FOX40 News: Crude Oil Rail Meeting Sparks Questions in Fairfield

Repost from FOX40 NEWS Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto
[Editor – The 2 minute video is MUCH better than the online text below.  Two excellent on camera comments by Antonia Juhasz.  Significant closing statement by Fox40 reporter Ben Deci, “The process in Benicia is moving along pretty quickly.  Valero says it expects to be in front of that [Benicia] City Council before the end of the year.”   (…apologies for the video advertisement.)  – RS]

Crude Oil Rail Meeting Sparks Questions in Fairfield

September 29, 2014, by Ben Deci

FAIRFIELD – Oil is coming out of Middle America and needs to get to refineries somehow. Lots more of it, orders of magnitude more, is moving by rail.

But that means more accidents.

“In 2013 alone, we had more crude oil spills by rail than in every year since 1975 combined — 1.1 million gallons. But thus far in 2014 we’ve already surpassed that,” said Antonia Juhasz, an author and investigative reporter sitting on a panel about oil transport through Solano County.

If Valero gets plans approved for a new refinery complex in Benicia, a lot more oil will be loaded on trains, coming this way.

“Our business is dealing with flammable liquids. We deal with it every day. I’m confident in our preparations,” said Chris Howe, with Valero in Benicia.

For those gathered at today meeting in Solano county who don’t want the crude rolling through their backyards, it’s not clear how much choice they have.

“Freight railroads in the United States are actually required to accept any commodity that is delivered to us by our customers, so long as it’s packaged according to U.S. Department of Transportation regulations,” said Liisa Stark, spokesperson for Union Pacific.

The federal government right now is considering stricter standards for the kinds of train cars the crude can be transported in.

But can the wheels of government keep pace with the wheels on the rail?

“It must. If it’s not going to happen at the federal level, it has to happen at the state level. If it’s not going to happen at the state level it has to happen at the community level. There are communities all across the country that are banning crude by rail,” Juhasz said.

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    KGO 810 Radio: Benicia Community Groups Oppose Oil-by-Rail Plan on Safety Grounds

    Repost from KGO 810 Radio, The Bay Area’s News & Information Station
    [Editor: the online text below has some misquotes.  The video is MUCH better.  Good interview comments by Andrés Soto of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community.  – RS

    Benicia Community Groups Oppose Oil-by-Rail Plan on Safety Grounds

    Railroad tracks (morguefile)

    BENICIA (KGO) – The issue of rail safety is front-and-center in Solano County as officials consider a plan to allow oil-carrying trains to pass through the region.

    The controversy surrounds a proposal by the Valero’s Benicia refinery. Refinery officials want to begin transporting crude oil to the city via railroad tanker car. The refinery currently receives crude by ship.

    “We believe that it presents a clear and present danger to both the physical and economic futures[s] of the city,” says Andre Soto, a member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, one of several groups opposing the endeavor.

    “Crude by rail, as delivered by the railroad companies right now, has a terrible record of catastrophic explosions, mostly due to derailment,” says Soto.

    Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert is hosting community meetings to discuss preparedness and response.

    “The chances are [oil] is going to come through in greater quantities than [it] has in the past. Regulatory and schemes and ensuring that the public is safe is absolutely essential,” she says.

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      Oregon & California Senators ask for more oil train notifications

      Repost from The Seattle Times
      [Editor: Significant quote: “The four senators are…asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.”  – RS]

      Senators ask for more oil train notifications

      By Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press, September 30, 2014

      PORTLAND, Ore. — Four West Coast senators are asking the federal government to expand a recent order for railroads to notify state emergency responders of crude oil shipments.

      The letter, sent Monday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, says railroads should supply states with advanced notification of all high-hazard flammable liquid transports — including crude from outside the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, as well as ethanol and 71 other liquids.

      The letter was signed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and California senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

      In May, Foxx ordered railroads operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil — or about 35 tank cars — to inform states that the trains traverse. The order came in the wake of repeated oil train derailments, including in Lac-Magentic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

      The West Coast has received unprecedented amounts of crude oil by rail shipments in recent years. More than a dozen oil-by-rail refining or loading facilities and terminals have been built in California, Oregon and Washington, with another two dozen new projects or expansions in the works in the three states.

      But according to the California Energy Commission, oil from the Bakken region accounted just for a fourth of crude-by-rail deliveries to California since 2012. Canadian oil — which travels to California through Washington and Oregon, as well as through Idaho and Montana — accounted for as much as 76 percent of California oil deliveries, the senators wrote.

      Non-Bakken oil is also delivered to refineries and loading facilities in Oregon and Washington — including a terminal in Portland. A controversial proposed terminal in Vancouver, Washington, would also receive some non-Bakken crude.

      Wyden and Merkley in June similarly urged Foxx to expand his order to cover crude from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. Transportation Safety Board Chairman Chris Hart wrote the two senators that month saying all crude shipments are flammable and a risk to communities and the environment — not just the Bakken oil.

      The four senators are now repeating the same demand and are also asking Foxx to lower the threshold for reporting to no higher than 20 carloads. They say most of the accidents with the exception of the Lac-Magentic disaster were caused by smaller and non-Bakken shipments and resulted in explosions, fires or environmental contamination. In one case, the train carried 14 carloads of flammable liquids; in another, 18 carloads.

      The Association of American Railroads has said the rail industry is complying with Foxx’s original order and the group would have to see the specifics of any proposed changes before commenting further.

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        Solano County focuses on rail safety

        Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

        Solano focuses on rail safety

        By Barry Eberling,  September 30, 2014

        FAIRFIELD – Solano County wants to let people know about its rail emergency plans and to identify weaknesses, even as a Valero pursues a controversial proposal to ship crude oil by rail through the region.

        The county held a rail safety workshop on Monday billed as a “community conversation.” About 60 people attended the evening meeting in the county Board of Supervisors chamber.

        This meeting came against the backdrop of a proposal by Valero to transport crude oil by rail on the Union Pacific tracks to its Benicia refinery. The tracks passed through the heart of Fairfield, Suisun City and Dixon, as well as the wetlands of Suisun Marsh. Crude rail derailments in other areas have caused explosions.

        County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Linda Seifert said there are already various hazardous materials that pass through Solano County by rail on the way to factories and other destinations. Local governments cannot regulate these freight rail trips because of interstate commerce laws, she said.

        County Emergency Services Manager Don Ryan and Dixon Fire Chief Aaron McAlister talked about the local response system for emergencies. They talked about how local emergency responders work together, with a mutual aid system in place. Various fire departments and other emergency responders train together on possible disasters ranging from hazardous materials spills to shooter situations.

        “The fire rescue system in California, the mutual aid system, is one of the finest in the country,” McAlister said.

        Chris Howe of Valero Refinery talked about the crude-by-rail proposal and stressed the safety measures that Valero takes and the emergency resources that it has. He noted that Vallejo called on Valero to help respond to a major asphalt spill within that city.

        “Preventing accidents is a top priority of ours and it’s something we focus on constantly in our business,” Howe said. “We handle flammable materials every day. That’s our business.”

        Union Pacific spokeswoman Liisa Stark talked about the inspections done by her company by running equipment with computers and sonar over the tracks. She talked of detection boxes along tracks that can tell if a train has a hot wheel bearing or other problems.

        “I just can’t say enough about how much we invest in time and energy to ensure we continue to run safely,” she said.

        Investigative journalist Antonia Juhasz said that crude-by-rail trips have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 400,000 last year. Bakken crude oil coming from North Dakota is more flammable, volatile and dangerous than other crude, she said.

        “This is a new phenomena,” she said. “This is a new problem.”

        She showed a photo of a fireball in the sky from a crude oil derailment on Jan. 1 in Casselton, North Dakota. She showed a photo of a April 30 crude oil derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia that left an oil slick 17 miles long in the James River. Altogether, she showed photos of 10 derailments in the United States and Canada, all during 2013 or this year.

        “We don’t know how to regulate it yet,” Juhasz said.

        Danny Bernardini spoke on behalf of state Sen. Lois Wolk. Wolk has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation containing suggestions and recommendations for crude-by-rail shipments. Among other things, she recommended the speed of these trains within all cities be set at 30 mph and that shippers and carriers have sufficient insurance or financial means to cover the costs of crashes and spills.

        Also speaking were Paul Hensleigh of the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, Brandon Thomson representing Rep. John Garamendi and Solano County Resource Management Director Bill Emlen.

        Then the gathering broke into three groups and members of the public talked about their concerns.

        Karen Schlumpp of Benicia expressed concern about the time it might take for regulations to be passed and implemented to deal with the new crude-by-rail issues.

        “After tonight, I’m feeling like we’re on a huge catchup on a train that’s already rolling,” Schlumpp said.

        Katherine Black of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community expressed skepticism that crude-by-rail shipments can be done safely.

        “This is too dangerous,” she said. “It’s like preparing for an atomic bomb.”

        The meeting lasted for two-and-a-half hours. Participants wrote down their concerns and ideas and turned them into the county.

        “This is an essential conversation that needs to happen,” Emlen told the gathering.

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