URGENT: Bakken Oil Train Action – Public Comment

Please Make Public Comment

Advance notice of proposed rulemaking: The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Proposed Rule: Hazardous Materials: Volatility of Unrefined Petroleum Products and Class 3 Materials

As many know, raising public awareness regarding the hazards of transporting crude oil by rail was one of my top priorities as 2016 Candidate for Lake County Board, District 18.  Although this issue is not related to my current campaign, it is still an issue for which I’m greatly concerned.  Trains carrying highly explosive and toxic Bakken crude oil travel through densely populated areas, including our schools, and threaten the lives of well over 25 million Americans.  Lake County Board Chair Aaron Lawlor, to date, has still not publicly addressed emergency preparedness in Lake County specific to this transport.

PHMSA, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, announced that it will be seeking comment on vapor pressure thresholds of crude oil, and will evaluate the potential safety benefits of utilizing a threshold in regulating the transport of crude oil and other dangerous materials.

The petition directly addresses the fact that despite recent derailments of trains carrying crude that have resulted in extraordinary explosions and uncontrollable fires, there is no federal limit on the vapor pressure of crude oil transported by rail. This means that we have an opportunity to push for DEGASIFICATION (Stabilization) of the Bakken Oil, which would lower the vapor pressure of the oil, and make it less flammable.

The comment period ends at 11:59p, (ET), May 19th, 2017.  Comments can be simple or detailed – all are beneficial.  You simply need to fill in your contact information, and then you may copy some of the talking points below and paste them into this link and send.

Talking Points:

At the present, explosive Bakken Oil trains jeopardize 25 million people across the country living within the Oil Train Blast Zone.  There are densely populated areas, including our schools, throughout Chicagoland and its collar counties that are within feet from highly flammable train routes.

Degasifying or stabilizing crude oil is a process where the explosive hydrocarbon gases, (Butane, Propane, Ethane, and Methane), are removed from the oil and stored on site, then these gases can be sold to local markets, and the oil can be transported by rail or pipeline more safely. Degasification lowers the Vapor Pressure (PSI) of the crude oil.

North Dakota has mandated a Vapor PSI for Bakken oil of fewer than 13.7 lbs.  It is generally reported as measuring between 11 and 12 lbs.

•  Texas Eagle Ford frack oil has a Vapor PSI of 8 lbs.
•  West Texas oil comes in at 3-4 lbs. PSI
•  Gulf of Mexico oil is 3.33 lbs. PSI
•  Bakken crude oil transported on the train that destroyed Lac Megantic, Quebec was measured at 10 PSI.

Our National Vapor Standard should fall between 4-8 lbs., following the lead of Texas since they have the longest history of degasifying oil, and their oil trains have not been exploding into uncontrolled fires upon derailment.

“Stabilization / Degasification” could make Bakken crude safer to transport, (vapor pressure is lowered from 13.7 psi to 6-8 psi with a 74 F flashpoint).  Although there are no studies to support its effectiveness in rail transport safety, Texas has a long history of the use of mandated degasification/stabilization of crude oil for both rail transport and pipeline transport.  Therefore, we can defer to their experience in this field.

Texas is the second largest area in the US with shale formations that are being fractured using horizontal drilling technology. There have been (zero) explosive fires after train derailments of Texas frack oil (8 PSI), whereas there have been dozens of explosive fires after derailments of trains carrying ND frack oil (13 PSI). Saudi Arabia has also been routinely stabilizing their oil before transport, for decades. The technology necessary for degasification/stabilization is well known and available in ND.

The PHMSA notice of rule-making follows a petition last year from New York’s Attorney General to implement nationwide a Reid Vapor Pressure of less than 9 PSI for crude oil transport by rail.

Politics are in play in the US, steering the Federal Government towards allowing more pipelines and away from oil by rail (VIEW: Desmog Blog article, Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains “Dangerously Flammable”?) – but pipelines should not be carrying explosive crude either. Texas mandated the degasification of its oil primarily for pipeline safety.

Please implement nationwide a Reid Vapor Pressure of 4-8 PSI for crude oil transport by rail and pipeline, which complies with the NY AG request of less than 9 PSI. Chicagoland and its collar counties have a vested interest in trying to decrease the dangers of these Bakken Oil trains to our densely populated communities!

Articles and Resources:

FB Group: The Coalition for Bakken Crude Oil Stabilization

Federal agency looking at pressure limits on Bakken oil trains:

North Dakota man relentless in push for safer oil by rail shipping

Why can’t Bakken oil be made safer?

RON SCHALOW: Exploding Trains Aren’t Funny

Why Is the Exxon-Funded Heartland Institute Now Calling Oil Trains “Dangerously Flammable”?

REALLY, It’s Not My Job!


“[Lawlor] also questioned whether Songer’s day job would prevent her from attending county board meetings.” SONGER’S RESPONSE: My responsibilities as a Lake County Board member will be my full-time priority.  I’m very much looking forward to attending Lake County Board meetings!

In a Lake County News-Sun article, reporter Luke Hammill writes concerning the issue of transporting highly explosive crude oil by rail, “My opponent hasn’t stepped up on our behalf to lobby or communicate related hazards,” [Songer] added, while acknowledging the federal government is responsible for regulating such trains. Lawlor said the issue is important but is “completely the responsibility of the feds.”

“If you want to impact train or rail safety,” Lawlor said, “you need to run for Congress.”

I guess my opponent had better give Karen Darch a heads up!

Karen Darsch, Barrington’s village president, did the following (including, but not limited to):

Darch took determined action against the merger of CN and the EJ&E Railroad by forming a coalition with villages along the corridor as co-chair of TRAC; filing a petition with U.S. safety regulators seeking upgrades for the DOT-111 fleet and real-time information sharing with emergency responders on hazardous car contents; and filing public comment with PHMSA, likening the transport of Bakken crude to “a game of Russian roulette.”

Darch testified before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to discuss legislation about the importance of considering community impacts in a governmental review of railroad mergers (H.R. 6707), and she filed a petition asking a Chicago-based federal appeals court to review new crude-by-rail rules, arguing regulators didn’t go far enough.

Most impressive, she visited the Canadian town of Lac Megantic and talked with officials still coming to terms with the aftermath of a derailment that decimated the core of their village and took the lives of 47 unsuspecting victims.

Darch stepped up when her community needed her. She was in the fight when it began and hasn’t stopped since.

Lake County needs a responsible representative who makes people her priority.  We are human beings, and our lives have value.

What is the public saying about the issue of transporting crude by rail through our neighborhoods?

Lawlor not leading on rail safety

Recognizing the urgency of a problem

JUST FOR THE RECORD:  I’ll consider running for Congress in our next General Election.

How About a Game of “Let’s REALLY Compare Our Candidates”


My opponent called me a one-trick pony on the Oil Train issue after just addressing my comments on the Route 53 issue – he could have at least called me a two-trick pony! Please visit my website for the real story on the issues. http://www.GerriSonger.com

In response to questions asked by reporter, Luke Hammill from the News-Sun, I submitted the points below.  After reading his article, I wonder if Hammill is simply trying to sell newspapers rather than objectively compare candidates.  But, please, you be the judge!

Why did you get into the race?

Our community needs a new representative willing to fight for our interests. We need an advocate.

For years, Aaron Lawlor promoted the Route 53 project despite its burdensome cost to taxpayers, and despite its damaging effects on the environment and quality of life for residents. Hawthorn Woods wasn’t even included on the original Blue Ribbon Advisory Council (BRAC). There was no meaningful outreach to solicit feedback or provide transparent facts.

Motivation to run came after discovering trains behind my home carried a potential explosion compared to that of an atomic bomb. My opponent hasn’t stepped up on our behalf to lobby or communicate related hazards.

Can you tell me about your work as an educator?

 As a long time employee of Township High School District 214, I’ve helped support generations of students in their academic careers. District 214 is consistently ranked among the best in the state and country.  US News & World Report awarded it gold and silver medal rankings, and The Washington Post names it among the top 11% in academic rigor.

I’m a life-long learner and have earned four degrees, including Educational Leadership and Administration, Curriculum and Instruction, Special Education, and English/Language arts. I hold three certifications in Administration, Secondary Education, and Special Education, and I’ve achieved a 25-year, distinguished record of service under a scrutinizing evaluation system.

As Education Chair for the District 214 Education Association, I frequently write about education reform, standardized assessments, and legislation.  Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education serving both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, highlighted several of my articles on the topic of standardized assessment.

What relevant experience do you have?

Service extends to the community. After discovering hazardous rail cars filled with highly explosive crude oil ran feet from homes, playgrounds, and schools, I demanded answers. Moved to action out of concern for public safety, I made a commitment to pursue a role in civic participation. Citizen Advocacy Center recognized my efforts with a Citizen’s Initiative Award for speaking out publicly and sponsoring a co-curricular activity, Students 4 Democracy, where high school students learn how to become participants in their democracy.  Since, I’ve traveled the state as a speaker on behalf of Sierra Club, and contact for energy transport and infrastructure, in an effort to raise public awareness regarding the hazards associated with crude-by-rail transport.

I also worked as a volunteer on a local campaign against the environmentally damaging and ridiculously expensive 25-mile extension of Route 53 through the middle of Lake County. This project is a bad plan that won’t work, and it will destroy sensitive wetlands in Hawthorn Woods while dividing our communities. It’s prohibitively expensive with a 4 cent-per-gallon gas tax increase; a tripling of tolls on existing I-94 to 20-30 cents per mile; an indefinite 25% skim off all new, non-residential property taxes from municipalities located within 1 mile of the corridor and 2 miles of an interchange (no cap, no end date); along with other devices that still do not cover its cost.

Other areas of civic participation include youth ministry at St. Mary’s Church of Buffalo Grove and The Chapel in both Mundelein and Grayslake.

I’m an educator, administrator, volunteer, mom and proud grandmother of my 2-year old grandson. I’m not a career politician. I’m a long-time resident of Hawthorn Woods – my family has lived in Lake County for more than 28 years and plan to stay for years to come.

How would you evaluate the performance of your opponent, Aaron Lawlor, as board chairman?

Leadership is a position of service – elected officials are responsible for looking after the needs of their constituents, not catering to outsiders who stand to profit at our expense.  My opponent spent the last four years championing the damaging and expensive extension of Route 53 right through the middle of communities in Hawthorn Woods and Long Grove.  Our voices were not heard; neither community had a seat at the planning table. Both towns have passed resolutions opposing the road, and Mundelein has opposed letting the planning studies go forward.

Soon after the primary election, my opponent had an epiphany, realizing he could lose his seat on the County Board.  He made a “stunning” announcement, flipping his support of the project. He now erroneously claims to have “led efforts to protect our environment and preserve open space.” How can he, in good conscience, say he led to saving approximately 100 acres when he was pushing a project that would ruin 31,000 acres?  This is more land than our forest preserves own.  We didn’t start out on the same side of this issue, and many are left to question the legitimacy of his new position.

Six months prior to withdrawing his support of the Route 53 project, my opponent stood before the Tollway Board advocating a $50M Environmental Impact Study.  The approval followed a letter drawn up by Lawlor, reaffirming his commitment to advancing the extension.   This letter included names of 40 mayors, after telling them to let him know if they wanted their names removed.  The letter was addressed to Bob Schillerstrom, Governor Rauner’s newly appointed Tollway Board chairman.  Its purpose was to suggest a significantly misrepresented 88% consensus.  “Lawlor’s List” now consists of only eight mayors.

My opponent claims fiscal responsibility, but how many resources were wasted as he pushed the Route 53 project over the past four years? County personnel time (administration, transportation, communications, and other departments) and funds were used that could have been redirected toward other projects to meet more immediate needs.

In 2012, my opponent CO-CHAIRED the BRAC made up of local elected officials, transportation and planning agencies along with environmental, civic, business, and labor representatives. He was a member of the Finance Committee, since its inception, and a member of the Land Use Committee.  The Finance and Land Use Committees developed “feasible financing options” and “land use strategies”.

How could my opponent NOT know about cost increases?

Aaron Lawlor claims high ethics, yet he’s accepted campaign contributions from businesses working for the County and developers outside our district who stand to gain financially from the Route 53 project.  He’s accepted donations from the rail industry and refuses to take steps to mitigate a potential catastrophe.  He claims transparency, but it took three and a half years to get the Finance Committee videotaped when others were pushing for it.

My opponent stated, “I am passionate about helping those with mental health challenges. I believe this is THE biggest moral imperative for our elected officials to answer.”  If this is the case, why did it take so long for the first meeting when others were ready to begin planning?   Lake County’s participation in the new national Data Driven Justice Initiative was announced by the Obama Administration in June. As part of the national program, the Lake County Mental Health initiative was announced Aug 11.  The first meeting wasn’t held until this past week, and the next meeting won’t be held until Jan. 2017. The holdup was caused by my opponent.  He is the co-chair, and he didn’t call a meeting – six months and nothing was accomplished for “the biggest moral imperative.”

Lawlor talks big in a number of areas. Good press, but he’s slow on the follow-up.

What are some key differences between you and him?

My position hasn’t changed, and it hasn’t cost taxpayers $50M.  I didn’t support the project before the election, and I will continue to not support it after.  I’m strongly in favor of improvements to our network of existing roads and expansion of transit opportunities.

During the past year, the Federal government passed higher standards for the construction of oil tanker cars and is currently reviewing the rules governing the availability of emergency supplies in case of an oil spill or explosion. The Lake County Board took no action – no resolution, no lobbying.  My opponent said in a Daily Herald interview the issue of transporting crude-by-rail through our neighborhoods wasn’t his job.

With oil trains rolling through two rail corridors in Hawthorn Woods and Vernon Hills, we need a new representative willing to take responsibility for public health and safety. We’ve already had four derailments in our area – one in Mundelein, another in Buffalo Grove, and two more at the same location in Northbrook where a bridge collapsed, spilling train cars onto the road and killing a married couple in their car beneath.

I’m committed to fighting for accountability in providing timely, accurate, and accessible information to residents. I will lobby for higher rail safety standards, fight to ensure appropriate emergency protocols are in place and continue to raise public awareness regarding the hazards associated with crude-by-rail transport.

We need collaboration between municipalities to promote a balanced emphasis between corporations and the promotion of small business, entrepreneurship, apprenticeships, and specialty trades.

While I do support consolidation of some governmental units, we need a consistent and transparent evaluation process, a long-term cost analysis, and public input prior to making these decisions. The County needs to ensure it doesn’t compromise its ability to provide quality services for residents and unduly burden those working to provide those services.

I advocate for preserving farmland and promoting organic farming. Farmland is irreplaceable, and we should be proactive in sustaining it. Lake County Forest Preserve District provides opportunities for public and privately owned agricultural lands to be preserved.  I’d like to see this program expanded and prioritized.  I’m a strong proponent of maintaining our agricultural areas, forest preserves, wetlands, and open spaces.

We must also lay the foundation now for implementing a systematic phase-out of fossil fuel in lieu of clean, sustainable alternative energy sources.  This won’t happen overnight, but our dependence on petroleum product has placed the public in harm’s way.  We are human beings, and our lives have value.  It’s time for us to solve this problem.

I’ll propose affordable, sustainable solutions that represent the residents’ voice, so we can leave behind a safe community with a quality of life our children and grandchildren can enjoy.

What do you think are the biggest issues facing your district and the county at large?

In addition to the immediate need to address public health and safety, given the uncertainty of the state budget (and its $110B of debt resulting from past state legislators not paying into pensions and financing it using a plan resembling a balloon mortgage)  economic development is the biggest long-term issue facing District 18 and the county at large.

In fear of corporations throughout Illinois relocating and taking their jobs, sales tax and income tax revenue with them, corporate tax incentives have been awarded to create jobs and to lure businesses from other states.  Incentives offered to corporations in Lake County have included:

  • Property tax breaks
  • Financing for relocation costs
  • Financing to train new hires
  • Waived state income tax liability
  • Local sales tax reimbursement with no financial obligations if the corporation doesn’t generate sales revenue
  • Waived sales tax revenue for sales made to other corporations
  • Property tax abatements from school districts and township governments

If incentives are necessary, they should consist of local sales tax reimbursement based on the amount of revenue generated rather than property tax, financing relocation costs and training for new hires, and etc.

More emphasis should be placed on the promotion of small business, entrepreneurship, apprenticeships, and specialty trades.  Less than half, 42%, of Lake County’s educated workforce has a bachelor’s degree or higher, which leaves a majority of the workforce that can be leveraged.

There is currently an employment deficit in the trades.  Nationally, a predicted 31 million positions will be left vacant by 2020 due to baby boomer retirement estimations, and 62% of firms are struggling to fill important skilled trade positions.  The small business sector is growing rapidly. While corporate America has been “downsizing”, the rate of small business “start-ups” has grown, and the rate of failures has declined. Since 1990, as big business eliminated 4M jobs, small businesses added 8M new jobs.



“U.S. Small Business Administration | The U.S. Small Business Administration | SBA.gov.” U.S. Small Business Administration | The U.S. Small Business Administration | SBA.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2016. <http://www.sba.gov/>.

Lawlor not leading on rail safety

The Letter to the Editor below, written by Jane Partridge from Lake Forest, goes on to ask some hard hitting questions about the state of Lake County’s emergency preparedness.  At the Daily Herald interview to which this LTE refers, I asked the question, “Who’s job is it?”

I received no answer.

My answer is this: “I’ll take it.”

Post By:
  Daily Herald
Photo:  William Hejl


Oil train derailments and fiery explosions come with a 1-mile radius blast zone and up to a 3-mile evacuation zone. I’ve been proactive since May of 2014 in demanding action from our elected officials and in raising public awareness.

Regarding a recent Daily Herald article, I take exception to Aaron Lawlor’s passing the buck about protecting the people of Lake County.

There are five railroad tracks with thousands of tank cars passing through Lake County while carrying millions of gallons of oil. These accidents-waiting-to-happen traverse over 25 communities from Barrington to Winthrop Harbor and Highland Park to Antioch.

Is each community individually supposed to deal with safety, traffic, pollution issues caused by the trains? Most communities, grappling with limited resources and influence, are unable to deal with potential catastrophes. The county should spearhead efforts to improve safety standards and mitigate impacts.

To read this Letter to the Editor in it’s entirety, please view:  Lawlor not leading on rail safety