Tag Archives: Blast zone

U.S. Rep. Lois Capps: Oil-by-rail is too risky

Repost from the San Luis Obispo Tribune
[Editor:  See also the follow-up story covering the Cal Poly forum on Oct. 16: “Capps touts clean energy alternatives to Phillips 66 project at Cal Poly forum.”  – RS]

Phillip 66’s oil-by-rail plan is too risky

By Rep. Lois Capps, October 13, 2015
Lois Capps in her office in Washington, D.C.
Lois Capps in her office in Washington, D.C.

The Central Coast was thrust into the national spotlight in May as news broke of an oil pipeline rupture that allowed tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil to spill into the Pacific Ocean.

The ensuing damage devastated wildlife and our sensitive coastline, cost our local economy millions of dollars and put the health of Central Coast residents at risk. Sadly, this is just the most recent reminder of the hazards of drilling for and transporting fossil fuels.

In the months since the spill, I’ve redoubled my efforts to ensure federal agencies update and strengthen pipeline safety standards, prevent new offshore drilling and guarantee that our communities are properly compensated for their losses. And yet, just as the final traces of tar are cleaned from the rocks at Refugio Beach, another serious oil hazard looms on the Central Coast.

As many know, Phillips 66 has applied for a permit through San Luis Obispo County to construct a 1.3-mile rail spur to the Nipomo Mesa refinery. Construction of the new spur would allow the refinery to receive up to five deliveries of crude oil per week, with 2 million gallons aboard each mile-long freight train.

This rail spur proposal comes amidst booming North American oil production and a dramatic expansion across the country in the use of railroads to transport crude oil. Not surprisingly, the increased use of rail to transport oil over the last five years has correlated with a sharp increase in the number of derailments by oil-hauling trains. The increase in oil rail derailments is even more troubling considering the large investments made in recent years to improve rail safety.

The most devastating of these recent accidents occurred in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, when a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil derailed in a downtown area and several cars exploded, killing 47 people and leveling half of the downtown area with a blast zone radius of more than half a mile.

Approving the Phillips 66 rail spur project would put communities throughout California at risk for a similar tragedy. If approved, communities within 1 mile of the rails would be within the potential blast radius of these crude oil freight trains as they make their way to their final destination in San Luis Obispo County. This is one of the many reasons why I am joining other community leaders, cities and counties throughout the state in opposing this project.

The Plains oil spill near Santa Barbara in May and the Phillips 66 rail spur project debate are both stark reminders of the dangers posed by our continued reliance upon oil and other fossil fuels to meet our energy needs.

We know that this dependence puts our environment, public health and economy at risk due to spills, derailments and the growing impacts of climate change.

With each extreme storm, severe wildfire and persistent drought, we’re reminded of the very real consequences of our continued dependence on fossil fuels.

The truth is that an economy that continues to rely upon fossil fuels is not prepared to succeed in the 21st century.

That is why I have spent my career in Congress advocating for efforts to transition to clean, renewable energy sources that produce the energy we need while also minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

I am proud to say that the Central Coast is leading this transition. With our cuttingedge research universities, two of the largest solar fields in the world and some of the most innovative entrepreneurs and energy companies in the country, I am excited to see what the future holds.

Now, more than ever, we are presented with a wonderful opportunity to pivot away from our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and toward a more sustainable energy future.

That is why I am convening a panel of industry leaders and academic experts for a public forum at Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center on Friday to discuss how we can continue to expand our clean-energy economy on the Central Coast and across the country.

During the forum, I look forward to discussing the multitude of threats posed by our continued fossil fuel dependence, the progress made toward developing renewable energy sources, and how we can overcome the remaining barriers to fully transition to a cleanenergy future. Please join us this Friday at 1 p.m. as we come together to build a safer, cleaner energy economy suitable to meet the demands of the 21st century.

 

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    5.7 Million children attend U.S. schools in an oil train blast zone – sign the petition

    Repost from ForestEthics

    Here’s a number you need to see: 57 MILLION CHILDREN

    Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. safety officials and railroad execs: No More Oil Train Secrets. The first step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release critical documents that the rail companies are hiding from the public. (Click on the image and SIGN on the right side of the page.)

    Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. safety officials and railroad execs: No More Oil Train Secrets. The first step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release critical documents that the rail companies are hiding from the public.

    5.7 Million K-12 age children attend U.S. schools in the oil train blast zone–the area that must be evacuated in case of a derailment or fire from an oil train.

    Massive growth of oil train traffic–over 5,000% since 2008 in the U.S.–means more derailments, oil spills into waterways, and massive explosions. 2015 alone has seen five explosive derailments in the U.S. and Canada. We now know that oil trains threaten 5,728,044 million children in 15,848 schools every day in the U.S. Our children deserve better.

    But we don’t even know the details on the dangers of these trains–and neither do our first responders or our elected leaders. We don’t know because oil train companies like BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National are keeping four critical types of information hidden:

    1. The routing choices they make through cities, towns and sensitive areas;
    2. The worst case scenario models they create for your town;
    3. The insurance amount they have to cover themselves; and
    4. Their emergency response plans when the unthinkable happens.

    We are calling these documents The Oil Train Secrets. The Federal Railroad Administration, the agency in the U.S. that is responsible for making the companies release these documents, isn’t doing its job–and neither is its boss, the U.S. Department of Transportation. But our future and our children are too important to let these critical documents stay secret.

    Join ForestEthics in telling U.S. transportation officials (and the Railroad Execs themselves): the next step in making our schools safe from oil trains is to release The Oil Train Secrets.


    To: US Safety Officials and Railroad Executives
    From: [Your Name]

    To: Anthony Foxx of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Sarah Feinberg, Director of the Federal Railroad Administration
    Re: Request for Release of Documents

    Secretary Foxx and Director Feinberg:

    On Tuesday, September 8th, 2015, ForestEthics released its estimate of the number of K-12 age students in schools in the evacuation zone for oil trains: 5.7 million. 5.7 million K-12 age students are among the 25 million Americans living in this blast zone.

    Many local emergency planning and response agencies have testified in Congress and state and local legislatures that, in the absence of railroad risk analyses, they have been struggling to develop their own ability to respond to potential crude oil derailments. Local safety officials need information to protect our communities, especially schools. In the interests of public safety, we are formally asking your assistance in releasing the following documents:

    1. Rail Companies own calculated Worst Case Scenarios for a potential oil train emergency in urban and sensitive environmental locales. Local and state officials have stated that they have never seen this essential crude oil release scenario information.

    2. We also need to see rail company documentation on the levels of catastrophic insurance coverage each railroad company has been able to buy for potential serious releases in each jurisdiction. The insurers apparently have seen the railroads’ Worst Case Scenarios and have demonstrated a healthy and cautious concern about the scale of costly disasters that their companies might be responsible for covering. If the insurers can see it, so can the public.

    3. We require the rail companies’ internal Comprehensive Emergency Response Plans for high hazard flammable trains (oil trains), both generic and for specific typical locations, urban and rural.

    4. We also need rail companies’ up-to-now secret route analysis documentation and route selection results in each jurisdiction, pursuant to Congress’s 2007 Public Law 110-53, for urban hazmat safety and security routing for the currently covered cargoes of chlorine and ammonia, as well as for the newly-recognized “key trains” of crude oil and ethanol.

    We are publicly demanding that you promptly assist the rail companies, who will be receiving a copy of this letter, to provide these key risk documents, up to now withheld from public view. Not only because our first responders and governments need them, but because our communities have a right to know to what chemical disaster risks various hazardous operations are exposing them. It is our assessment that the publication of these documents would aid your agencies in protecting the public and assisting first responders. Our children deserve nothing less than the safest learning environment and the best-informed first responders.

    Sincerely,

    ForestEthics and the undersigned,

    ++++++++++

    Cc: Matt Rose
    Executive Chairman, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad

    Cc: John Koraleski
    CEO, Union Pacific

    Cc: Michael Ward
    CEO, CSX

    Cc: James Squires
    CEO, Norfolk Southern

    Cc: E. Hunter Harrison
    CEO, Canadian Pacific

    Cc: Claude Mongeau
    CEO, Canadian National

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      Half Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

      Repost from DeSmogBlog
      [Editor:  See the more detailed interactive map of schools by the Center for Biological Diversity.  Note Benicia’s Robert Semple Elementary School on the Center’s map, located just 0.88 miles from a Union Pacific train route which currently carries hazardous materials and is proposed for Valero Refinery’s Crude By Rail project.  Here’s a map of Robert Semple school and the tracks.  – RS] 

      Half a Million California Students Attend School In Oil Train Blast Evacuation Zones

      By Justin Mikulka, September 7, 2015 – 04:58

      A new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity finds that 500,000 students in California attend schools within a half-mile of rail tracks used by oil trains, and more than another 500,000 are within a mile of the tracks.

      “Railroad disasters shouldn’t be one of the ‘three Rs’ on the minds of California school kids and their parents,” said Valerie Love with the Center. “Oil trains have jumped the tracks and exploded in communities across the country. These dangerous bomb trains don’t belong anywhere near California’s schools or our children.”

      Click for larger image

      Current safety regulations for first responders dealing with oil trains recommend evacuating everyone within a half-mile of any incident with an oil train. This wasn’t much of a problem for the most recent oil train accident in July in Culbertson, Montana because there were only 30 people within the half-mile radius area. However, in populated areas like California, potential scenarios could involve large-scale evacuations and casualties.

      In addition to the threat posed to California’s students, the report Crude Injustice on the Rails released earlier this year by ForestEthics and Communities for a Better Environment, pointed out that in California the communities within the half-mile blast zones were also more likely to be low-income minority neighborhoods.

      As more communities across the country become aware of the very real risks these oil trains pose, opposition is mounting to new oil-by-rail projects as well as challenges to existing facilities.

      This past week in California, the Santa Clara County board of supervisors voted to keep oil trains out, citing an “unacceptable risk to our community.”

      In Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) held a hearing on the subject and heard from concerned residents like Catherine Dorr, as reported by the local CBS station.

      We’re in the 100 foot blast zone,” Dorr said. “My house and 60 townhouse residents are going to be toast if there’s an explosion.”

      In Albany, New York which is the largest oil-by-rail hub on the East coast, this week a coalition of groups announced their intentions to sue the oil company transporting Bakken crude through Albany and challenge the validity of the air quality permit the company received in 2012.

      And even in remote places like North Dakota, where much of the oil originates, the U.S. military is concerned about the proximity of the oil train tracks to nuclear missile facilities.

      With all of this concern about the dangers of oil trains, a new report by the Associated Press (AP) paints a troubling picture about the preparedness of populated areas to respond to an oil-by-rail incident. The report was based on interviews with emergency management professionals in 12 large cities across the U.S.

      It concludes, “The responses show emergency planning remains a work in progress even as crude has become one of the nation’s most common hazardous materials transported by rail.”

      As noted on DeSmog, one of the reasons that the oil trains pose such a high risk is that the oil industry refuses to stabilize the oil to make it safe to transport. And the new regulations for oil-by-rail transport released this year allow for older unsafe tank cars to be used for another 8-10 years.

      While the regulations require modernized braking systems on oil trains in future years, the rail industry is fighting this and a Senate committee recently voted to remove this from the regulations.

      The reality is that unless there are drastic changes made, anyone living within a half mile of these tracks will be at risk for years to come.

      And while oil production isn’t increasing in the U.S. right now due to the low price of oil, industry efforts to lift the current ban on exporting crude oil could result in a huge increase in fracked oil production. In turn, that oil will be put on trains that will head to coastal facilities and be loaded on tankers and sent to Asia.

      Despite all of the opposition and the years-long process to complete new regulations, as the Associated Press notes, it isn’t like the emergency first responders are comfortable with the current situation.

      “There could be a huge loss of life if we have a derailment, spill and fire next to a heavily populated area or event,” said Wayne Senter, executive director of the Washington state association of fire chiefs. “That’s what keeps us up at night.”

      And even the federal regulators expect there are going to be catastrophic accidents. As reported by the AP earlier this year, the Department of Transportation expects oil and ethanol trains “will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.”

      With the known risks and the number of accidents, so far communities in the U.S have avoided disaster. But as Senator Franken pointed out, that has just been a matter of luck.

      We’ve been lucky here in Minnesota and North Dakota and Wisconsin that we’ve not seen that kind of fatalities, but we don’t want this to be all about luck,” Sen. Franken said.

      As over 1,000,000 students in California start a new school year in schools where they can easily hear the train whistles from the oil trains passing through their communities, let’s all hope we keep this lucky streak going.

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        Oil train organizing in Davis, California

        Repost from an email, Lynne Nittler, of Davis, CA
        [Editor:  Lynne Nittler and her friends at Cool Davis and Yolano Climate Action do a great job of organizing.  Davis is a primary “uprail community” that would be at high risk if Valero Benicia Refinery’s Crude By Rail proposal is permitted.  I appreciated Lynne’s recent update and summary, below.  – RS]

        Oil Train: photos, Ca Energy Commission powerpoint, & actions

        From: Lynne Nittler
        Sent: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 3:15 PM

        Dear oil train friends,

        1.  July 11 Stop Oil Trains Action –  photos

        On July 11, over 80 Davis residents turned out to remember the 2013 oil derailment that decimated Lac-Megantic, taking 47 lives.  Davis faces the threat of a similar accident.  Currently, at least one oil train of Bakken Crude per week passes through Davis headed to the Bay Area.  Two more 100-car trains per day are planned for the near future for the Valero Refinery in Benicia and the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo…unless citizens stop them.

        The Davis Stop Oil Trains action was one of many during the Week of Oil Train Action.  Check out photographs from actions across the country here.  Look for Davis!  https://www.flickr.com/photos/foresethics/sets/72157655110369339

        See our own review with photos here:  https://yolanoclimateaction.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/davis-residents-protest-oil-trains-moving-through-town/

        2.  Review of July 11:

        Locally, the ForestEthics  www.Blast-Zone.org map shows endangered homes and businesses along 2nd Street including the police station, Carlton Plaza Senior Living and Rancho Yolo.  The entire Davis downtown is vulnerable along with parts of UC Davis campus and apartments complexes along Olive Drive.

        The July 11 Vigil and Rally highlighted public opposition to oil trains passing through Davis. Too many residents live in the oil train blast zone, the one mile evacuation zone recommended by safety officials in the case of an oil train derailment and fire. ForestEthics calculates that nationwide, 25 million Americans live in the blast zone.

        Wearing fiery red, yellow and orange shirts, Davisites met at the train station and walked through the Davis blast zone downtown to the Rotary Stage in Central Park.

        We sang feisty songs led by the Raging Grannies.  We’ll be starting a group in Davis.  Let Lynne know if you’re interested.

        Mayor Dan Wolk explained the city council’s resolution opposing oil by rail, available at http://citycouncil.cityofdavis.org/Media/Default/Documents/PDF/CityCouncil/CouncilMeetings/Agendas/20140422/04B-Opposing-Oil-By-Rail.pdf

        City Councilman Lucas Frerichs spoke on the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s nearly unanimous decision to confront the issue.  SACOG is composed of 22 cities and 6 counties.  http://www.sacog.org/calendar/2014/08/rail/pdf/2-Valero%20EIR%20Comments.pdf

        At the state level, Senator Lois Wolk shared the past and present legislative responses to the sudden surge of crude-by-rail transport into California aimed at protecting the public as well as sensitive habitat and waterways.

        Supervisor Jim Provenza and Damien Luzzo focused on the extraction side of the issue in Yolo County.  Damien offered his story about how he came to oppose fracking at http://tinyurl.com/CAFrackWars and the Pledge of Resistance at http://tinyurl.com/FrackingPledgeOfResistance.  Sign his petition to ban fracking!

        3.  Urgent Action:  Urge Assemblyman Bill Dodd to support SB32 & SB350!   Information on the proposed Yolo ban on fracking were available as well as a letter to Assemblyman Bill Dodd urging him to support two critical climate bills due for a vote in mid-August:

        • SB32 extending our CA carbon reduction bill, and
        • SB350 aiming for 50% lower car emissions, 50% greater building efficiency, and 50% more solar and wind-generated electricity  by 2030.

        4.  Conclusion:

        There is NO safe way to transport extreme tar sands and Bakken crude. Two years after Lac-Mégantic, oil trains keep exploding and carbon pollution keeps rising.  Oil trains are a disaster for our health, our safety, and our climate.

        Given the unresolved dangers of crude oil transport by rail and the overload of carbon emissions already in the atmosphere, a more prudent path is to leave all extreme crude in the ground, transition to clean, renewable energy, and practice energy conservation in an effort to reverse climate change and live sustainably on a finite planet.

        5.  Next oil train actions:

        Powerpoint by CA Energy Commission: Read attached, a thorough and up-to-date powerpoint, to educate yourself on national and state oil and crude by rail issues in CA.  Excellent resource!

        Santa Maria refinery in San Luis Obispo:  We are waiting for a hearing announcement where we can testify.

        Valero Refinery in Benicia:  The revised DEIR will be released on Aug. 31 for a 45-day written public comment period.  Our letters will be crucial when the Planning commission and late the City council makes their decisions whether to finalize the EIR and permit Valero’s rail spur.

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