All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Government pamphlet: Bureau of Explosives

Attachment: Pamphlet 34 – Recommended Methods for the Safe Loading and Unloading of Non-Pressure (General Service) and Pressure Tank Cars

From the Editor, The Benicia Independent …

Valero proposes to offload 100 tanker cars every day.  Each car will undergo highly technical and potentially dangerous operations where safety caps are manually removed and valves are tested before hoses can be attached, relief valves opened, and the offload valve is fully opened.  At each step in this complicated procedure, fugitive emissions can be added to the air, and minor test spills are intentional and routine.  Question: will Valero follow the guidelines of the Federal Department of Transportation, Bureau of Explosives?  How much do 100 such offloading procedures every day add to the toxic pollutants in our air, especially as compared to fewer connect/disconnect procedures for marine and pipeline supplies of crude oil?

I know there are a few intrepid citizens out there who want to know more in technical detail, and who will devote themselves to the sorts of tech analysis of protocols that inevitably point to issues of both worker and public safety / public health.  Please take a look at the attached document from the DOT / Bureau of Explosives: Pamphlet 34 – Recommended Methods for the Safe Loading and Unloading of Non-Pressure (General Service) and Pressure Tank Cars(Pay close attention to the highlighted material on pages 11-13.)

[NOTE: original source of this pamphlet and other informative documents is]
Roger Straw
Editor, The Benicia Independent

    The view from Martinez

    Repost from Letters to the editor, The Martinez Gazette, by Guy Cooper, 28 Jan 2014

    What’s in it for me?

    At the risk of sounding like a politician, I have to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

    January 21st I attended a [Contra Costa] County Board of Supervisors meeting.  Under consideration was a permit application and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) regarding a Phillips 66 proposal to revamp it’s gas recovery process at it’s Rodeo refinery.  Others could better explain the technicalities of the proposal.  As I understood it, the company wants to recover and market the propane and butane yielded from the refining process and instead combust the cheaper and more readily available Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).

    Appeals of the EIR were to be heard prior to any final decision by the Board.  A Phillips 66 spokesman started right off trying to enlist the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King in support of his efforts. (Oh, boy!).  He was backed by a sizable contingent of union workers that would presumably accrue economic benefit from the proposal.  The opposition consisted of two organized citizens groups and various environmental advocates and concerned individuals.

    Phillips and the union workers’ position can be largely summarized in one refrain:  “Jobs, jobs, jobs!”  (Well, they also promised to be careful).

    The opposition expressed objections to various details of the EIR and of the review process itself. Apparently, the review process rather myopically focuses on one EIR at a time and resists consideration of the regional picture, including other pending permit applications that might contribute to a cumulative environmental impact. This despite a cautioning letter by the state Attorney General. The reviewers also apparently faltered in considering concerns of the Air Quality Control Board and publicly circulating those in a timely manner.  (I think that’s how that went).

    As to the details, the opposition disputed the expressed intention of the project, the numbers and claims used to justify it, and voiced distrust of Phillips’ regard for the community welfare, based on past dealings. Very real public safety concerns were also expressed regarding the significant increases in the movement and storage of volatiles and toxins along the north county rail corridor. I’ll let the experts hash out the environmental issues.  It is the issues of public safety that concern me most.

    The national strategy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil  has been significantly bolstered by the technological innovation of horizontal deep well frakking that has yielded vast increases in domestic supplies.  These new stores of crude, whether from the fields of North Dakota or the tar sands of Canada (which is technically a foreign country), require refining.  Like it or not,  these stores are wending our way by sea, pipeline, and/or rail, because our region has significant refining capability and is working to enhance the accommodation of this new, largely regarded as more volatile and toxic “feedstock”.  Phillips latest proposal would enable this refining transition, as will efforts in the works at the refineries of Shell, Valero and others.

    So, its coming in a big way.  It’ll be chugging right through our towns, parking at the bottom of our blocks in tanker cars subject to no independent inspection, in rail yards located on bayside ground subject to liquefaction in the event of an earthquake, at the doorstep of communities woefully ill-equipped to deal with current, let alone future significant increases in threats to public safety.

    Ask your local public safety officers for blast and/or evacuation zone estimations.  (They have none). Ask your local EMS and medical facility personnel if they’ve been adequately trained and equipped to deal with the potential catastrophe of a rail yard full of exploding, toxic laden tankers.  (They have not).  Ask your local fire department if they have the necessary high pressure foam pumping equipment and other assets needed to deal with such an event.  (They do not.  In fact, some are shut down due to budget cuts).  And accidents will happen.  If you’ve been following the news, you know they already have.

    What’s all of this have to do with “what’s in it for me”? Well, I’m a resident of Martinez.  I’m a recently retired RN with a background in Intensive Care.  And, by the way, in that capacity I was a union member.  I guess I could say that, for my line of work, nothing bodes  better for job security than a disaster.  But, obviously, that’s an absurd, exceedingly selfish view of societal good.  Don‘t you think?

    At the least, I’d like to hear concrete proposals from Phillips and the other regional refineries aimed at ameliorating the threats to public safety their business plans entail.  I have not heard this.  How about funding the increased staffing and training of local emergency response and fire departments along the north county rail/transport corridor?  How about installing foam pumping assets along this corridor and actually retrofitting rail cars with foam deluge suppression and containment systems?  How about actually listening and acting on local community requests for better sensing and monitoring equipment?  How about full disclosure to regional medical facilities and emergency response organizations about what toxic soups they’re likely to encounter and how best to deal with them?  How about sponsoring and aiding in the development of appropriate community emergency response plans and adequate public education efforts?

    Have they offered any of this?  They ought to, considering the risks to public safety they pose.  If they aren’t interested in addressing public safety issues, than I am not interested in supporting their proposals.  There’s just nothing in it for me.

    (This matter has been continued to April 1st at 1:30PM).

    – Guy Cooper


      New instrument for tracking rail failures

      Repost from

      One Solution To Ending Train Derailments

      Wed, 01/22/2014
      Joel Hans, Managing Editor,

      Amid a few newsworthy derailments of trains carrying crude oil, energy companies and the public alike are concerned about the future of the U.S. rail infrastructure and what can be done in the near future to mitigate potentially serious and deadly incidents. With some 140,000 route-miles of track in the U.S. as of 2011, and thousands of bridges spanning rivers or interstates that must be navigated on a daily basis, there are countless points of failure.

      Civil engineers have long been aware of the way that seasonal heating and cooling can affect the very structure of the railroad ties via expansion and contraction, particularly near bridges. To mitigate those affects, engineers have been using expansion joints on bridges, but when it comes to the extreme heat that much of the continental U.S. sees on an annual basis, it’s difficult to engineer a system that can withstand as much as four feet of expansion in a mile-long section of rail.

      When this happens, the rail can buckle, a phenomenon known in the industry as a “sun kink,” which are leading causes of train derailments. In the winter, extreme bouts of cold can cause enough contraction to crack ties and pull them apart, to the point where they need to be warmed by up using flaming rope or other methods.

      Naturally, the companies that manufacture steel tracks are doing more work to pre-stress rails and joints to minimize these affects. But one company, Alliance Sensors Group, argues that while many engineers within railway companies and mass transit agencies are doing good work to instrument bridges for movement, structural problems or track shifting, many of these inspections are visually-based, and not often enough, which leaves routes open to unnoticed flaws.

      Instead, the bridges can be instrumented to determine if there are any flaws in the tracks, which means that railway companies could divert trains and repair the issues before an incident, such as a derailment, takes place.

      Alliance Sensors Group has developed a linear sensor that can measure bridge movements and create empirical data on the condition of rails and bridges that can be tracked in real-time. They’re able to survive all the elements that leave railways buckling or cracking, such as extreme cold and heat, along with humidity, rain and snow. An IP67 rating guarantees that it won’t succumb to the elements.

      In the photo, the company’s LV-45s have been affixed to the pier and to the bridge using ball joint swivel rodends. With this in place, the system can measure positional changes in three axes and track those changes over time, which means engineers can proactively identify potential problems, or, in the worst case, respond faster to potential derailment incidents. And if that means less trains coming off the tracks, we’re completely onboard.