By Seth Daniel
Federal railroad officials are keeping a close eye on Global Oil’s proposal to bring Ethanol trains to its Revere terminal on Chelsea Creek, but they also said they still don’t know much about the details.
“We have been monitoring developments closely and have had meetings with the State Fire Marshal’s Office as well as the Chelsea City Manager,” said Warren Flateau, a spokesman in Washington, D.C. for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). “We also met with Global seeking to confirm whether the project will or will not happen. However, because of the proprietary nature of the project, we weren’t able to learn much. We were told it may happen…It’s certainly not some unknown project, but the regulators here indicated when they met, [Global] would not share information because from their point of view it is still proprietary.”
Proprietary information in business indicates information that is owned by a company and, if disclosed publicly, could put them at a competitive disadvantage in their industry.
Nevertheless, Flateau said that if the project does go forward, FRA will be in Revere immediately.
“What I can also tell you with certainty is that should it come to fruition, FRA would absolutely be an active participant in monitoring the start of such operations and monitoring them once they convene because, obviously, we have a direct interest,” he said. “We enforce many of the federal hazardous materials regulations for rail.”
A few months back, Global proposed to bring in large quantities of Ethanol by train from its large Ethanol storage facility in Albany. Trains would cut through numerous cities and towns in Massachusetts and would end up pulling into Revere. Trains – which would come about two times a week – would pull up as far as Bell Circle on the commuter rail tracks, and then back up on a separate rail spur near Railroad Avenue that goes into the Global Oil Terminal.
Trains would come at night when the commuter rail is closed down. Each train would carry approximately 1.7 million gallons of Ethanol per trip for a yearly total of about 175 million gallons.
It is not completely certain what Global intends to do with the Ethanol product, but many believe that they intend to mix some of it with gasoline and perhaps load larger quantities onto tanker ships for export.
Ethanol is a corn product that is turned into alcohol and is highly flammable, though non-toxic.
The emergence of Ethanol in large quantities on the rails is nothing new for the FRA, according to Flateau. It has come rapidly in the last few years as Ethanol subsidies from the U.S. government have kicked in.
A few years ago, the U.S. Congress chose to provide lucrative subsidies to Midwestern corn growers who refined their corn crops into Ethanol. Those subsidies ignited a huge spike in Ethanol production, and the best way of transporting those huge, new quantities is by rail.
Now, Ethanol train projects are popping up all over the country.
“We knew as soon as they chose to give incentives to Ethanol, it would be increasing usage on the rails,” said Flateau. “Because of that, the FRA has gone out to the renewable fuels industry and addressed this. We’ve gone out and tried to do pro-active discussion to make sure they’re fully aware and compliant with the federal regulations on our end.”
Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty said that the plan to bring in the trains is a double-edged sword.
“Everyone says they want a cleaner environment and here it is,” said Doherty. “There’s a cost to it and this is it – these trains coming in.”