Hearing airs Delco fears on crude oil accidents

By Laura McCrystal, Inquirer Staff Writer

Posted: March 07, 2014

EDDYSTONE A waterfront rail terminal in Eddystone, a small Delaware County borough, will soon become a major center for transporting crude oil to area refineries.

While officials applaud the project as a boost to the local economy, they also point to the threat of a disaster in the state’s growing oil-by-rail industry.

“Make no mistake,” said former U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon. “An incident involving rail transport of oil will occur in the commonwealth, and lives, including first responders’ lives, and property will be put at risk. These incidents have occurred in the past, and they will occur in the future.”

Weldon, also a former mayor and fire chief in Marcus Hook who has responded to emergencies at refineries in his borough, spoke to state lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday.

The oil-by-rail project in Eddystone, set to open as early as this month, will bring 80,000 barrels of crude oil from North Dakota. Once in Eddystone, the oil will be transferred to barges on the Delaware for distribution to refineries. As the facility grows, it could accept as many as 160,000 barrels per day, Jack Galloway of Eddystone Rail Co. told members of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

State representatives called the hearing in Eddystone with local officials, railroad companies, and emergency responders after a train carrying crude oil was involved in a fiery crash in North Dakota in December. In January, train cars with crude oil derailed on a bridge over the Schuylkill. Another train derailment last month, in Western Pennsylvania, spilled more than 4,000 gallons of crude oil.

Rep. Joe Hackett (R., Delaware) said the meeting was not called “to point fingers” at the crude oil industry, but to learn how the state could prepare for emergencies.

In the event of a derailment, train crews call a company dispatcher, who then contacts the railroad’s emergency response center. Local responders are called to the scene to assist the railroad’s teams.

Volunteer firefighters are not equipped to handle major disasters, said Bob Andrews, whose company plans to build a “mega-fire station” to respond to crude oil emergencies in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Andrews, president and CEO of the Bob Andrews Group, based in San Antonio, Texas, said he was considering Delaware County and other sites for the facility. He would seek contracts with companies as well as state and local governments, and employ full-time firefighters, he said.

Andrews said disasters are not frequent in the crude oil industry, but a proper emergency response requires specialized training and equipment.

Railroad executives assured lawmakers they were already working to address safety concerns and train local firefighters.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and major freight railroads signed an agreement last month to increase safety in crude oil transport.