WUWT readers surely remember this:
NASA’s Dr. James Hansen once again goes over the top. See his most recent article in the UK Guardian. Some excerpts:
“The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”
Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more.
Well, Hansen’s “death trains” have taken on a crazier, even more wobbly, left spin. Physicist Gordon Fulks writes Via Lars Larson nationally syndicated radio show:
I asked my brother, who lives near Scottsbluff, Nebraska, to send some photos of the railroad tracks used by coal trains to carry vast amounts of Wyoming coal east. The BIG SCARY issue raised by the political Left here in Oregon is no longer the theoretical ‘Global Warming’ from the burning of this coal but a much more practical concern: black coal dust from the trains polluting local communities. They have stirred up images of Oregon blighted by coal dust from trains carrying the coal down the Columbia River to export terminals in St. Helens, Oregon and other communities that can accommodate ocean going ships.
As with so many other such scares dreamed up by those who specialize in deliberate misinformation, this one has no validity. My brother notes that dust is a perpetual problem during the hot, dry, and windy summer months in the Nebraska Panhandle. But the dust is brown not black and therefore of natural origin. His photos (attached) show that the railroad tracks and overpasses themselves are remarkably clean, despite the passage of thousands of coal cars each week. This is a main route for coal trains heading east, perhaps the main route.
With such a stark contrast between what Alarmists claim and what the reality is, we have to wonder if these people are capable of any honesty at all. They are a factor in all such environmental discussions because the press (such as journalist Scott Learn at The Oregonian) gives them prominent and largely unquestioned coverage.
When I am faced with people who have lied to me, I refuse to be duped a second time. In a public hearing in California years ago I asked a very prominent attorney why we should believe what he was now saying, “since you did not tell us the truth previously.” His response was classic: “This is a different case?” The fallout from my question was dramatic. His client dropped him! In my opinion, we must hold people responsible for deliberate deceptions or those deceptions simply continue from the same people and from imitators.
Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
Corbett, Oregon USA
Here’s the picture. See any black?
This all got started by some activists that are equating some door to door poll with science. This is what likely got them bent out of shape:
And the reactions, from http://www.beyondtoxics.org/blog/
I want to be clear: I am not against trains (I often travel by passenger train)! I am, however, critical about using our rail system to haul coal to coastal ports and then load the coal and ship it off to Asian destinations. And justifiably so! Besides the significant safety issues posed by rail shipment of massive amounts of coal, we should consider the certainty of grave health problems we will have to address.
It is already true that health problems associated with polluted air occur in our community. Beyond Toxics has engaged with community health issues in the River Road, Trainsong and Bethel neighborhoods for many years. Recently we completed a community health survey in West Eugene. A striking pattern emerged. We found that 30% of the nearly 350 households we interviewed believe that at least one family member suffers from asthma.
Gosh, knock on a few doors, run an uncontrolled non-scientific survey by activist friends (no control group), ask about asthma, then claim it is the moral basis for shutting down coal trains. Who could fault logic like that? /sarc.
They don’t just want some changes, they want wholesale stoppage: see Stopping Coal in Oregon
Here’s the entire basis for worry, a FAQs on the BNSF railroad company page:
Coal Dust-Frequently Asked Questions and it addressed the question, How extensive is the coal dust problem?
“Since 2005, BNSF has been at the forefront of extensive research regarding the impacts of coal dust escaping from loaded coal cars … From these studies, BNSF has determined that … The amount of coal dust that escapes from Powder River Basin coal trains is surprisingly large. …BNSF has done studies indicating that from 500 lbs to a ton of coal can escape from a single loaded coal car. Other reports have indicated that as much as 3% of the coal loaded into a coal car can be lost in transit. In many areas, a thick layer of black coal dust can be observed along the railroad right of way and in between the tracks. … large amounts of coal dust accumulate rapidly…”
So let’s do the math. Multiplying the amount of coal projected to arrive at the Port of Coos Bay, which is 6 – 10 million tons per year, by BNSF’s suggested 3% product loss, this calculation suggests that coal trains would release as much as 300,000 tons of coal dust along its journey through Oregon. That is an immense amount of highly toxic coal dust every day of the year!
300,000 tons, all in Oregon? Gosh. Heh. She seems to miss the fact that the trains move, and that the lightest dust will be dropped from the train first, as it gains speed as air moves over the train. And, that coal dust is much much heavier than air, and settles quickly. Much of what escapes may not be dust, she cites “500 lbs to a ton of coal can escape from a single loaded coal car” but really, just how much of that is dust?
From the BNSF website, it doesn’t go far, and seems to settle right on the tracks:
It also seems to be more like pebble sized detritus, rather than “dust”.
If you look at this image from the BeyondToxics.org website, you’d think dust was a huge and widespread problem:
That’s a crop from this one video shot in Pennsylvania, which has become a favorite of those anti-coal activists:
But if you look at video of other coal trains from the Powder River Basin, I don’t see a repeat of that issue. Of course when it is raining (as it does a lot in the Pacific Northwest) there’s no coal dust at all.
If such dust and losses were a huge and widespread problem (even in Oregon), we should be able to see the difference via aerial photos in West Eugene where train tracks should be pitch black with the supposed 300,000 tons of coal dust/year accumulated over the years.
BTW that grey you see is roadbed for the train tracks, composed of golfball sized crushed rock. Note the nearby residences, probably where they knocked on doors.
But, annoyingly inconvenient for the activists, it seems the problem has been solved by BNSF, who voluntarily implemented coal dust standards in 2010 for their rail shipments. But Oregon’s BeyondToxics doesn’t tell you that.
From the very same BNSF FAQs page where they cite the coal dust loss as being a problem, there’s this:
What are the coal dust standards?
BNSF’s coal dust emission standards are contained in Items 100 and 101 of BNSF’s Coal Rules publication called Price List 6041-B. The standards require that coal cars must be loaded in conformance with a specified loading template. The new coal loading profile produces a more rounded contour of the coal in coal cars that eliminates the sharp angles and irregular surfaces that can promote the loss of coal dust when cars are in transit.
BNSF’s coal dust emission standards also provide that the amount of coal dust emitted from a train may not exceed specified levels as measured by trackside monitors (TSM) at two locations on PRB lines. One TSM is located at milepost 90.7 on the Joint Line and the other TSM is located at milepost 558.2 on BNSF’s Black Hills subdivision. A third trackside monitoring station has been constructed on the Big Horn subdivision at milepost, and will be fully operational in early 2010.
Yes, they built a coal weather station, see http://www.bnsf.com/customers/what-can-i-ship/coal/coal-dust/pdf/q4_2.pdf
It doesn’t seem to be much of a problem anymore in Wyoming at the source either. I’ve looked at dozens of coal train photos and videos out of the Powder River basin in Wyoming, and they all look pretty much like this:
Source: Highball productions Railfan video
POWDER RIVER – THE ORIN LINE
Staggering, continuous coal train action on BNSF’s Orin line in the Powder River coal basin. UP shares the line, and there is a continous parade of trains. Lots of meets, a couple of side by sides, and 8 (yes, eight) trains in one shot, and even a broken knuckle. Some nice storm light and some nice sunset shots, this is one amazingly busy place.
While Ms. Larkin ponders the lack of black on the ground in that aerial photo, and the photos of the Powder River coal trains, and the coal dust solution put in place by BNSF (and why she doesn’t report it), she can also take a minute to read this essay, which I’m repeating here:
Guest post by Indur M. Goklany
In a recent op-ed in the Guardian that WUWT commented on, James Hansen of global warming fame, argued for closing coal fired power plants asserting that “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”
So what’s happened to US life expectancy as the number of coal fired death factories have multiplied and as the climate has gotten warmer?
Figure 1: Data are plotted for every ten years from 1900-1940, 1945, and each year from 1949 onward. Data sources: life expectancy from Statistical Abstract of the United States 2009, and earlier editions; coal usage from Goklany (2007) for 1900-1945, and EIA (2008) for 1949-2007; carbon dioxide emissions for 1900-2005 from Marland et al (2008).
As the above figure shows, US life expectancy at birth increased by 30.5 years, from 47.3 years to 77.8 years, between 1900 and 2005, while coal usage more than tripled. Carbon dioxide emissions in 2005 were nearly nine times the 1900 levels. And, of course, the climate has also gotten warmer (not shown). To appreciate the magnitude of this improvement in life expectancy, consider that the approximate life expectancy in pre-industrial societies varied from 25-35 years.
While the increase in life expectancy is not directly due to greater coal use or CO2 emissions, much of it was enabled in one way or another by the prosperity fueled in large part by coal and fossil fuel consumption, as I have noted in my book, The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet. Also recalling the IPCC’s temperature trends from 1900 onward, according to my eyeball analyzer there seems to be a better correlation between life expectancy and coal use (and CO2 emissions) or their logarithms than that between temperature increase (either for the US or the world) on the one hand and, on the other hand, coal use (and CO2 emissions) or their logarithms.
It may be argued that Hansen’s comments pertain to the future, not to the past or present. But to this I would respond that the above figure is based on real data whereas Hansen’s declaration is based on some unknown projection about the future based on unknown, unvalidated and unverified models.
Giving up fossil fuel energy use and, with that, compromising the real improvements in life expectancy and other indicators of human well-being that have accompanied that energy use, would be like giving up a real bird in hand to avoid being attacked by a monster that may or may not exist in the bush, that is, a monster that may only exist in the virtual world.
This doesn’t seem like a rational trade-off.
I just can’t get too worked up about railroad coal dust, which in my opinion, is a non-problem unless you are mining it and exposed to high levels of it constantly. Plus, it seems BNSF already solved the problem, but the activists aren’t telling you that.
As a kid, I had a coal bunker in my basement, with coal dust permeating the house at times when we’d get a new shipment. Somehow I managed to survive.
UPDATE: in comments, Les Johnson points out that coal cars are sprayed with something to prevent such dust losses. I checked this out. It seems this has been solved a long time ago, as the patent for the process goes back to 1979:
Spraying of coal in an open top hopper car with an aqueous composition containing at least about 2.5% of a binder material consisting of solid material in an aqueous suspension of an asphalt emulsion or a black liquor lignin product and containing 0.1 to 2.0% of water soluble ethoxylated alkyl phenol or sulfo succinate wetting agent results in the formation of a crust layer which provides protection against loss of coal due to wind action during rapid movement of the car.
Improvements to the patent are as recent as 2006:
Like I said, this is a non-problem, already solved. But, that one video from Pennsylvania gets a lot of folks all worked up about black lung disease I’m sure.