A Sampling of River News
From September-October 2014
Frac Sand Update
— Personal respirators alone don’t protect workers exposed to
crystalline silica at hydraulic fracturing sites. They face a distinct
health hazard, even if they wear the required masks, according to a
July report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health (NIOSH). NIOSH tested air samples at 11 frac wells in five
states to measure the silica workers were exposed to. At these sites,
47 percent of the samples exceeded the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit
and 79 percent exceeded the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit.
Fracking sites release dust in a number of ways, as the sand is
transferred from one place to another. Inhaling crystalline silica dust
can cause silicosis, and various other lung, kidney and autoimmune
NIOSH worked with industry partners to come up with a list of ways to
reduce exposure to silica dust. First on the list was to use a safer
non-silica proppant instead of “frac sand” where possible. (ISHN, the
NIOSH newsletter, 7-16-14)
• Pittsburgh — Gas and
oil companies have been using a lot more sand at each hydraulic
fracturing well, at least they have in Pennsylvania. Use has doubled
over the past eight to 10 months, said a representative of Baker
Hughes, a Texas-based firm. The sand is used to prop open new fissures
in slate to let gas flow out. Some operators believe that the more sand
you pump in, the more gas and oil you get out. Wells are now pumped
with seven to 11 million pounds of sand at each one, an increase that
may or may not create better, longer-lasting wells.
According to PacWest Consulting Partners, a market-intelligence firm,
the Marcellus Shale fields in Pennsylvania will use more than 13
billion pounds of sand this year, up from 9.6 billion last year.
Estimates for 2015 predict 15.8 billion pounds of sand will be used.
More sand means higher costs for both sand and transportation of sand,
and individual operators have to decide whether it’s worth the cost,
but transportation is everybody’s problem. There’s a nationwide traffic
jam of trains and trucks moving sand from sand mines to processing
sites to wells. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6-19-14)
• Winona, Minn. — In
Winona, 115 area residents filed a petition for an environmental review
of a local sand shipping company, charging that its request to increase
the quantity of sand shipped monthly could release more ambient silica
dust near the harbor, which is not being monitored.
Local shipping company CD Corp. wants a yearly cap, not a monthly one,
on the number of barges of sand it can ship from the commercial harbor.
Right now the company is limited to 48 barges per month. In high water
years, like this one, or years with bad weather that slows shipping,
that means there’s no way to make up for lost time.
The state Environmental Quality Board accepted the petition and passed
it to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which will decide whether
a review is needed. State laws require a review if a company processes
more than 200,000 tons of silica sand a year. Last year CD Corp shipped
about 232,000 tons of sand. (Winona Daily News, 7-9-14, 8-2-14)
Oil Train Update
People who watch trains along the river know
there are a lot more oil trains running this year than last year. The
numbers verify that. Last year, railroads transported about 434,000
carloads of oil in the United States. This year the total is expected
to reach 650,000 carloads, according to the Congressional Research
Service. That’s up from 9,500 in 2008.
Data provided by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to Wisconsin state
emergency officials show that from 26 to 43 oil trains move through the
counties along the river every week. That is one oil train every 3.9 to
6.5 hours, but to many it seems more like one every five minutes. BNSF
moves the majority of its oil trains along the west edge of the state,
near the river. (La Crosse Tribune, 7-9-14)
• The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued new safety rules
in July calling for DOT-111 railcars to be phased out by 2018. Tank
cars used for ethanol, crude oil and other petroleum products must have
thicker steel shielding and more crash-resistant valves. Older models
that cannot be refitted with these features would have to be retired or
used for less hazardous materials.
The manufacturing logistics were not clear, as manufacturers currently
produce just 35,000 new cars a year and there’s a backlog of 52,000
orders for new cars, according to the Railway Supply Institute.
The DOT’s new rules also require rail companies to notify state
emergency responders about train traffic, reduce speed limits and pick
the safest route. (Washington Times, 8-12-14; New York Times, 7-23-14)
• Oil from North Dakota is competing for
rail space with coal from Wyoming and Montana, and coal-fired power
plants such as Dairyland Power’s plants in Wisconsin and Xcel Energy’s
in Minnesota, among others’, have watched their coal stockpiles
dwindle. Some are generating power at reduced levels to conserve coal.
After Dairyland said its Genoa, Wis., power plant might have to close
down this winter for want of coal, BNSF said it would increase its
shipments of coal to an Iowa dock, so it can be shipped by barge to
Genoa before ice freezes in the river this winter. The Genoa plant
needs between 165 and 195 days of coal stockpiled in order to make it
through the winter, and it all has to come by barge.
To speed things up, BNSF is buying more locomotives, hiring more train
crews and spending $5 billion for maintenance and expansion.
(Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8-4-14)
• Most other rail users are also having trouble with rail traffic.
Farmers are angry over long delays in shipping corn, soybeans and other
products by train. Ethanol producers, too, are irked by shipping
Amtrak schedules are constantly disrupted, especially the Empire
Builder, which runs between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, and is
regularly delayed in North Dakota, where many new fracking wells are in
production and being drilled.
To read more
Mississippi River news and stories, order
this issue or find Big River at one of
these retail outlets.
Go to Previous River News (July-August 2014)
Go to Previous River News (May-June 2014)
Go to Previous River News (March-April 2014)
Go to Previous River News (Jan-Feb 2014)
Go to Previous River News (Nov-Dec 2013)
Go to Previous River News (Sept-Oct 2013)
Go to Previous River News (July-August 2013)
Go to Previous River News (May-June 2013)
Go to Previous River News (March-April 2013)
Go to Previous River News (Jan-Feb 2013)
Go to Previous River News (Nov-Dec 2012)
Go to Previous River News (Sept-Oct 2012)
Go to Previous River News (July-August 2012)
Go to Previous River News (May-June 2012)
Go to Previous River News (March-April 2012)
Go to Previous
River News (January-February 2012)