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Wednesday, March 25, 2015 @ 11:03 AM gHale

This time it was not oil, but a chemical spill as 12 cars from a BNSF train derailed near Valley Mills, TX, Saturday.

The next day, crews started to clean up the industrial solvent that leaked from one of the tankers, said Department of Public Safety Trooper D.L. Wilson.

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No injuries or fires resulted from the derailment Saturday evening, Wilson said.

Residents of about four homes ended up evacuated as a precaution, but returned home at 9 p.m. Saturday.

A hazardous materials team was working on the cleanup Sunday, Wilson said. The derailed cars are off the track and crews were repairing the damaged track and a bridge.

The cleanup will wrap up when conditions are drier, officials said.

First responders first thought methanol was leaking from one car after the derailment, but later determined the chemical was dimethylformamide, which can cause nausea and vomiting if inhaled.

About 7,000 gallons of the flammable liquid spilled, but it has been contained and poses no threat, BNSF Railway spokesman Joe Faust said Sunday.

The cleanup should be finished by late Sunday night, he said.

The cause of the derailment has not been determined. Heavy rain Saturday night made it difficult for crews to reach the scene, Wilson said.

The 12 cars left the tracks and overturned at around 5 p.m. Saturday. Five of the cars were carrying what authorities said was methanol, a type of alcohol that can be dangerous if ingested. Seven other cars were carrying oil-well pipes that spilled all over the tracks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 03:03 PM gHale

One person died and two suffered injuries Sunday night after a mine roof collapsed in Marshall County, WV, officials said.

Emergency crews got the call around 8:50 p.m. to the scene of a roof collapse at the Cameron Portal of a Murray Energy coal mine, said Tom Hart, emergency management director for Marshall County. Crews arrived to find three injured workers other mine workers pulled to safety.

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One of the victims eventually died, Hart said. Rescue personnel flew another to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, WV. The third went via ambulance to Wheeling Hospital. Officials have not yet released the names of the victims.

Other than the three victims of the incident, all other miners ended up accounted for. Murray Energy along with state and federal officials will start an investigation into the incident, Hart said.

Murray Energy and its subsidiary companies operate more than a dozen active coal mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Utah and Illinois.

Murray Energy released a brief statement saying “an accident” had occurred at the company’s Marshall County mine. The statement said details about the incident weren’t immediately clear.

Two miners died in May at a mine near Wharton, WV, while engaged in “retreat mining,” a process called one of the most dangerous forms of coal mining.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 @ 05:02 PM gHale

A problem with a steam valve forced the shutdown of one of the two reactors at Limerick Generating Station in Pottstown, PA at 10 p.m. Monday night, officials said.

Called a “hot shutdown,” the reactor for Unit 1 “automatically shut down at about 9:40 p.m.,” according to statement released by Exelon Nuclear Tuesday.

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Unit 2 remained unaffected and continued to operate generating electricity.

The grid is stable and Exelon reported the shutdown will not affect electrical service, said officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The Unit 1 shutdown occurred because of the unexpected closure of one of the “main steam isolation valves” in the line sending steam to the unit’s electrical generator.

The valve closed due to a leak in the nitrogen supply line, the gas used in the hydraulic system to operate the valve, according to NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

“During an accident, the (main steam isolation valves) would be closed to prevent the release of radioactivity from the containment building, which houses the reactor,” Sheehan said.

As a result of the valve’s closure, pressure in the reactor began to rise “exceeding the reactor protection system setpoint of pressure,” according to the NRC’s initial incident report on the matter.

This caused the “hot shutdown,” during which “control rods” insert amid the fuel rods to slow or stop the nuclear reaction that generates the heat used to create the steam that spins the turbines and creates electricity.

“A ‘hot shutdown’ means the reactor and the reactor coolant system remain heated and pressurized, thus allowing for a fairly quick restart once the problem is resolved,” Sheehan said.

“It essentially means the reactor is idling until being placed back into service,” Sheehan added. “But no fissioning is taking place and therefore there is no greater risk of a radiation release than if the plant was in ‘cold shutdown,’ which means the reactor and reactor coolant system have been cooled down and depressurized. A “cold shutdown” occurs when a plant will be down for at least several days.

“The shutdown was normal and the plant is stable in hot shutdown with normal pressure control via the main steam bypass valves to the main condenser and normal level control using the feedwater system,” according to the NRC preliminary report.

“Plant equipment responded as designed during the shutdown. Station operators responded appropriately,” according to Exelon.

The NRC received word of the “scram” quickly Monday night and the plant’s two resident NRC inspectors will oversee the repairs, Sheehan said.

To repair the problem, Exelon crews will have to “go into the plant’s drywell, the enclosed area surrounding the reactor, to search for the source of the leakage and then make any needed repairs,” Sheehan said.

“The forced outage will be counted in the plant’s Performance Indicator for Unplanned Scrams per 7,000 Hours of Operation,” Sheehan said.

Thursday, February 19, 2015 @ 12:02 PM gHale

Carbon monoxide was in the air and over 100 firefighters from the Fitchburg, WI, area responded to the hazardous material call at a plastics company’s production building, officials said.

After an employee showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning at the EcoStar facility in Fitchburg, firefighters got the call, said Fitchburg fire Deputy Chief Rich Roth.

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Firefighters confirmed high Carbon monoxide (CO) levels inside the building and the department followed protocol and contacted the Madison Hazardous Incident Team, or HIT, Roth said. The National Guard’s 54th Civil Support Team in Madison also responded with its chemical biological monitoring team.

The teams determined there was a chemical reaction happening in a pellet storage bin in the EcoStar building’s production area, Roth said. EcoStar recycles used plastics into plastic sheets sold commercially, according to the company website.

To reduce the CO in the building to a safe level, firefighters, HIT and guard members had to remove about 7,000 pounds of plastic pellets from a large storage bin by hand, Roth said. To tackle the task, hazmat response rotated in shifts for about 17 hours through Friday night and Saturday morning.

Roth estimated about 120 fire and EMS personnel took part in the large-scale, labor-intensive operation overnight.

“We never had to strip fire and EMS protection from another area,” Roth said. “We’d leap frog communities so that we didn’t get everybody right closest to the scene and not leave people unprotected.”

The building was cleared of the hazardous material and turned over to EcoStar managers at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Roth said.

EcoStar and its parent company, Placon, officials were not immediately available.

Monday, February 16, 2015 @ 04:02 PM gHale

Oil and gas drilling in highly populated residential areas will require more protections for neighbors under new instructions unveiled last week by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Supervisor of Wells.

Residents of metro Detroit townships — like Shelby and Scio — who already have endured round-the-clock noise, bright lights and other nuisances from oil well construction near their homes last summer said the regulatory changes don’t do enough to protect communities.

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DEQ’s new instructions for oil and gas developers include requirements to provide notice to local governments before projects commence, groundwater monitoring, containing drill cuttings and fluids in tanks, noise reduction and ceasing drilling-related truck traffic during overnight hours.

However, the new regulation only applies in a county with a population of 750,000 people or more. Only three counties in Michigan meet that population figure: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The regulation also only applies when the zoning in the drilling location is for residential activity and 40 or more structures for public or private occupancy exist within 1,320 feet of the well location.

The changes come from a task force convened after public outcry caused by an oil well built in a zoned residential area of Macomb County’s Shelby Township last August — only about 500 feet from a neighborhood. Noisy drilling occurred on a 24-7 basis for about three weeks, along with bright lights at night and truck and heavy equipment traffic.

The new rules “require a lot of protections in terms of noise, lighting, berming and screening,” said DEQ Supervisor of Wells Hal Fitch.

“It provides transparency, notice to residents. It requires a thorough analysis of alternate drilling locations — a company’s got to tell us why there’s not a better location to drill from that’s farther from residential development.”

The instruction comes after several meetings of a task force consisting of representatives from state government, the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Oil and Gas Association, and members of the public, Fitch said. He said he recognizes the new instruction to oil and gas developers will not satisfy everyone.

“There are some who would just like to prohibit oil and gas development,” he said. “The problem with that is, the mineral owners and the companies leasing the minerals have constitutional rights that you have to honor. You can’t just deny people their property rights, unless you pay them for it.”

The new rules take effect for all oil and gas development that starts in the state after Feb. 24.

“One of the advantages of an instruction, as opposed to more formal rule-making, is that we can turn it around in a short period of time,” Fitch said. “We’re going to look at how this works, examine it and make adjustments as the need arises.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 @ 10:02 AM gHale

Eight people ended up treated for chemical inhalation and skin irritation following a fire at the Warsaw Chemical Company on Friday, official said.

A fire at the plant followed by an explosion caused tanks to rupture, leaking chemicals into storm drains and Winona Lake, according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

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Eight people ended up treated at Kosciusko Community Hospital for chemical inhalation and skin irritation. One plant employee suffered burns on his hands, officials said.

Crews with Environmental Remediation Services of Fort Wayne were on scene late Friday night and early Saturday morning, Feb. 7, treating the area after thousands of gallons of chemicals — mostly menthol — mixed into the water and snow in the surrounding area, conservation officer Jerry Hoerdt said.

“We are trying to re-oxygenate the water,” he said Saturday morning. “Thankfully, we have not seen any fish or wildlife in the area that have been affected, but we are monitoring that.”

The cause of the fire is still unknown and will be until emergency workers can clean up the chemicals from the area, Lt. Kip Shuter of the Warsaw Police Department said.

An investigation is underway.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 @ 09:02 AM gHale

A fire broke out at a Marcellus Shale natural gas well pad last Wednesday as the North Strabane Township, PA, drilling operation was just starting up, officials said.

“They were very fortunate last night,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman John Poister.

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The DEP was still attempting Thursday to determine how much oil leaked from a hydraulic line and what caused the substance to catch fire at Range Resources’ Jeffries Elisabeth pad off Ross Road.

Regulators also were investigating to determine how much oil leaked from the ruptured line and what the connections were on the pad, Poister said.

“We have a lot of work to do down there,” Poister said.

No one suffered an injury in the fire that began about 5:45 p.m. and spread to plastic sheeting on the well pad at 257 Ross Road.

It was under control within an hour by firefighters using foam and water hauled by tanker trucks to the site from a nearby fire hydrant.

“I can say that the initial fire was small, and the workers attempted to extinguish it with a hand-held unit,” said Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

“But the fluid discharged enough, the fire spread and eventually the spill liner ignited,” he said. “That’s why there was a lot of smoke. It would be similar to a tire burning.”

Washington County Public Safety Director Jeff Yates said a small amount of low-pressure natural gas was escaping at the time into the atmosphere at the site, and that it could have fueled some of the flames.

“The rig was on fire. A couple of trailers were on fire,” Yates said.

Township fire Chief Mark Grimm said the blaze destroyed the drilling rig.

Range’s safety liaison for the township, Hugh White, also was with the chief and county public safety workers to help with the emergency at the command center, which was about 2,000 feet away from the center of the fire, Grimm said.

“It definitely was a concern for us from the start, but having a Range person there at the command post, we were confident there was nothing coming out of it,” Grimm said. “Our action plan was in effect, and that’s why you need to take time to (train) so when it does happen you’re not behind the eight ball.”

Range followed the proper protocol with the township in handling the emergency.

“The biggest issue was for the first few moments getting a water supply,” Grimm said. “Once we did, we could take care of (the fire).”

Range just started drilling at the location, Pitzarella said.

“There are shallow pockets of gas through the Earth’s strata, and we have connected a small burner unit to burn the gas. It operates occasionally as needed,” Pitzarella said.

“This is nothing whatsoever like what you might consider a typical flare or flare stack,” he said.

He said Wednesday’s fire was the first that Range has encountered in the 10 years the Southpointe-based driller has been involved in shale development.

Monday, February 9, 2015 @ 09:02 AM gHale

By Richard Sale
Chinese hackers are a little engine that knows no rest.

And in light of new developments uncovered by ISSSource, because of lax intrusion detection, poor reporting by Defense Department (DoD) contractors, company inattentiveness and old fashioned politics, Chinese hackers are continuing their marauding ways and infiltrating systems and learning more details from the military industrial complex every day.

“China has engaged in a sustained investment in technology for thirty years while U.S. investments in science have too often come in fits and starts and been driven by fads,” said James Lewis, senior fellow and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We can find a new example of the “fits and starts’ approach to security and examine its causes.

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When it comes to security for defense-related contractors, there is an impression of strength, but the reality is a bit more suspect.

Relating that impression to the manufacturing automation sector, while security awareness has increased substantially over the past few years, actual programs put into action remain on the back burner. But attacks, discovered or surreptitious, continue.

ISSSource reviewed a Senate Report, and dug deep into the documents and the outcome appears dismaying. The documents reveal a curious lack of thinking things through.

The success of Chinese hackers is not due to their keen deftness and skill, but is often the result of ineptitude of some U.S. companies, Lewis said.

“Verizon each year does a survey that concludes that more than 80 percent of corporate-network penetrations required only the most basic techniques, such as sending a bogus email with an infected attachment, and most breaches went undetected for months – another sign of lax security,” Lewis said. “One more sign: They were usually discovered by an outsider rather than the victimized company.” He added breaches go undiscovered on average of three months.

In other words, China is succeeding not because of their great skill and awareness, but because we are not putting up proper defenses to thwart them. It isn’t difficult to pilfer a safe if it has no locks; it isn’t difficult to burgle a house if it has no doors.

Citing the recent national uproar over the Sony Entertainment breach by North Korea, Lewis added Sony used the word “password” as an administrative “key” when it first ended up hacked in September, with a breach not detected until November. Sony declined to comment.

As we publish, several U.S. states are investigating a massive cyberattack on No. 2 U.S. health insurer Anthem Inc that a person familiar with the matter said is being examined for possible ties to China, but the most startling fact is the data were not encrypted, according to last week’s The Wall Street Journal.

A Case Study
In April of 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee began a probe into Chinese military hackers who had successfully breached the systems of several transportation companies that do sensitive work for the U.S. military. Its findings, entitled, “Inquiry into Cyber Intrusions Affecting U.S. Transportation Command Contractors,” released last September, and its results have deep strategic implications.

U.S. Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM, the single manager of America’s global defense transportation system, is entrusted with the coordination of people and transportation systems to allow the U.S. to sustain forces, whenever, wherever, and for as long as they are needed, according to its press releases.

TRANSCOM is a little-recognized but vital U.S. military asset: It has the ability to tap civilian air, shipping and other transportation assets to rapidly deploy U.S. forces in times of crisis. Through programs such as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), commercial transportation companies (some of which do little or no CRAF-related business in peacetime), become key elements of TRANSCOM’s plans for moving troops and equipment around the world.

The Senate committee found in a 12-month period beginning June 1, 2012, there were about 50 intrusions or other cyber events into the computer networks of TRANSCOM contractors. At least 20 of those were successful intrusions that involved “advanced persistent threats (APTs),” a term used to designate sophisticated threats. The purpose of the new breach is for malware to find a way into a system, constantly learn how the system operates and then send intelligence back to a command and control center. These APTs are a common attack method employed by nation states or very sophisticated attack organizations.

Other highlights of the study included, a Chinese military intrusion into a TRANSCOM contractor between 2008 and 2010 that compromised emails, documents, user passwords and computer code; a 2010 intrusion by the Chinese military into the network of a CRAF contractor in which documents, flight details, credentials and passwords for encrypted email were stolen; and a 2012 Chinese military intrusion into multiple systems onboard a commercial ship contracted by TRANSCOM.

TRANSCOM command relies on a network of large and small private companies and is one of nine unified commands of the U.S. Defense Department. The organization’s knowledge of cyber intrusions into the contractor computer networks depends on the reporting of such breaches by the contractors themselves. But what the probe found was TRANSCOM contractors and subcontractors reported only a small fraction of their breaches. In fact, TRANSCOM, was aware of only one of nine successful intrusions, the Senate report said.

Beginning in 2010, TRANSCOM began to require contractors report certain cyber security incidents. Bearing in mind while 80 U.S companies were subjected to that rule, by August 2013, TRANSCOM had received only two reports of cyber intrusion from the contractors, the report said.

It Gets Worse
The Senate committee also requested information from 11 contractors about cyber intrusions they had experienced between Jan.1, 2013, and June 30, 2013, and asked whether the intrusions should have been reported. The companies are all involved with shippers, airlines and logistic support. Of the 11 contractors, eight companies said they were not aware of any cyber intrusions during the period in question. The remaining three companies identified 32 intrusions, with 11 of them associated with APTs. The Senate report defined an APT as an “extremely proficient, patient, determined and capable adversary including two or more adversaries working together.”

All 32 intrusions were attributed to China. Of the APT 11 intrusions, TRANSCOM was aware of only one.

The muddle originated in “a lack of common understanding” on the part of the companies about what had to be reported to the government. In fact, none of the contractors interpreted the cyber breach reporting obligation in a manner “consistent with TRANSCOM’s intent.”

It Gets Even Worse
Apparently, the TRANSCOM contract clause about reporting of cyber breaches has the effect of limiting the scope of what must be reported, requiring companies to report only intrusions into the networks that are storing or communicating DoD data at the time of the breaches. TRANSCOM concluded that poor sharing of information by U.S. companies “left the command largely unaware of computer compromises by China of contractors that are key to the mobilization and deployment of military forces” in a crisis.

What then follows are twisted, nitpicking, hairsplitting discussions about blind spots or vagueness in sharing information about breaches. The conclusion said, “Common understanding of reporting obligations is lacking.” (We file that under “do tell.”) The report also said China has “exhibited both the capability and intent to comprise private sector computer networks” used to support TRANSCOM operations. Breaches exploit the systems and their partners, networks and personnel that TRANSCOM relies on to carry out its mission.

“We must ensure that cyber intrusions cannot disrupt our mission readiness” said Senator Jim Inhofe, R-OK, the committee’s ranking member. “It is essential that we put into place a central clearinghouse that makes it easy for critical contractors, particularly those that are small businesses, to report suspicious cyber activity without adding a burden to their mission support operations.” He said that last September.

Effective Remedies?
In response to the investigation’s findings, the committee included a provision in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 directed at addressing reporting gaps and improving the way in which the Department disseminates information about cyber intrusions into the computer networks of operationally critical contractors, the Senate report said.

Unfortunately, congressional legislation resembles a huge, sluggish, inert dragon whose shiny coils move extremely slowly. People most familiar with this situation have noted some meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies have taken place. These same people assure us the suggested legislative measures will be put in place. “It usually takes a year,” said a source familiar with the situation.

So by September of this year measures to foil breaches by the Chinese should be put in place and begin operation.

But in the world of APTs, malware can load on to a system and sit for years, learning and sending intelligence back home or even waiting until it gets the code to attack. One wonders how many new breaches will have occurred by September or how deeply they will have penetrated U.S. networks by then.

The operations of crime are incessant and ceaseless. They wait for no one.
Richard Sale is a freelance writer based out of Durham, NC, and was United Press International’s Intelligence Correspondent for 10 years and with the Middle East Times, a publication of UPI. He is the author of Clinton’s Secret Wars and Traitors.

Thursday, February 5, 2015 @ 06:02 PM gHale

One man died in an air tank explosion at a machinery manufacturing plant Monday night in northwest suburban Carol Stream, IL.

Chad Nelson, 35, was welding metal machinery about 9:30 p.m. at Maac Machinery at 590 Tower Blvd. in Carol Stream when there was a “catastrophic failure,” according to the DuPage County coroner’s office.

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An estimated 200-gallon air tank exploded while it was undergoing testing for leaks, according to a statement from the Carol Stream Fire Protection District. There was no fire or smoke in the explosion.

Nelson, of Elgin, suffered severe traumatic injuries and was dead at the scene, according to the coroner’s office.

Another person who was in the vicinity refused medical treatment, according to the fire protection district.

There were no structural hazards to the building from the explosion, according to the statement.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the fatality, according to spokesman Scott Allen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 @ 04:02 PM gHale

After a substation explosion and fire at the Escanaba Power Plant in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan Monday, power is now back on, officials said.

Power is back in some areas of Delta County in the wake of Monday blackouts after the early morning explosion at the city’s main power plant. Depending on circuit overloads, residents could see rolling blackouts in increments of two hours in Escanaba for up to two days.

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The city utilized municipal facilities as warming shelters as temperatures dropped overnight to single digits. With restoring power to residential areas, officials are asking residents to heat their homes then conserve energy to avoid circuit overloads until a new substation can hook up. The process should take between 18 and 24 hours.

Damage assessment is still going on to determine the severity of the fire damage and the cause of the explosion.

Officials said a contracting crew worked throughout the night, and called in experts from around the Midwest to advise and assist. The county is coordinating with its emergency center by declaring a local state of emergency and monitoring critical care units to ensure the least amount of impact to the elderly and other individuals with health concerns.

A replacement substation is coming in from Iron Mountain to replace the damaged equipment. It will take 18 to 24 hours to get it running. Officials said the power outage began at around 1:30 a.m. Monday morning. No one suffered any injuries in the fire.