Bakken crude has come under close scrutiny because it contains a greater amount of volatile components such as butane and propane than conventional crude. Federal transportation officials are considering requiring sturdier rail cars for the more explosive Bakken crude, or requiring it to be treated to reduce its combustibility.

PES receives more than two 100-car trains of crude oil a day. The Monroe Energy refinery in Trainer, Delaware County, and the PBF refinery in Delaware City, Del., are also taking rail deliveries.

Monday's derailment prompted anti-drilling activists to call for a halt to all crude-oil shipments by rail.

And John Hanger, a Democratic candidate for governor, on Tuesday called on Gov. Corbett to convene an emergency meeting on oil-train safety, to impose fees and lower speed limits, and to require stricter safety standards on oil trains entering the state.

"We came within a hair's breadth of a calamity in Philadelphia just yesterday," said Hanger, a former state environment secretary.



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