To The East, Planning For A Bakken Emergency

SANATOGA PA – Emergency management officials in Lower Pottsgrove will participate this week in what was described Monday (May 4, 2015) as a “strategic planning effort” to prepare for the potential of a freight train disaster involving shipments of crude oil along more than three miles of railroad track that crosses the length of township’s southern portion.

20150505-OilTankCarsRail-GoogleImagesEmergency Management Coordinator Ray Lopez and Police Chief Michael Foltz will gather with other Montgomery County emergency personnel “to develop a response plan that targets mitigating the impact on the township should a rail mishap occur,” Lopez stated in a report delivered by Foltz during the Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

Norfolk Southern Railway regularly moves dozens of tanker cars containing the crude oil – sometimes known as Bakken Crude, named for the owner of North Dakota fields where it was first discovered – on tracks bound for refineries in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

A substantial number of tankers are routed on tracks within Lower Pottsgrove that closely follow the Schuylkill River’s bends and curves. From the west, they enter the township at Moser Road and the Pottstown borough border; cross Armand Hammer Boulevard, U.S. Route 422, and Sprogel’s Run; follow a relatively narrow gap of trackbed between the river and Sanatoga Station Road; and then exit east at the Limerick Township line.

A Google Maps view of the path of railroad tracks through southern Lower Pottsgrove

A Google Maps view of the path of railroad tracks through southern Lower Pottsgrove

Lower Pottsgrove’s specific problem, Foltz told commissioners, is that the tracks’ location “makes them hard to access for us” should an emergency occur. Current plans call for evacuation of a half-mile-wide impact zone. The coming planning session and others are intended to help flesh out what happens after affected residents have been safely relocated.

“There has been significant information in the press over the past few months due to several serious railroad accidents involving the shipment of crude oil,” Lopez acknowledged in his report. “We are aware of the risks involving these types of transportation hazards,” he wrote.

Derailments or other accidents at any point of the journey between the fields and refineries have in the past proven to be disastrous. In 2013, an oil train explosion in a Canadian town killed 47 people. There have been no fatalities in other documented accidents, but authorities had to deal with considerable environmental damage.

About half of the 345 million barrels of highly volatile Bakken Crude that annually moves by rail though the United States is bound for Mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania, according to U.S. Department of Energy Statistics. Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh, during an April 17 (2015) conference in Royersford, said an estimated 60 to 80 oil trains carrying more than one million gallons of Bakken Crude pass through Pennsylvania weekly.

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Photo from Google Images

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