STEVE YOUNG: What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

Repost from the Benicia Herald

What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

By Steve Young, June 7, 2016
Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)
Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for Benicia City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)

On Friday, June 3, a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the town of Mosier, Ore. Fourteen rail cars came off the tracks, and four exploded over a 5 hour period.

There are several things that the City Council needs to keep in mind whenever they re-open discussion of the appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to reject the Valero Crude-by-Rail project. Many of the assurances given to the public about the safety of transporting crude by rail have been called into question by this derailment.

    1. The train cars that derailed and exploded are the upgraded CPC-1232 version promised to be used by Valero for this project.
    2. The train derailed at a relatively slow speed as it passed through the small town of Mosier. Union Pacific trains carrying Bakken to Valero will travel at speeds up to 50 mph in most of Solano County.
    3. The portion of track on which the train derailed had been inspected by Union Pacific three days before the derailment.
    4. A Union Pacific spokesman, while apologizing for the derailment and fire, would not answer a reporter’s question as to whether the Bakken oil had been stabilized with the removal of volatile gases prior to shipment.
      At the Planning Commission hearing, I tried repeatedly without success to get an answer from both UP and Valero as to whether they intended to de-gassify the Bakken oil prior to transport.
    5. A major interstate, Interstate 84, was closed for 10 hours in both directions while first responders used river water to try and cool the tank cars to a point where foam could be used to try and put out the fire. It took more than 12 hours to stabilize the scene.
    6. An oil sheen is in the river, despite the deployment of containment booms.

And finally, Oregon Public Broadcasting on June 4 had an exchange with the Fire Chief of Mosier, about how this experience changed his opinion about the safety of transporting crude by rail:

“Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

“He’s changed his mind.

“After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

“’I hope that this becomes the death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,’ he said. ’I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.’”

When the City Council took up the appeal of the Planning Commission decision in April, Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Campbell stated their opposition to the project, while the other three councilmembers (Hughes, Schwartzman and Strawbridge) approved Valero’s request to delay a decision on this project until at least Sept. 20. There is still time for the citizens of Benicia to tell their elected officials how they feel about this project. I urge them to do so.

Steve Young, a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, is running for the Benicia City Council in November.

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