As many as 500 people have been working around the clock to turn an old coal-fired power plant in Eddystone, Delaware County into a terminal for crude oil. By the end of April, trains hauling 80,000 barrels of crude will arrive every day from North Dakota to help feed refineries along the Delaware River.
“That was the opportunity… to see if we could be part of the solution to save the refineries in the Philadelphia area,” says Jack Galloway, CEO of Canopy Prospecting Inc.
Galloway’s company has teamed up with North American energy distributor Enbridge to form the new Eddystone Rail Company.
Most elected officials in river towns like Eddystone are happy to see people going back to work at the old plant, but they worry it comes with some risk.
“We welcome the industrial businesses coming in, we understand the benefits of the economic growth,” says William Stewart, President of the Eddystone Borough Council. “However, we want to make sure we’re educated so in the event something was to happen, our first responders are prepared to do what they need to do.”
Two trains carrying crude oil derailed recently in Pennsylvania. They join a string of similar accidents across North America, including one last summer that killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
At a packed legislative committee hearing this week in Delaware County, former Congressman Curt Weldon – a former mayor and fire chief in Marcus Hook – warned state lawmakers that state and local first responders may not be prepared for accidents.
“Make no mistake, 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,” Weldon testified.
Representatives from two railroads hauling crude oil – CSX and Northfolk Southern – assured lawmakers they’ve already trained thousands of first responders across the state. CSX is planning more sessions in Southeast Pennsylvania this spring.
State Representative Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), chair of the House Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, says he would have liked to see the additional trainings start before more oil trains are bound for Delaware County.
“We want to make sure it’s going to be not just adequate, that it’s going to be the best that it can be.”Barrar says the committee could make recommendations to make sure local first responders have the support they need. The railroads are regulated by the federal government, but states have jurisdiction over emergency planning.
“We rely heavily on the county governments, the local governments,” said Robert Full, Chief Deputy Director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. “We would be there in support, but we’re not out there, we don’t have the ability to get in there hands-on.”
Full says the state is starting to get more involved. PEMA recently signed an agreement with CSX to provide access to real-time information about hazardous shipments moving through Pennsylvania. PEMA is talking with Norfolk Southern about a similar arrangement.
Right now, CSX and Norfolk Southern move between five and eight oil trains through Pennsylvania every day. That number will rise once the Eddystone Rail Company comes on line. Starting in April, trains pulling 120 tanker cars of crude will come to Eddystone where the oil will be pumped out and put on barges for delivery to nearby refineries. The company is working with the local fire department to get ready.
“Safety’s paramount in what we’re doing here,” says CEO Jack Galloway. “All I can say is we’ve done as best we can and we’re going to continue to do it as best we can and you can write a textbook case about how we’ve built this facility here at Eddystone.”