Tag Archives: Assemblyman Roger Dickinson

Merced Sun-Star editorial: Tell us when dangerous oil cars are rolling

Repost from The Merced Sun-Star

Our View: Tell us when dangerous oil cars are rolling

Editorial, August 15, 2014

Railroad tracks run up and down the valley like a spine, carrying everything from cans to cars, telephone poles to toothpicks. Many communities see 30, 40 or even 50 trains a day.  Some of those cars carry dangerous materials. Compressed gas and caustic chemicals move in black, cylindrical tank cars adorned with two markings – the red diamond with a flame and “DOT 111” stenciled on each car.

Not yet, but soon some of those rail cars will be hauling another dangerous material – crude oil extracted from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. While it is no more dangerous than many other chemicals, there’s likely to be a lot more of it on the rails that bisect our communities. The railroads and state must make certain that we are aware of these movements and have a plan for dealing with any emergency.

California’s Office of Emergency Services estimates shipments of Bakken crude will increase 25-fold by 2016 as 150 million barrels are sent to refineries in the Bay Area, Southern California and soon to two being readied in Bakersfield. That could mean thousands of tank cars a year moving through Modesto, Livingston, Merced and beyond. Mother Jones magazine calls it a “virtual pipeline.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Bakken crude contains higher amounts of butane, ethane and propane than other crude oils, making it too volatile for actual pipelines.

In July, 2013, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Less dramatic derailments, some with fires, have occurred in North Dakota, Virginia and Illinois. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 108 crude spills last year.

“When you look at the lines of travel from Canada and North Dakota, you figure if they’re headed for the Bay Area or to Bakersfield, the odds are that you’re going to see shipments going down the Valley,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who represents north Sacramento. So, he authored Assembly Bill 380, which would require the railroads to notify area first-responders whenever these trains are passing through.

Others are concerned, too. In July, the DOT issued proposed rules for safe transport, including increased cargo sampling, better route analysis, a 40 mph speed limit on trains labeled “high-hazard flammable,” and switching to newer, safer DOT 111 cars after Oct. 1, 2015. The new cars have double steel walls, better closures and heavier carriages. Currently, they make up about a third of the nation’s tanker fleet. California’s Office of Emergency Services has issued 12 recommendations, ranging from allowing better data collection to phasing out those old tank cars to better training for first-responders.

The railroads are already doing many of these things. Since the mid-1990s, BNSF has offered – at no charge – training for handling spilled hazardous materials and more extreme emergencies. But not enough local agencies have found the time to take the classes. A BNSF spokeswoman said the railroad would even come to town to conduct the training.

In May, the USDOT issued an emergency order in May requiring all carriers to inform first responders about crude oil moving through their towns and for the immediate development of plans to handle spills. Unfortunately, it contains a discomforting criteria: the order applies only to trains carrying 1 million gallons of Bakken crude, or roughly 35 tank cars. And to reach USDOT’s definition of a “high-hazard flammable train,” also requiring a warning, a train must have 20 tank cars.

Some perspective. In Virginia, one one tank car carrying Bakken crude exploded and flew an estimated 5,500 feet; a photograph of another explosion showed a fireball rising 700 feet from a single car. Our first responders ought to know when even one car carrying such material is coming through town. And that information must be shared beyond communities directly on rail lines because even our largest communities count on neighboring agencies to provide assistance during emergencies. When such cargo is moving, every emergency responder in the vicinity should be on alert.

Currently, the railroads share that information only if a local agency asks for it. That’s not good enough. Dickinson’s bill would make notification available on a real-time basis, without asking. But his bill mirrors federal orders on the size of the train; a dangerous loophole.

The incredible expansion of America’s oil resources is creating many positives – from more jobs to less dependence on foreign oil. But it’s happening so fast that we’re making up the safety aspects as we roll along. Federal rules don’t go nearly far enough to protect public safety in this new world.

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    Crude By Rail protest at rail station in Davis, CA

    Repost from Fox40 TV Sacramento / Stockton / Modesto
    [Editor:  Thank you, Davis!  Thank you, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson!  Thank you Fox40!  – RS]

    Crude Oil by Rail Opponents Stage Protests

    July 9, 2014, by Lonnie Wong

    SACRAMENTO – Activists concerned about the danger of crude oil train shipments through populated areas took part in a national day of action Wednesday, including events in Sacramento and Davis.

    Laurie Litman heads up 350 Sacramento, a group concerned about global warming. She notes that shipments of crude oil in California have increased 1,300 percent over the past four years.

    Litman circulated a map at a rally outside a federal building in Sacramento showing neighborhoods and schools that would be affected by a fiery oil spill like the one that killed 47 people in Quebec, Canada a year ago.

    “These are not fires that can be put out. They need to burn out, so if that happens when a train comes through the middle of Sacramento, we are in trouble” Litman said.

    Sacramento Assembly Member Roger Dickinson addressed the gathering, telling them that emergency agency need to know what volatile oil shipments are being transported and when. He has authored a bill requiring rail companies to provide that information and have access to real time communications gear to get information to local officials.

    Several rail spills occurred in areas where emergency responders had no little information of what was spilled.

    “To assure that we get the information that we need, and the information that we need in a timely way,” said Dickinson.

    Many at the rally were advocating a reduction in the use of crude oil as a long term solution to the threat of oil derailments.

    “It’s not if, it’s when because it has happened before,” David Link, of the Sacramento Electrical Vehicle Association, said Wednesday.

    Activists in Davis are particularly concerned about a plan to run 100 oil tank cars a day through Downtown Davis to a Valero refinery in Benecia. If approved, the trains would go from Roseville thorough Sacramento past Davis.

    They handed out leaflets and circulated petitions at the Davis Rail Station.

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      Crude oil train protests planned in Sacramento and Davis

      Repost from The Sacramento Bee
      [Editor:  Check this out – Benicia’s uprail friends are getting out on the tracks, and they are getting the media’s attention.  Thanks to everyone who is following this story.  Benicia is in the “crosshairs” of a nationwide – worldwide – focus on this dangerous and dirty money grab by the oil and rail industries.  More and more, thoughtful people are saying, “No, not here.”  – RS]

      Crude oil train protests planned in Sacramento, Davis

      By Tony Bizjak, Jul. 8, 2014
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      Jake Miille / Special to The Bee | A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way west through James, Calif., just outside the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley.

      Laurie Litman, who lives a block from the rail tracks in midtown Sacramento, says oil and rail companies are about to put her neighborhood and plenty of others in danger, and she wants to stop it.

      Litman is among a group of environmental activists in Sacramento and Davis who will gather this week at the Federal Railroad Administration office in Sacramento and at the Davis train station to protest plans by oil companies to run hundreds of rail cars carrying crude through local downtowns every day. The protests, on the anniversary of an oil train crash and explosion that killed 47 people in the Canadian city of Lac-Megantic, will spotlight a plan by Valero Refining Co. of Benicia to launch twice-daily crude oil train shipments through downtown Roseville, Sacramento and Davis early next year.

      “Our goal is to stop the oil trains,” said Litman of 350 Sacramento, a new local environmental group. “We are talking about 900-foot fireballs. There is nothing a first responder (fire agency) can do with a 900-foot fireball.”

      Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, an advocate for increased crude oil rail safety, will speak at noon Wednesday during the Sacramento event at 8th and I streets. The Yolano Climate Action group will distribute leaflets at the Davis train station Tuesday and Wednesday evening about the Valero proposal. The Davis City Council recently passed a resolution saying it opposes running the trains on the existing downtown Davis rail line.

      The protests are among the first in the Sacramento area in response to a recent surge in crude oil rail transports nationally, prompted mainly by new oil drilling of cheaper oils in North Dakota, Montana and Canada. In California, where rail shipments have begun to replace marine deliveries from Alaskan oil fields and overseas sources, state safety leaders recently issued a report saying California is not yet prepared to deal with the risks from increased rail shipments of crude.

      Oil and railroad industry officials point out that 99.9 percent of crude oil shipments nationally arrive at their destinations without incident, and that the industry is reducing train speeds through cities, helping train local fire and hazardous material spill crews, and working with the federal government on plans for a new generation of safer rail tanker cars. Valero officials as well say their crude oil trains can move safely through Sacramento, and a recent report sponsored by the city of Benicia concluded that an oil spill along the rail line to Benicia is highly unlikely.

      In a letter last week, however, four Northern California members of Congress called on the federal government to require oil and rail companies take more steps to make rail crude shipments safer. The letter was signed by Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, George Miller, D-Martinez, Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

      “We are especially concerned with the high risks involved with transporting .. more flammable crude in densely populated areas,” the group wrote to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Should spills or explosions occur, as we have seen over the last year, the consequences could be disastrous.”

      The four lawmakers said oil companies should be required to remove more volatile gases from Bakken crude oil before it is shipped nationally from North Dakota. The federal government issued a warning earlier this year about Bakken crude after several Bakken trains exploded during derailments. The California Congress members also encouraged federal representatives to move quickly to require railroads to install advanced train control and braking systems. Industry officials have said those systems, called Positive Train Control, are expensive and will take extended time to put into place.

      Representatives from a handful of Sacramento area cities and counties are scheduled to meet this week to review Valero’s crude oil train plans, and to issue a formal response to the environmental document published two weeks ago by Benicia that concluded derailments and spills are highly unlikely. City of Davis official Mike Webb said one spill and explosion could be catastrophic, and that as more oil companies follow Valero’s lead by bringing crude oil trains of their own through Sacramento, the chances of crashes increase.

      The Sacramento group has indicated it wants a detailed advanced notification system about what shipments are coming to town. Those notifications will help fire agencies who must respond if a leak or fire occurs. Local officials say they also will ask Union Pacific to keep crude-oil tank cars moving through town without stopping and parking them here. The region’s leaders also want financial support to train firefighters and other emergency responders on how to deal with crude oil spills, and possibly funds to buy more advanced firefighting equipment. Sacramento leaders say they will press the railroad to employ the best inspection protocols on the rail line.

      Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/07/08/6541363/crude-oil-train-protests-planned.html#storylink=cp

       

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        California lawmakers assail Feds for timid handling of rail oil shipments

        Repost from The Ames Tribune, Ames, Iowa
        [Editor:  The 3-hour California Joint Legislative Oversight Hearing on Transport of California Crude Oil by Rail  can be viewed here.  – RS]

        State lawmakers assail Feds for timid handling of rail oil shipments

        By Timm Herdt, Ventura County Star, June 20, 2014

        SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers, concerned about the safety risks associated with a sixfold increase in crude oil shipments by rail into California, hoped on Thursday to get an update on what the federal government is doing.

        But a regional official of the Federal Railroad Administration who had been scheduled to testify before a joint committee hearing regarding crude oil rail transport was a last-minute no-show.

        Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said she received a call on the eve of the hearing from a high-level federal administrator in Washington, D.C., informing her that no one from the agency would testify.

        It will take coordination between the state and federal governments to protect California from a spike in accidents that has led to fiery derailments and oil spills elsewhere, Pavley noted.

        “We don’t have that cooperation yet,” she said. “There are a lot of things they can do. They need to step up to the plate.”

        Other lawmakers — who are mostly powerless to act because they are pre-empted by federal law — shared her view.

        A point of contention is the belief of many state and local officials that information about upcoming shipments of carloads of highly flammable crude oil should be publicly available. But railroads, citing national security concerns, have released that information only to emergency-response agencies, which must agree not to publicly disclose it.

        “We’ve seen what happens when they explode,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, chairwoman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management. “It sure seems like in California our hands are tied. There’s so little we can do.”

        Jackson asserted that security concerns should dictate public disclosure.

        “National security means the security of people who live in the nation,” she said.

        Under pressure from state officials in Montana, it appears federal officials may have decided to relent on that issue.

        The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered railroads to give state officials specifics on oil-train routes, and Montana officials intend to publicly release that information next week.

        Rail-oil shipments have skyrocketed across the United States and Canada in recent months because there are no pipelines from which to ship oil extracted from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota.

        In the last year, derailments have resulted in fiery explosions in three Canadian provinces and in Virginia, and there have been more rail accidents involving oil spills than over the previous 30 years combined.

        In Northern California, the issue has become front-page news in recent weeks, as city officials in the East San Francisco Bay city of Benicia are considering a permit application from a Valero oil refinery that would enable the refinery to accept two, 50-car trains every day.

        If that refinery expansion is approved, the trains would wind through a narrow mountain pass in the Feather River Valley, and then pass through the populated corridor from Sacramento to Benicia, passing within a quarter mile of 27 schools.

        Similar scenarios could unfold elsewhere around the state, testified Gordon Schremp of the state Energy Commission. He said six refinery projects have been proposed to accommodate rail shipments — two in Bakersfield, and one each in Benicia, Pittsburg, Santa Maria and the Port of Stockton.

        As those projects come on line, Schremp said the commission expects the percentage of oil coming into California by rail to increase from 1 percent today to 23 percent by 2016. Most imported oil now arrives in the state either via marine tankers or by pipeline from Alaska.

        A report issued last week by the state’s Interagency Rail Safety Task Force lists thousands of miles of track it identifies as “areas of concern.”

        The new state budget that Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign Friday includes a 6.5 cent per-barrel fee on refineries to fund an expansion of the state Office of Oil Spills and Prevention and also hire new rail, bridge and railcar inspectors at the state Public Utilities Commission.

        State lawmakers, who are pre-empted from taking such steps as requiring trains to take specific routes and imposing state-based safety standards on tanker cars, agreed their primary focus needs to be on preparing emergency agencies to respond to rail accidents involving toxic materials such as crude oil.

        “This is an unusually fast-growing development,” said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. “It’s really important to have emergency procedures in place.”

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