Oil train regulation passes in California Assembly

Repost from Reuters
[Editor: The bill is AB380.  For text, analysis and votes on the bill, see leginfo.ca.gov.  - RS]

Oil train regulation passes in California

By Jennifer Chaussee, Aug 29, 2014

(Reuters) – California lawmakers on Friday passed legislation requiring railroad companies to tell emergency officials when crude oil trains will chug through the state.

The bill would require railroads to notify the state’s Office of Emergency Services when trains carrying crude oil from Canada and North Dakota are headed to refineries in the most populous U.S. state.

It passed its final vote in the Assembly 61-1, with strong bipartisan support within the state legislature in Sacramento. The bill now goes to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

“We have a spotlight on this issue because of the seriousness of the risk to public safety that it presents,” said the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, whose district encompasses parts of Sacramento along the trains’ route.

The legislation follows a disastrous oil train derailment in Canada that killed 47 people and spilled 1.6 million gallons of crude last year.

Worried that a similar spill could happen in California, firefighters and other safety officials have urged state lawmakers to increase safety regulations on oil trains and improve communication between railroads and first responders about when oil shipments are coming through.

President Barack Obama proposed new safety requirements last month that could lower speed limits for trains carrying oil and increase safety standards for oil tank cars.

The volume of oil shipped by train through California has increased dramatically in recent years, public safety experts told a legislative committee at a hearing in June.

The influx has been propelled by increased production in Western Canada and North Dakota without an accompanying boost in pipeline capacity.

Oil and rail industry representatives told lawmakers that they had already done much to improve safety. BNSF Railway lobbyist Juan Acosta testified that the company had agreed to slow its oil trains to 40 mph and increase inspections of its tracks.

Railroads are not currently required to proactively share their oil train schedules with first responders.

(additional reporting by Aaron Mendelson in Sacramento; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Simon Cameron-Moore)
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Vallejo Times-Herald: Sacramento area leaders urge more study of Valero rail plan

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: Front page above-the-fold headline in the Vallejo Times-Herald on Friday, 8/29/14.  The Times-Herald is one of two local print newspapers covering Benicia news.  - RS]

Sacramento area leaders urge more study of Valero rail plan

Council of governments faults Benicia’s review as inadequate
By Tony Burchyns, 08/28/2014

Sacramento area leaders this week mailed a letter to Benicia urging more study of safety concerns stemming from Valero’s crude-by-rail plan.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, representing 22 cities and six counties, drafted the letter in response to the Valero refinery’s plan to run daily crude oil trains from Roseville to Benicia.

“We urge the City of Benicia to substantially revise the (draft environmental impact report) for this project so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the full impacts of this project,” the letter states.

Benicia’s review of the project found no significant safety risks. But the regional council claims the city failed to address fire and explosion risks to communities along the Placer County to Yolo County rail line.

A Benicia study found the risk of major oil train spills between Roseville and Benicia would be minimal, but critics say it relied on data predating the nation’s crude-by-rail boom.

The council, which approved sending the letter last week, has raised concerns in recent months about whether local first-responders would be notified in advance of crude oil shipments through their jurisdictions. It has also called for limitations on storing tank cars in urbanized areas.

The letter does not take a position on whether Valero’s proposed project should proceed.

Valero and Union Pacific officials have argued that the safety concerns fall beyond the purview of local government because rail transportation is federally regulated.

Valero is proposing daily shipments of up to 70,000 barrels of crude to its Benicia refinery. The tank cars would originate at unspecified North American sites and be shipped to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Roseville yard, where they would be assembled into two daily 50-car trains to Benicia.

Benicia has extended the public comment period on the project’s draft environmental impact report to Sept. 15.

Other agencies that have voiced concerns in comment letters include Caltrans, Yolo County and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District.

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Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: The SACOG letter can be viewed here.  (Note that this download is in draft form, but the letter was approved as is.)  Of interest also is this 10-page Union Pacific letter addressed TO the SACOG Board, encouraging no action.  A recording of the Board meeting  is available here.  - RS]

Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

By Tony Bizjak, Aug. 28, 2014

Tracks lead to Benicia’s Valero refinery. Sacramento area leaders have drafted a letter saying a Benicia report doesn’t take major oil train risks into account. | Manny Crisostomo

Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.

Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.

“We are not taking a position on whether the project should proceed,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and SACOG member. “We are pointing out, as we have the responsibility to do, the public safety issues in our region. There are ways those issues can be identified and mitigated.”

Benicia officials have been collecting public comments and questions about their environmental review of the Valero project plans, and said they will respond to all comments after the comment period closes Sept. 15.

The SACOG group also is drafting a letter to federal regulators, encouraging them to make hazardous materials transport on rail safer, particularly shipments of volatile crude oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Crude oil train shipments have increased dramatically in recent years, leading to several derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town last year.

Railroad officials nationally say derailments are very infrequent. A study commissioned by Benicia determined that a derailment and spill would be a rare occurrence on the line between Roseville and Benicia. But Sacramento leaders contend Benicia has underplayed derailment possibilities, and has not adequately studied the consequences of a spill and fire.

“We think there are serious safety concerns that should be addressed by Benicia, not downplayed,” said Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn, chairman of the SACOG board.

The Benicia trains would travel on tracks just north of downtown, through the downtown Sacramento railyard, and over the I Street Bridge.

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis was one of two SACOG members who voted to oppose sending the letter. “I thought it is a little outside our scope. It’s a slippery slope,” he said.

SACOG’s main role is to serve as the region’s transportation planning agency and to administer a portion of the region’s federal transportation funding allotment.

Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher also voted against sending the letter, saying many safety issues are in the federal government’s purview, not Benicia’s. He said he doesn’t want to discourage production of domestic oil that creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil.

Sac Bee: More Information

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Information and events on Crude By Rail and Valero's Benicia Refinery