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Thursday, May 21, 2015 @ 04:05 PM gHale

Six tanker cars, three of them carrying caustic or hazardous chemicals derailed Tuesday in Addis, LA, triggering a state of emergency and the mandatory evacuation of residents around the scene, officials said.

West Baton Rouge Parish Office of Homeland Security ordered everyone within 1,000 feet to leave the area, in about 35 homes, while workers right the cars. Authorities said the chemical cars, pulled by a Union Pacific locomotive, were carrying sodium hydroxide, better known as lye; propylene oxide, an eye and respiratory irritant, and propylene dichloride, a strong acid.

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People within 300 feet were going to end up evacuated until Wednesday morning, officials said. The cars didn’t appear to suffer damage and the evacuations were precautionary, they added.

The Addis VFW Hall was the emergency shelter. Addis is across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge.

West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley Bertholet Jr. declared a local disaster emergency, and Addis police were going door to door Tuesday night to alert residents and assist with the evacuation, the homeland security office said.

Damaged track, not speed or operator error, was the possible cause of the derailment, which happened about 1:30 p.m. central time, authorities said.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 @ 02:05 PM gHale

Microsoft wants to get more secure in the cloud so they started a research project with the goal of helping companies protect their stored data.

The cloud offers numerous benefits, but fears of a not so secure cloud are keeping companies leaders up at night because they have major IP they could lose if there is a breach.

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Microsoft is dealing with that with a new technology research called Verifiable Confidential Cloud Computing, or VC3, it released Monday at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy in San Jose, CA.

The goal of VC3 is to ensure data is secure even when it ends up used to make calculations or other transactions. The technology safeguards personal and other highly valuable data in case there is a breach in the cloud provider’s systems, but it also works against threats within the provider.

“Let’s say a financial services company wants to access a number of clients’ personal financial records to make a complex series of calculations in the cloud,” Microsoft’s Allison Linn said in a blog post. “That data is stored in a sort of lockbox that can be accessed only within secure hardware managed by VC3.”

“To make the calculations, the client’s data is loaded into the secure hardware in the cloud, where the data is decrypted, processed and re-encrypted,” he said. “No one else — including the people who work at the company running the cloud-based service — can see or access the data.”

A research paper detailing VC3 said the system runs on unmodified Hadoop, but keeps the hypervisor, the operating system and Hadoop out of the trusted computing base (TCB). This approach ensures integrity and confidentiality end up even if these components end up compromised.

When users run large-scale distributed computations in the cloud they leverage frameworks such as MapReduce, a popular programming model for processing large data sets.

The problem is while data at rest is easy to protect using encryption, however, when the data ends up processed it needs access in clear text. This allows an external attacker to access and manipulate data by exploiting vulnerabilities in the cloud environment. It also allows a malicious insider with administrative privileges to leak or alter data.

VC3 relies on SGX processors to isolate memory regions on individual devices, and to deploy new protocols that secure distributed MapReduce computations, Microsoft officials said.

Researchers said as long as malicious actors don’t have control over certified physical processors involved in the computation, they can’t access an organization’s data even if they control the cloud provider’s entire software and hardware infrastructure.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 @ 03:05 PM gHale

Oak Harbor, OH-based Davis-Besse nuclear plant went back online Tuesday night and will be at full power Thursday, officials said.

Jennifer Young, spokesperson for FirstEnergy Corp. which runs the facility, located 21 miles outside Toledo, OH, said the plant synchronized to the region’s electrical grid at 11:11 p.m. Tuesday, ending the outage that began Saturday.

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Nuclear reactors typically are running at 20 percent power when plants are producing enough electricity to synchronize to the grid.

Ohio is part of a 13-state regional electric grid operated by Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection.

Davis-Besse’s reactor was operating at 32 percent power Wednesday morning. The utility is gradually ascending it.

Operators performed a scram Saturday after instrumentation in the control room tipped them off to a steam leak in the non-nuclear turbine building adjacent to the reactor building but separate from it.

Workers welded two portions of 4-inch pipe that serves as a drain line from the feedwater heater.

Viktoria Mitlyng, Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesman, has said the utility needs to determine the root cause of the rupture.

The utility needs to determine if it was an isolated break or if other pipes have become weakened.

The incident is an unusual event, but ranked in the lowest level for emergencies.

Monday, May 11, 2015 @ 06:05 PM gHale

The fire at the Nemak plant in Glasgow, KY, ended up caused by aluminum injected into a mold spilled and ignited some dust in an exhaust fan, fire officials said. Employees tried to put out the fire, but it soon spread to the roof.

As a result of the Thursday fire, Glasgow firefighters had to return to the Nemak plant at 4 a.m. Friday today to address hot spots that flared back up.

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Nemak produces aluminum components for the automotive industry. Molten aluminum is extremely volatile – a drop of water on molten metal can create an explosion.

The Glasgow Fire Department sent all 15 city firefighters on duty Thursday afternoon to the fire and called in several others, GFD administrative assistant Polly Spillman said. Nemak employees who also serve as volunteer firefighters had turnout gear in their vehicles and helped fight the fire, along with some members of the Haywood Volunteer Fire Department.

The fire on the roof first ended up called in at 1:45 p.m. When firefighters arrived, workers had evacuated the plant, and a large fire was roaring with heavy, black smoke coming from the roof, according to a news release from GFD. Firefighters used the department’s 50-foot ladder truck to tackle the blaze. They also learned of another fire inside the plant.

Firefighters battled the blaze more than an hour and remained on the scene several more. Some plant employees stayed the night at the plant to watch for any other fires, Spillman said.

The extent of the damage is still undergoing assessment as the heat from the fire caused structural damage, the release said.

One firefighter ended up treated at the scene due to the heat, but other than that, no one else reported any injuries.

Friday, May 1, 2015 @ 05:05 PM gHale

It could take up to 2 weeks to clean up an oil spill over 40 to 60 acres in Miller County, AR, late Tuesday morning, official said.

A resident of the area discovered the leak at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Officials said a spill ended up caused by a leak in one of the lines running through the property. As a result of the leak, a Miller County judge declared the spill a disaster. The declaration will allow the county to get state assistance if needed.

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The oil line belongs to Lion Oil Company out of El Dorado, AR, and the owners are taking care of the cost of the cleanup.

Crews are preparing to work day and night until the area is clean and residents living in the area are hoping it will be sooner rather than later.

Oil spilled across 40 to 60 acres of an area and Hazmat crews were at the scene. Crews are using oil booms and said they were able to contain the leak before it reached any water.

The man who leases the land, James Robinson, said he is worried about the environmental impact.

“This way is devastating to the animals around here. That’s the sad part. You know it was just three weeks ago right up by where the leak started, I was following a little fawn,” Robinson said.

Officials said they don’t know how long the line had been leaking before discovering it Tuesday morning.

Monday, April 20, 2015 @ 04:04 PM gHale

Cleanup is still underway after a producing oil well breached Thursday morning, spilling an estimated 100 barrels of oil into Oakey Woods Creek in Covington County, MS.

As of Friday, emergency officials cleaned over 50 barrels of the oil from and around the creek.

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“The rain last night actually helped us, it helped move the product that was in log-jams and helped it flow down to the containment areas,” said Collins Fire Chief, John Pope.

Air and water levels are continuing to undergo monitoring around the area, and at this time, no irregularities have been present in the air. Officials sent multiple water samples to the lab for testing, Pope said.

Pope added multiple residents have expressed concerns about water moving down stream and harming cattle, but so far emergency officials have kept it contained to a small area around the scene.

“A good bit of the product is actually a light crude, and it vaporizes off, so 100 barrels actually won’t have to be collected, because there will not be that much left,” said Pope.

Pope credited the work of the City of Collins Fire Department, hazmat crews, pipeline groups as well as state agencies that had oil booms in place very early in the spill, stopping it from spreading further downstream.

Pope said the heavy cleanup operations should be complete by Monday or Wednesday at the latest. Crews, however, will remain for several weeks and continue to monitor the area as well as water and air levels for the community.

Covington County Emergency Management Director Greg Sanford said the leak ended up identified by a worker and resident who smelled the petroleum oil. It is unknown how long the oil spilled from the well, but Sanford estimated it was at least two hours.

“The source (was) shut off, and the threat, I think is going to be minimal from here on out,” Sanford said, who added residents, nor water or wildlife, should not be affected.

The well, operated by Mississippi Resources Limited, sits on the north side of Highway 84, just east of Collins near Hwy. 37. Sanford said the spill flowed approximately two miles down the creek, reaching Leaf River Church Road.

Sanford said the crew saw a broken line coming out of the well, which was the source of the leak.

“I believe it has safeguards on it that prevented it from being a huge disaster,” said Sanford.

Monday, April 20, 2015 @ 04:04 PM gHale

A combination of poor management, lapses in safety and a lack of proper procedures resulted in a radiation leak that forced the indefinite closure of the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository in New Mexico.

And the catch is, it didn’t have to be that way, said a team of investigators.

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That was the conclusion in a final report released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board. Officials reviewed the findings Thursday night during a community meeting in Carlsbad, NM.

The investigators spent more than a year looking into the cause of the radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.

Like a separate team of technical experts, they too found that a chemical reaction inside a drum of waste packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory forced the lid open, allowing radiation to escape. The contents included nitrate salt residues and organic cat litter used to soak up moisture in the waste.

Aside from lab managers, the report places blame on Energy Department headquarters, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that manages the repository. It highlights numerous failures — from Los Alamos lab not having an adequate system for identifying and controlling hazards to federal nuclear officials not ensuring the existence of a “strong safety culture” at the lab.

Investigators found a failure by managers to resolve employee concerns where the final result could have treated problems before the waste shipped from Los Alamos to the repository.

Accident Investigation Board Chair Ted Wyka said during the town hall some workers reported seeing foaming and yellowish smoke while repackaging waste. After short discussions with their supervisors, they went back to work on the assembly line.

That information did not make it up to lab managers, he said.

“It wasn’t an issue of malice,” Wyka said. “It was more of an issue of just not understanding … the issue, the reactions that they were working with, the hazards involved and the controls.”

Lab Director Charlie McMillian acknowledged in a staff memo there were “serious deficiencies” in the lab’s processes and procedures.

“We now know from the investigations that if (Los Alamos National Laboratory) had followed certain basic steps, this event would not have happened. Also, if we had complied with our hazardous waste permit, we would have avoided the serious legal and credibility issues we now face,” McMillian said.

The Energy Department and its contractors are facing $54 million in fines from the state of New Mexico for the failures that led to the mishap. Negotiations are ongoing, and the state has suggested more financial penalties are possible.

With the repository closed indefinitely, efforts to clean up decades of Cold War-era waste at federal facilities around the country are in a holding pattern. Federal officials say resuming full operations at the repository could take years and cost more than a half-billion dollars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 @ 02:04 PM gHale

Williams Energy is facing a citation for “conditions not allowable in state waters” after the company’s pipeline rupture allowed 132 barrels of Marcellus Shale condensate to spill into Little Grave Creek in Glen Dale, WV, last week.

The 4-inch condensate conduit broke late Thursday, less than three hours before a 12-inch natural gas pipeline — also operated by Williams — failed in the Bane Lane area of Marshall County.

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“Other violations may be issued depending on the evolution and discovery of site conditions,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Kelley J. Gillenwater of the 4-inch pipeline rupture. “The condensate has impacted approximately 6 miles of Little Grave Creek in Marshall County.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration classifies condensates as light liquid hydrocarbons recovered at natural gas well sites that producers market for profit. Industry officials often compare the material to crude oil.

Gillenwater said a visible sheen remains along Little Grave Creek, along with a slight odor. This stream ultimately leads to the Ohio River, but she said the incident did not affect drinking water intakes. Gillenwater said an environmental remediation company hired by Williams placed containment booms in the creek to prevent the material from proliferating.

“Williams has and will continue to take water samples of Little Grave Creek starting at the mouth of the Ohio River, and sampling all public accesses of the stream to the right of way,” Gillenwater said. “An unnamed tributary is also believed to have been impacted and this stream is also being sampled.”

Williams spokeswoman Helen Humphreys said on Friday company officials believe “heavy rains in the area, which may have destabilized soils, were a contributing factor” in the two pipeline failures late Thursday.

Humphreys said both pipelines remain shutdown as company and state inspectors determine the full cause of the ruptures before initiating repairs.

“The company hired independent experts to take water samples of nearby tributaries and Little Grave Creek beginning the night of the incident to determine whether and to what extent these water bodies might have been impacted,” she said.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams transports natural gas and liquids for Chevron, Southwestern Energy, Gastar Exploration, Trans Energy, and several other producers in northern West Virginia.

The firm operates a massive pipeline and processing infrastructure network in Marshall County. It runs the Oak Grove processing plant, the Fort Beeler processing plant and the Moundsville fractionator, all of which end up connected by pipelines.

Humphreys said the 12-inch line that broke near Bane Lane Thursday collects natural gas from producing wells throughout the area for shipment to the nearby Fort Beeler plant. She said officials knew they had a problem because of a noticeable pressure drop.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 @ 03:04 PM gHale

A 27-year-old Lancaster County, PA, man died after an explosion Friday night at a manufacturing plant in Caernarvon Township, officials said.

Jacob J. Lopez of Ephrata Township died at 12:22 a.m. Saturday morning after the blast at Timet, a titanium plant.

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According to Caernarvon Township police:

“An explosion was reported at 10:59 p.m. in the plant’s melt shop.

“When police arrived at 11:05 p.m., the explosion was over, and there was no fire.

“Two were transported to Reading Hospital and a third person drove to the hospital.”

A state police fire marshal’s office and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Harrisburg is investigating the cause of the explosion.

This was the second major emergency in less than two years at Timet, which was the scene of a three-alarm fire in June 2013.

About 200 firefighters from two dozen companies in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties responded to that blaze, which state police ruled accidental. Investigators said it caused about $3.5 million in damage.

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.