None on Kentucky hazmat team got new training for rail oil spills

Repost from the Lexington Herald Leader
[Editor:  I asked a knowledgeable friend about permitting in Kentucky: Was crude oil envisioned for Somerset back before its opening in 2007? Was there a more recent Continental permitting process before they could begin shipping crude by rail? Any environmental impact reports? Are folks in Kentucky opposing this?  Here is my friend’s response: “Long story short: Kentucky is pretty relaxed when it comes to permitting. Whatever business they envisioned at the rail park 10 years ago is what they can do. The area is nonattainment, so no air quality permits were required. All the environmental scrutiny the facility ever got was an EPA-supervised cleanup of the site, which was a former steam locomotive maintenance shop. Did that, got their wastewater discharge permit, and they were off to the races. There won’t be any meaningful opposition. That area has a strongly pro-business, anti-regulation bent. They built the county’s landfill over top of a cave system that feeds into the local drinking water supply and didn’t even bat an eye.”  – RS]

None on Kentucky hazmat team got new training for rail oil spills

By Curtis Tate & Bill Estep, McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 26, 2016 5:59 PM
Continental Refining has begun shipping oil and oil products by rail through the Somerset Rail Park in southern Kentucky.
Continental Refining has begun shipping oil and oil products by rail through the Somerset Rail Park in southern Kentucky. | Continental Refining

A Kentucky oil train terminal illustrates a persistent gap between the risks posed by increasing volumes of crude oil moving by rail and the training available to local first responders specifically for it.

Continental Refining, which operates a 5,500-barrel-a-day refinery in Somerset, Kentucky, announced this week that it plans to move oil and oil products through the Somerset Rail Park, an $8 million rail-to-truck cargo transfer facility that opened in 2007.

But no one on the 12-county hazardous material team that would respond to an oil spill or fire at the facility has received the training that’s been developed in the past few years for such incidents.

That’s in spite of a $2.6 million federal grant last year to Somerset’s Center for Rural Development to develop training for rural or volunteer firefighters to respond to oil train derailments.

$8 million
Federal funds earmarked to build the Somerset Rail Park

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress tightened safety standards for shipping oil by rail in the wake of a string of fiery derailments across North America. The worst of those killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. Last year alone, there were seven derailments involving oil and three involving ethanol across North America.

Continental declined to respond to questions about the safety of its Somerset operation, including whether the rail cars it uses meet the new federal standards and whether it had notified local emergency responders about the shipments and offered them training.

$2.6 million
Federal grant to the Center for Rural Development for firefighter training

Doug Baker, the chief of the Somerset-Pulaski County Special Response team, said the refinery had a history of working well with the hazmat team and other local first responders.

Continental had not notified him specifically about its shipments to the Somerset Rail Park, Baker said, but the refinery had made an effort in the past to include the hazmat team and fire department in emergency planning.

Baker said the special response team had trained technicians at the refinery and helped develop its safety plan. In case of an oil train fire, he said, his team had access to a supply of firefighting foam in the county and the trucks to pump it.

“We’re as prepared as anyone can be for a railroad derailment,” he said. “The response here, to me, would be as good as any you would find anywhere in the state and maybe the nation.”

People killed in the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train derailment in 2013

Railroads have offered new training opportunities to emergency responders since the Lac-Megantic disaster. Norfolk Southern, which serves the Somerset Rail Park, operates a safety train, a traveling classroom used to educate fire departments.

According to the safety train’s 2016 schedule, the closest it came to Somerset was Knoxville, Tennessee, about 100 miles away, in early August.

Norfolk Southern and other major railroads have also paid for firefighters from across the country to attend an advanced training class at the railroad industry’s testing facility near Pueblo, Colorado.

Baker said no one on his team had participated in the training in Tennessee or Colorado.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said first responders in Kentucky were welcome to contact the railroad about training opportunities by going to the safety train’s website.

1 million
Barrels of oil a day transported in trains across the U.S. in 2014

At the peak in 2014, about 1 million barrels a day of oil were moving across the country by rail. But because of low oil prices and new pipeline capacity, that number has fallen nearly by half.

Continental declined to specify where it sources its oil, but the refinery is capable of refining the light, sweet crude that’s produced in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, Continental’s Somerset refinery processed more than 200,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil recovered from the March 2015 derailment of a BNSF oil train in Galena, Illinois.


The shippers of oil products and ethanol are supposed to begin phasing out older, less-protected tank cars in rail transportation starting in January 2018. New cars must be built with thicker shells, better crash protections and thermal blankets to protect from fire exposure. Older cars must be retrofitted with those features.

Depending on the type of product and the risk it poses, the older cars can be used through 2029, with a two-year extension possible if the industry can’t complete the retrofits fast enough.

In a series of stories over two years, McClatchy showed that fire departments across the country lacked the resources and training to deal with derailments of trains carrying millions of gallons of flammable liquids.

McClatchy also used open records laws in more than two dozen states, including Kentucky, to obtain information about large shipments of oil by rail.

In 2014, the federal government required railroads to notify first responders about the shipments. Norfolk Southern sued the Maryland Department of the Environment before it could release the records to McClatchy, but a judge eventually ruled against the railroad.

Estep, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, reported from Somerset, Kentucky.


SF CHRON: Climate bills pass California Legislature, Gov. Brown will sign

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Climate bills pass Legislature, await Brown’s OK

By Melody Gutierrez, August 25, 2016
Gov. Jerry Brown said he plans to sign the bills when they reach his desk. Photo: Lenny Ignelzi, Associated Press
Gov. Jerry Brown said he plans to sign the bills when they reach his desk. Photo: Lenny Ignelzi, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — The California Legislature passed two bills Wednesday that extend the state’s ambitious goals to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and provide additional oversight on the agency charged with carrying out climate-change policies.

Gov. Jerry Brown praised lawmakers for passing SB32 and AB197, saying passage was an important milestone after similar efforts failed last year amid intense lobbying by the oil industry. Brown said he plans to sign the bills when they reach his desk.

“Legislation is not like Twitter,” Brown said. “You don’t do it in 140 characters or in a few seconds. It takes months and sometimes years. It takes trying, failing, amending and trying again; negotiation. There are 120 members in the Legislature, and not everyone sees things the same way.”

SB32 calls for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The bill expands on AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. The state is expected to reach that target.

“We have discovered, with these policies, our economy continues to go up, but our emissions are going down,” said termed-out state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County). “It’s not a choice between a healthy environment and sound economy. In California, we can do it both ways.”

AB197 directs the California Air Resources Board to prioritize disadvantaged communities in its climate-change regulations, and to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the measures it considers. The bill also allows the Legislature to appoint two lawmakers as nonvoting members of the board, a move supporters said will provide more transparency and oversight on the agency.

Lawmakers have criticized the lack of diversity on the board, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount (Los Angeles County) said the board has a credibility problem.

“Any exercise of authority has to be reviewed,” Brown said when asked about the criticism of the board that is largely appointed by him. “Any time you have the power to say no or reduce your high-carbon fuel, reduce your pollutants, change the way a carbonized society works, it will be felt with some sting. That’s the reality, but we want to make sure we are doing it in a way that advances our goals of equity and inclusion.”

Brown unsuccessfully lobbied to have the cap-and-trade program included in SB32, but lawmakers balked because the bill already faced an uncertain future in the Assembly. On Tuesday, the Assembly narrowly passed the bill with one vote to spare, although several Democratic lawmakers changed their votes to approve of the legislation after it passed.

The Senate passed SB32 on Wednesday in a 25-13 vote.

The future of cap-and-trade remains uncertain due to a legal challenge from the California Chamber of Commerce. That uncertainty, along with some fearing SB32 would not be signed into law, contributed to poor auction results this year.

EDITORIAL On Senate Bill 32

Step ahead on climate

California is doubling down in the fight against climate change. After teetering on defeat, a state bill that expands efforts to curb heat-trapping emissions is in the final stages of approval.

The measure, SB32, builds on the state’s plan in 2006 to cut greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2020, a goal that’s already within reach. With both the Senate and now the Assembly in support, the bill pushes the state to trim climate-altering emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

An accompanying bill would give the state Air Resources Board more power to regulate industrial and refinery emissions in a bow to lawmakers from low-income areas who want more out of climate change ideas. That bill, AB197, is hanging, a target for business lobbyists who want to sink the overall effort. Passing this second measure is essential to complete a comprehensive effort.

Still, the success so far is worth notice. California isn’t budging from its course. White House aides and Gov. Jerry Brown called wavering moderate Democrats for their votes, which the same lawmakers had withheld last year. With the nation stalled on climate change steps, California has a chance to move forward and demonstrate the effects, costs and benefits of its aggressive steps. The ability to add pollution controls to a roaring economy is making the state a globally watched experiment.

The rules need attention. One key mechanism is the cap and trade exchange that obliges polluting industries to purchase credits from cleaner operations. The sales aren’t netting the expected amounts with less than $10 million spent in the latest auction. The money is due to go to pollution-limiting programs such as transit and the struggling high speed rail project.

Defenders of the cap and trade plan say that uncertainty over the legislative outcome is to blame for the weak revenue. Now that the state’s direction is emphatically decided, the value of pollution credits should stabilize, they argue. That’s a claim that needs testing.

On balance, Brown has been a good advocate for climate action, though he does have one notable blind spot: his continued silence on a plan to ship major quantities of coal through a new Oakland port facility for overseas combustion. That project just happens to belong to Phil Tagami, a buddy and political donor to the governor. May we remind the governor of his own words from last year: “It doesn’t make sense to be shutting down coal plants (in the U.S.) and then export it for somebody else to burn in a more dirty way,” he said.

Let the record be clear: Brown’s climate commitment is incomplete until he takes a stand, one way or another, on that Oakland coal train.


KQED: Oil train traffic is down by more than half — for market reasons

Repost from KQED Marketplace

Oil train traffic is down — for market reasons

By Jed Kim, August 24, 2016 | 11:12 AM
At its peak, in October 2014, trains leaving the Bakken region of North Dakota moved more than 29 million barrels. – FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Oil and its downstream products enable most transportation methods, from the gas in automobile tanks to the rubber in shoes. For oil itself, however, there are only a few methods of movement, and each is controversial. In the U.S., one method that saw a recent boom is now on the decline.

Shale oil pumped in recent years from the Bakken region in North Dakota ramped up production and availability faster than pipelines could be built. Trains filled in the gap in the meantime. At its peak, in October 2014, trains moved more than 29 million barrels.

The most recent data from the Energy Information Administration shows that the amount of oil shipped by rail has fallen dramatically since.

“Within the U.S., we’re moving about 12 million barrels in May, and that compares with last May – the intermovements within the U.S. was 26 million barrels,” said Arup Mallik, an industry economist at the Energy Information Administration.

Several factors have contributed to the more-than-half decline in shipments. One is that the price of U.S. oil has risen to more closely match global prices. That has reduced the amount of oil being purchased and shipped to refineries.

Low global oil prices, meanwhile, have stifled production, thus reducing the amount of oil needing to be moved.

While those factors have led to a temporary reduction in the need for crude-by-rail shipping, the completion of additional pipeline infrastructure around the country has made more of a permanent change.

“New pipelines are still getting built, further pushing down the need for crude-by-rail,” said Adam Bedard, CEO of ARB Midstream, a company that invests in pipelines and rail facilities.

Bedard said the biggest impact to crude-by-rail shipments may come later this year, if construction is completed on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would move oil east into Chicago.

“Those barrels will have to come from somewhere, and it is our view that a lot of those barrels will come from crude by rail,” Bedard said. “The Dakota Access Pipeline can move up to 450,000 barrels a day.”

In May, the total amount of oil moved by trains in the entire U.S. was 470,000 barrels a day.

The future of that pipeline is being decided. Protests have temporarily halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, partly because of concerns for the safety of drinking water.

Safety issues plague perception of crude-by-rail as well. In the past four years, there have been a dozen significant derailments of trains carrying crude oil in the U.S., spilling more than 1.5 million gallons, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said his organization is fighting to reduce or eliminate the traffic traveling through the Pacific Northwest. An oil train derailed in Mosier, Oregon, in June, spilling an undetermined amount of crude.

“We think oil trains are dangerous,” said VandenHeuvel. “We’ve seen explosions very close to our homes here on the Columbia River and have watched explosions and derailments all over the nation, and we think it’s not a safe way to transport oil.”

The overall decline of oil train traffic in the U.S. doesn’t extend to his region, as the network of pipelines on the West Coast is largely isolated from the rest of the country. Trains are necessary. Canada, as well, is expected to see an increase in crude-by-rail because it lacks comparable pipeline infrastructure.

VandenHeuvel said his organization will work to keep more terminals from being constructed that would bring in more rail traffic. He said he’s concerned more will come if oil prices rise again.

“You know, that number could ramp back up as production increases,” VandenHeuvel said.

Jed Kim
Jed Kim is a reporter for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk. He focuses on issues of climate change, conservation, energy and environmental justice.  Prior to joining Marketplace in April 2016, Jed was an environment reporter at KPCC public radio…

Demand sags for California credits aimed at greenhouse gases

Repost from Associated Press

Demand sags for California credits aimed at greenhouse gases

By Ellen Knickmeyer, Aug. 23, 2016 6:46 PM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California’s latest carbon auction brought disappointing results Tuesday as litigation and lagging support by lawmakers weigh down the state’s landmark programs combating climate change.

State officials said only 34 percent of the available carbon pollution credits were sold in the latest auction under the program, which requires companies that emit climate-changing gases to buy the pollution permits.

It was a slight rebound from this spring, when investors bought just 10 percent of the pollution credits offered, signaling a rocky period for the state’s overall campaign against climate-changing pollution from fossil fuels.

The cap-and-trade program is a keystone of Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to reduce climate-changing pollution in California and is being watched closely around the world as other governments put together efforts to fight climate change.

Dave Clegern, spokesman for the state air board that runs the effort, said the program is adapting as it should to shifts in the market.

“The California cap-and-trade program is first and foremost a greenhouse gas reduction program, and it is working” to bring down carbon pollution from fossil fuels, Clegern said in an email.

Pollution credits consistently sold out after the cap-and-trade program began in 2012, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars quarterly for initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases. The proceeds are used to fund a high-speed rail project pushed by Brown, along with other transit construction and energy conservation efforts.

This year, demand plummeted amid uncertainty about the program’s viability. The result was the steep decline in revenue at a spring auction, prompting concerns that funding won’t be available long-term to continue the programs.

Brown, backed by environmental groups and some Democratic lawmakers, is struggling to win support for extending the state’s landmark global warming law amid opposition from oil companies, Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Legislature.

Republican lawmakers called the latest middling auction results a failure and a flop, and called again for the state to abandon the cap-and-trade program.

However, the state Assembly took a critical step Tuesday when it advanced the latest global warming legislation to the state Senate, where it is also expected to pass before next week. Both chambers are dominated by Democrats.

The California Chamber of Commerce is fighting cap-and-trade in court, claiming it is an illegal tax that did not go through the proper legislative approval process.

The lawsuit in particular is scaring away some potential investors, said Dan McGraw, a Houston-based carbon analyst with the ICIS trade publication.

“Potentially there’s a lot to lose if the California Chamber of Commerce wins that case,” McGraw said.

The growing backlog of unsold carbon credits also is weighing on the cap-and-trade program, he said.

“They’re going through something every carbon market has gone through,” the analyst said. “The question is: What do you do now?”

The latest auction results show that the market needs certainty about the state’s long-term cap and trade program, through either the Legislature or state voters vouching for its future in a ballot initiative, Nancy McFadden, Brown’s chief of staff, said in a statement.