Seattle: More than 750 turn out for meeting on oil-train study

Repost from The Seattle Times

More than 750 people turn out for meeting on oil-train study

Hundreds of people concerned about the increasing number of oil trains traversing the state came to a Thursday evening meeting in Olympia to comment on the preliminary findings of a state study on oil-train safety and spill response.
By Hal Bernton, October 30, 2014

State officials are proposing more funding and more regulatory authority to step up oversight of the surging numbers of oil trains carrying crude through Washington, and to better prepare for any possible spills.

The proposals are included in the preliminary findings of a state Department of Ecology study, which was reviewed at a Thursday evening meeting that drew more than 750 people, the vast majority of whom are opposed to increased oil train traffic in the state.

The report — in an interim form — is scheduled to be delivered to Gov. Jay Inslee in December. The draft findings already are spurring state agencies to prepare legislation, according to Lisa Copeland, a Department of Ecology spokeswoman.

The report includes a dozen measures that could be taken up by the Legislature to try to improve safety and spill response. They include modifying the railroad regulatory-fee structure so that more rail inspectors are hired, providing new state authority to monitor the safety of rail crossings on private roads and launching a new state grant program to finance firefighting equipment.

The report is being prepared by a team of consultants along with the state Ecology Department, Utilities and Transportation Commission and other state agencies. It examines the public health, safety and environmental risks posed by the movement of crude oil by rail as well as by vessel through Washington waters.

The oil trains moving through Washington reflect a fundamental shift in sourcing of Pacific Northwest oil as Alaska North Slope crude production declines and the Bakken fields of North Dakota boom.

In 2011, almost no oil trains traversed Washington.

Now, state officials say, some 19 trains carry crude across the state each week. Over a year’s time, those trains move some 2.87 billion gallons of oil. After they unload their crude, some of the Bakken oil is transported by tug and barge to Puget Sound-area refineries

In the aftermath of a July 6, 2013, oil-train derailment and explosion in Canada that killed 47 people, crude trains have raised public concern and prompted state officials in Washington and elsewhere to increase scrutiny of such trains.

There were eight other “notable crude oil derailments” in North America in 2013 and 2014, and the report says that Bakken crude “may present significant risks with respect to public safety due to its higher volatility and flammability.”

By 2020, in Washington, the crude-oil traffic through the state could more than triple to 59 trains a week if expansion plans for terminals are actually completed,

“We felt it was important to lay out what is in the realm of the possible, “ said Scott Ferguson, a Department of Ecology official who has assisted with the report.

The increasing numbers of oil trains have caused plenty of unease to roil through the state. Some 200 people signed up to speak Thursday evening, and Department of Ecology officials listened to hours of passionate testimony from people upset about tanker cars filled with crude.

Those who testified spoke about the potential for spills that could foul tribal fisheries in the Columbia River, drinking water aquifers for Olympia and sensitive coastal waters near Bellingham.

They talked about the potential for exploding tanker cars that would kill people living in a “blast zone” along the rail lines.

Many were veterans of the movement to try to block development of coal terminals in Washington state, wearing red shirts that declared “Power Past Coal.” They frequently waved signs that declared oil and coal are bad for Washington.

“Our state is at a crossroads with proposed increases in crude oil and coal transportation, testified Kathryn Chudy, a therapist who lives in Vancouver, Wash. “Adding more crude oil and coal trains to this risk jeopardizes their safety, and can in no way be justified.”

Frank Gordon, a Grays Harbor County Commissioner, fears what an oil spill would do to the salmon runs in his area and said he opposes a proposal to develop a new oil terminal at Hoquiam.

“We don’t need oil trains coming to Grays Harbor. It’s just not worthwhile,” Gordon said.

Gus Melonas, a BNSF spokesman, in an interview before the hearing, said that BNSF has a strong safety record in transporting crude oil by rail.

He said that BNSF has assisted with firefighter training and taken other steps to improve safety. To help reduce the risks of a derailments, for example, the crude oil trains move at speeds of less than 20 miles an hour through Seattle and Vancouver, Wash.

“We have invested nearly $500 million in the past three years in track upgrades in Washington,” Melonas said

BNSF also is focusing on crew compliance with railway rules, as well as inspections to improve safety as trains move along the rails.

“As a common carrier we are obligated to move all types of freight,” Melonas said. “We don’t control what we haul, but we control how we haul it.”

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    Stop Valero Crude By Rail petition: over 1,000 signatures

    Crude Rail Car ORIGINAL car v.11 - COLOR 179pxRepost from The Benicia Herald
    [Editor: After a new list was compiled, the number of signatures as of October 29 was found to be approaching 1,300.  To add your name, go to SafeBenicia.org.  – RS]

    Crude-by-rail opposition: 1,000 signatures collected

    Petitioners seek more support at final farmer’s market

    Opponents of the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project say they have gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition against the refinery’s application and plan to return Thursday to the Benicia Certified Farmers Market in hopes of gathering more names.

    Pat Toth-Smith, a member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, said the organization has been staffing a table at the market since it opened in spring, and members will be doing the same thing Thursday that they have all season long.

    “More people are finding out about this issue, and people want more information,” she said.

    Toth-Smith said the organization’s petition “is basic.”

    She said it asks that the undersigned be counted as opposing the shipment either of sweet Bakken shale crude or sour Canadian tar sands oil by train into Benicia, the Bay Area or communities along rail lines both before and after Benicia.

    She said the petition also cites as concerns derailments, fires and explosions associated with increased crude oil rail traffic.

    Project supporters have been collecting signatures of their own, too, and have delivered them, 100 or more at a time, during city public meetings. Requests to contribute to this story weren’t answered by press time.

    Valero Benicia Refinery applied early in 2013 to extend existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks into its property, in addition to other infrastructure changes, so the refinery could substitute delivery of crude oil by train for the equivalent of oil currently brought in by transoceanic tanker ship.

    The refinery has said in statements supported by a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that bringing the oil by rail would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area because any emissions released by trains would be more than compensated by reduction in emissions from those ships.

    But opponents worry that gases emitted uprail of Benicia wouldn’t have the offsetting benefits, and have cited explosions and fires associated with derailments as more crude is delivered from North American sources by rail.

    The city agreed last year with those who said a mitigated negative declaration would be an insufficient environmental document under the California Environmental Quality Act, and ordered the more extensive analysis, the Environmental Impact Report. A draft of that report was issued in June and has been circulated for public evaluation.

    The city Planning Commission had three lengthy hearings during which more public comment was accepted, and after the panel extended the deadline for comments California Attorney General Kamala Harris also weighed in, criticizing the DEIR.

    Responses to public comments are being written before the city releases the final environmental report for a vote on its certification as well as the refinery’s use permit request.

    Despite coverage of several Bay Area marches against crude-by-rail projects, public meetings by proponents and opponents and Benicia’s own hearings on the project, Toth-Smith said at each farmers market day someone has approached members of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community to say they hadn’t heard of the proposal.

    However, she said, more residents are noticing both pro and con yard signs.

    “People in Benicia are very smart and well-educated, and they know what they want to do,” she said. “Some people are cautious. They peruse everything they can. People take the process seriously, and I’m thrilled. It’s important people explore everything. People love Benicia and want it to stay like it is. That’s the main worry.”

    She insisted that objections to the project didn’t mean opponents don’t like Valero.

    “It’s about the transportation,” she said. “Valero is a good neighbor.”

    Andres Soto, another member of the local organization, agreed that transport by rail is the main concern. But he also said there are problems with the DEIR.

    “Some are demanding recirculation (of the document),” he said. “They must see their ship is on the rocks.”

    He said the group’s table at the farmers market has been important for reaching out to Benicians, who make up the bulk of the signatures the petition has gathered. He said he sees the petition “as a barometer of sentiment of the Benicia community.”

    Soto said his organization is distributing yard signs and keeping a tally of those he said were stolen by project supporters — more than 35 so far.

    He noted that the Planning Commission hearings on the DEIR drew so many people that the Council Chamber at City Hall was full, and overflow seating had to be arranged in the building’s outdoor patio, Commission Room and conference rooms.

    If 300 show up at one of those meetings, “that’s a lot of people,” he said. But 300 is a tenth of a percent of the city’s nearly 30,000 residents.

    Soto said there are some residents “who don’t know; they’re not really plugged in.” That’s one of the reasons his organization will keep up its petition campaign after the farmers market concludes its season. Thursday’s market is the last until spring.

    “What’s important to Benicia people is if there is a catastrophic event, who is on the hook for the toxic cleanup?” he said. They also want to know who would be responsible for the economic impact of an explosive derailment, or how it would affect the value of their homes.

    High school students also have signed the petition, telling him they’re concerned about global warming and the environmental impact of production of both Bakken and tar sands crude.

    He said he objects to those who are trying to use “scare tactics” such as suggesting the refinery might leave if the project isn’t approved, “especially after Attorney General Kamala Harris’s letter” in which she pointed out what she considers deficiencies in the document.

    “People who wrote the draft EIR did a shabby, shabby job,” Soto said.

    “It’s scandalous.”

     

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      Federal Inspector General to audit transport of volatile crude by rail cars

      Repost from The Chicago Sun Times
      [Editor: See the Inspector General’s audit announcement here and the PDF notice to the Federal Railroad Administrator here.  – RS]

      Federal IG to audit transport of volatile crude by rail cars

      Rosalind Rossi, October 29, 2014
      A CSX train from Chicago carrying crude oil derailed in April in Lynchburg, Va., forcing the evacuation of hundred.
      A CSX train from Chicago carrying crude oil derailed in April in Lynchburg, Va., forcing the evacuation of hundreds.

      A federal inspector general is launching an audit of whether hazardous materials are being carried safely over the nation’s rails — including highly-volatile Bakken crude that travels through the Chicago area.

      “Due to the public safety risk posed by increases in the transportation of hazardous materials by rail, we are initiating an audit assessing the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) enforcement of hazardous materials regulations using inspections and other tools,” a memo on the website of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

      The memo specifically cited a fatal July 2013 Bakken oil train derailment in Lac Megantic, Canada, that “highlighted the importance of oversight of hazardous materials being transported by rail.” The Lac Megantic blast decimated more than 30 downtown buildings in the Canadian town and killed 47 people.

      At least eight rail lines carry Bakken crude through Illinois, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. They are BNSF, Norfolk-Southern, Alton & Southern, CN, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific. Maps provided by BNSF to the Illinois emergency agency indicated BNSF rails carry Bakken through Cook County.

      A candlelight vigil about what protestors called “bomb trains” was held July 10 at the BNSF terminal at 16th Street and Western Ave out of fear that black tank cars observed there with  placards indicating they held flammable petroleum were actually carrying Bakken crude. The protest was among those waged nationally to observe the one-year anniversary of the Lac Megantic disaster.

      “We saw 47 people killed in Lac Megantic,’’ Debra Michaud, an organizer of the Pilsen protest, said at the time. “A bomb train explosion in Pilsen or Little Village would be many times that.’’

      In April, a CSX train traveling from Chicago and loaded with crude oil derailed and exploded in Lynchburg, Va.. The incident shut down roads and bridges and forced the evacuation of hundreds. No one was injured or killed.

      The crash was among series of accidents across North America involving railroads’ crude oil shipments, which have surged dramatically as oil production rises in regions like North Dakota’s Bakken shale and western Canada.

      Wednesday’s inspector general memo noted that crude oil shipments have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 407,761 in 2013 — a more than 4000 percent jump.

      Mayors Karen Darch of Barrington and Tom Weisner of Aurora have been particularly vocal about the increasing transport of volatile crude and other dangerous products. They say their residents face frequent traffic jams caused by long trains carrying volatile liquids and worry about the sturdiness of tank cars holding such liquid.

      Some volatile fluids are being transported in the equivalent of the “Ford Pinto” of rail cars and such tankers should be upgraded, Darch has contended.

      Darch Wednesday welcomed the IG audit as a positive development.

      “We are all concerned about public safety risk and hopefully this report will have suggestions for further enhancing public safety,” Darch said.

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        Post Carbon Institute: report finds that tight oil production from major plays will peak before 2020

        Repost from Post Carbon Institute
        [Editor: Significant quote: “Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas production is found to be unsustainable in the medium- and longer-term at the rates forecast by the EIA, which are extremely optimistic.”  – RS]

        DRILLING DEEPER: A Reality Check On U.S. Government Forecasts for A Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

        By David Hughes, October 27, 2014
        Abstract

        cover_Drilling-Deeper_300w (2)Drilling Deeper reviews the twelve shale plays that account for 82% of the tight oil production and 88% of the shale gas production in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) reference case forecasts through 2040. It utilizes all available production data for the plays analyzed, and assesses historical production, well- and field-decline rates, available drilling locations, and well-quality trends for each play, as well as counties within plays. Projections of future production rates are then made based on forecast drilling rates (and, by implication, capital expenditures). Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas production is found to be unsustainable in the medium- and longer-term at the rates forecast by the EIA, which are extremely optimistic.

        This report finds that tight oil production from major plays will peak before 2020. Barring major new discoveries on the scale of the Bakken or Eagle Ford, production will be far below the EIA’s forecast by 2040. Tight oil production from the two top plays, the Bakken and Eagle Ford, will underperform the EIA’s reference case oil recovery by 28% from 2013 to 2040, and more of this production will be front-loaded than the EIA estimates. By 2040, production rates from the Bakken and Eagle Ford will be less than a tenth of that projected by the EIA. Tight oil production forecast by the EIA from plays other than the Bakken and Eagle Ford is in most cases highly optimistic and unlikely to be realized at the medium- and long-term rates projected.

        Shale gas production from the top seven plays will also likely peak before 2020. Barring major new discoveries on the scale of the Marcellus, production will be far below the EIA’s forecast by 2040. Shale gas production from the top seven plays will underperform the EIA’s reference case forecast by 39% from 2014 to 2040, and more of this production will be front-loaded than the EIA estimates. By 2040, production rates from these plays will be about one-third that of the EIA forecast. Production from shale gas plays other than the top seven will need to be four times that estimated by the EIA in order to meet its reference case forecast.

        Over the short term, U.S. production of both shale gas and tight oil is projected to be robust-but a thorough review of production data from the major plays indicates that this will not be sustainable in the long term. These findings have clear implications for medium and long term supply, and hence current domestic and foreign policy discussions, which generally assume decades of U.S. oil and gas abundance.

        Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

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