Fiery railroad derailments in New Brunswick, Quebec, Albert, Alabama, and North Dakota have put a spotlight on oil shipment.
Trains carrying petroleum products and additives pass through Warren County every day going to and from United Refining in Warren.
The responders throughout the county are aware of those shipments and are ready to answer the call.
Times Observer file photo
A line of tanker cars cross the Allegheny River near Point Park on their way to United Refining Company’s refinery on the east end of Warren.
Associated Press photo
This aerial photo shows derailed train cars burning in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick on Wednesday, Jan. 8. A Canadian National Railway freight train carrying crude oil and propane derailed in a sparsely populated region of northwestern New Brunswick.
However, the likelihood of an inferno is limited.
Trains in Warren County are traveling at slower speeds - less than 35 miles per hour - for the most part because they are not passing through, according to Public Safety Director Todd Lake. They have to stop in the middle of the county.
The chance of a crude oil tanker spill and explosion is extremely low. "There is no crude oil coming into United via tank car," Lake said. Almost all of United's crude arrives by pipeline. A small amount comes by truck, Lake said.
There are other materials, some highly flammable, moving along our rails. "A lot of the rail cars coming into United have ethanol in them," Lake said.
Products shipped out include asphalt and very flammable liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) including propane and butane.
Other than petroleum products, there are few hazardous materials moving by rail through the county. "We don't have a lot of fertilizer or chemicals," Lake said.
Rail cars are designed to absorb a certain amount of abuse. In particular, the pressure vessels that haul LPG are designed with safeguards to prevent catastrophic failures. "They are very well protected," Lake said. "The tank cars are quite well shielded."
Emergency responders throughout the county have varying amounts of foam used to fight or prevent fires from oil spills.
"United Refining, the City of Warren, and the All-Hazards Team have AR Foam - alcohol-resistant foam," Lake said. Volunteer departments have small amounts.
But, combined with the relatively low speeds of the trains in the county, local responders, while they have materials to fight oil fires, are more concerned about a spill rather than an inferno in the case of a derailment.
"Your example of an oil spill from a railroad car would primarily be a Hazmat incident," City of Warren Fire Chief Sam Pascuzzi said. "The seriousness of the incident would depend on the amount spilled and the location."
"A train crash or derailment isn't a whole lot different than a tanker crash," Lake said, "just a whole lot bigger."
"While these incidents are rare, they can be complicated and go on for some time, but they are manageable," Pascuzzi said. "We are trained in a variety of containment techniques. The appropriate technique depends on a variety of factors including the type of material, container breached, weather, etc."
According to EPA and other standards, the city department is trained and equipped to 'Hazmat Operations Level,' Pascuzzi said. "We have specialized training in evaluating the scene, and taking defensive action to contain a release, protect exposures and the public."
"As with any Hazmat incident, we would respond and take initial actions to protect the public health and safety that are consistent with available resources," he said. "In your example of a release of oil, we would dike the liquid, or divert it to a safe area, then use our foam to blanket the spill in order to suppress any harmful vapors."
"If we needed any additional help, we would request same through Warren County, and integrate the help into our response per the NIMS (National Incident Management System)," he said.
In addition to the foam that's in the county, if there were a major incident, public safety could call in additional resources from neighboring counties.
"The Regional Task Force bought a trailer for Saegertown Fire Department that has a lot of foam on it and there's some in the Bradford area because of the refinery there," Lake said. "It would take a little while to come in, but there are assets there."
Similarly, the All-Hazards Team is ready to respond to emergencies elsewhere. Lake said the county recently responded with foam to a fire in Johnsonburg.
The public safety department is looking into additional training. Lake said a federally funded tank-car specialist program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could take place in the county later this year.
One of the hazardous materials training events last year was a boom deployment to prevent the spread of oil on waterways, Lake said. Booms are floating dams that allow water to flow underneath while trapping material floating on top - like oil.
Due to the presence of the refinery, there is a boom staged in Starbrick and ready for quick deployment. "The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) owns the building and has a release for the land," Lake said. "The boom itself belongs to United Refining. If they would have any (spill) at their place and we would have to block the Allegheny, that would be the ideal place."
"They also have a trailer that they have a section of boom on it," Lake said. "We can load that boom up and haul it down to, say, Tidioute."
Emergency management groups will handle the initial response, but "once the scene is made safe it is up to the spiller to clean up," Pascuzzi said.