Tag Archives: California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

Repost from the Los Angeles Times
[Editor:  See also ABC News, Coast Guard Says California Oil Slick Will Vanish on Its Own.  – RS]

Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

By Javier Panzar , Joseph Serna, Matt Hamilton, July 29, 2015 10:39pm

That greasy luster returned once again to the waters off Santa Barbara County.

An oil slick that stretched more than 3 miles was spotted Wednesday by some kayakers, about two months after a ruptured pipeline spilled more than 21,000 gallons of crude into the ocean off this picturesque coastline.

The sheen — no thicker than a coat of paint — did not prompt the closure of any beaches, and the U.S. Coast Guard said the oily substance would dissipate on its own.

As Coast Guard investigators awaited lab results that may pinpoint the oil’s source, images of a shiny patch of sea and splotches of tar along these pristine shores sent a quiver of anxiety through a community that’s still recovering from the May 19 spill.

Goleta Beach oil spill“I just hoped it wasn’t another oil spill,” said Janine Dorn, a substitute teacher who brought her black poodle, Jack, to survey Goleta Beach before sunset. The oil spill in May had her fuming, she said. “Then I see this and it’s incredible. This can’t be happening again.”

Shortly before 11 a.m., the kayakers reported seeing the sheen about 1,000 feet off Goleta Beach, according to the county fire department. A black and brown gooey substance had coated the kayaks and the kayakers’ legs, according to photos from the fire department.

Initially described as measuring 60 feet wide, the sheen by Wednesday evening had stretched 3.5 miles long and half a mile wide, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Schmid said. As tides moved, the oil split into sections and covered only about one-third of the total area, he said.

The patch was seen floating near an oil platform owned by Venoco Inc., but the company denied that its platform was involved. That platform, known as Holly, was shut down in May, a company official said. Its pipeline was flushed of any oil and refilled with seawater.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, said the sheen could have been an ordinary, natural seepage. At Coal Oil Point, a seep field in the Santa Barbara Channel, thousands of gallons of oil flow into the ocean each day, something residents have grown accustomed to.

“The earth burps all the time,” said Robert Hernandez, an electrician who fishes nearly every day off the Goleta pier. “You smell it, you get a little on you. No big deal.”

Hernandez, 60, said he has been fishing along the Central Coast since he was 15. Sheens such as those spotted Wednesday are part of life in a region where the petroleum-rich sea bed regularly emits oil and natural gas, he said, which made him question why it was newsworthy. “It cracks me up,” he said. “At first I thought there was a shark attack or something.”

Yet environmental activist Rebecca Claassen, an organizer with Food and Water Watch, said it’s too early to minimize the sheen as a natural occurrence, saying the oil platforms that dot the county’s coastline pose a daily risk. “We can see a spill any day as long as there is drilling off shore,” she said.

Federal officials said Wednesday’s sheen also could be a remnant of this spring’s spill, when the corroded pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline leaked an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude along the Gaviota coast and forced a weeks-long closure of Refugio State Beach.

The director of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Charlton Bonham, said Wednesday that the cleanup of the Refugio spill is ongoing, with about 14,000 gallons of oily water removed from the ocean.

Cleanup crews have responded to reports of tar balls as far away as Orange County, and one tar ball recovered in Manhattan Beach had the same oil “DNA” as the oil spilled at Refugio, he said.

Appearing in Sacramento before the state Ocean Protection Council, Bonham said the natural seepage in the area is challenging how his agency assesses the effectiveness of recovery efforts. “What is clean?” he told the panel. “How clean is clean?”

As federal and state investigators await the results of laboratory tests from Wednesday’s incident, Santa Barbara County’s director of public health, Dr. Takashi Wada, said there is no immediate risk to swimmers, and the county’s beaches and fishing piers remain open.

After swimming in the water off Goleta Beach with her friend, Anya Schmitz, 16, opined that the water was crystal clear — perfect for a summer dip.

“Conditions are great,” she said. “Seems like a lot of hype to me.”

Panzar reported from Goleta; Serna and Hamilton from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Phil Willon in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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    Plumas Co. Grand Jury: Scathing indictment of hazardous material transportation through Feather River Canyon

    Repost from Plumas County News
    [Editor:  This Grand Jury report is thorough and well written – an excellent resource and alarming in its analysis.  Its findings and recommendations (near the end of the report) might be a valuable resource for communities everywhere.  There are a number of references to “after-action reports.”   Question for our research: how can concerned citizens obtain such reports?  – RS]

    Hazardous material transportation a roulette wheel for potential disaster

    Feather Publishing

    6/5/2015

    Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of midterm reports submitted by the 2014-15 Plumas County Civil Grand Jury.

    SUMMARY
    Early in the morning Nov. 25, 2014, a Union Pacific freight train derailed in the Feather River Canyon just east of Belden, sending 11 railcars full of corn off the tracks and down the steep embankment. In a press statement shortly afterward, a State Office of Emergency Services official was quoted as saying, “We dodged a bullet” because the train was only carrying corn.

    Based on a rash of recent derailments and spills of hazardous materials happening throughout the United States and Canada, “a bullet” in fact grossly underestimates the potential devastation, magnitude and scope of the consequences left from these horrific incidents. Luckily, it was only corn that spilled. With the recent surge in crude-by-rail domestic crude oil transports between oil fields in North Dakota, Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania and Bay Area refineries through the Feather River Canyon, the aftermath could have wrought far-reaching disaster had it been the high-flammable Bakken crude in the tanker cars.

    According to sources, the number of crude-by-rail trains passing through the Feather River Canyon has tripled in number within the past three years. With developments in hydraulic fracking technology coming about in domestic oil fields, the petroleum market has seen a profound shift from importing foreign oil to extracting it in domestic oil fields in the United States. As a result, thousands of jobs have been created and oil prices have plummeted since this recent boon in domestic oil production. In addition, other hazardous chemicals are transported throughout the United States by rail and by truck. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, only the railroads are required to know what’s in the cars they’re shipping.

    The grand jury found it extremely important to examine the recent corn derailment other recent crude-by-rail disasters in the U.S. and Canada to determine whether Plumas County agencies and private transportation operators are adequately prepared in “worst-case” scenarios. In respect to the Plumas County corn derailment, because the corn was relatively harmless and could be immediately dealt with without invoking hazardous material protocols, local, state and railroad officials and crews did an excellent job in containment of the spill and clearing and repairing the tracks within the impact area.

    As a result of a quick and well-coordinated response, the Feather River Canyon rail route was restored and passing rail traffic three days after the initial derailment. Nonetheless, the grand jury has found the incident to be a practical review for a county hazardous material spill and useful opportunity to compare and contrast the corn spill with other recent more disastrous spills. Plumas County did indeed “dodge the bullet,” and from this incident the grand jury believes it will provide valuable findings and recommendations which may in turn act as a catalyst and cast fresh perspectives and insights on dealing with future potential spills and hazardous material disasters.

    BACKGROUND
    In review of the Feather River Canyon corn spill Nov. 25, 2014, a total of 11 cars full of raw corn derailed and spilled down a steep embankment near Rich Bar. Luckily, the spill was only tons of kernels and husks, and the incident proved to have had only a minimal impact, environmentally speaking.

    The corn spill turned out to be good opportunity to test the Plumas County emergency response system. The incident was first reported by Union Pacific Railroad Dispatch in Omaha, Nebraska, to the Plumas County Warning Center, stating, “12 rail cars close to Rich Bar at Hwy 70 MPM 265 on the Canyon Sub,” and that “12 rail cars loaded with grain derailed, it is unknown whether the cars are upright or on their sides, and that the derailment occurred in a canyon next to a stream or river and it is unknown at this time if the waterway was impacted.”

    According to the after-action report on the incident, the State Warning Center notification included the Plumas County sheriff, California Highway Patrol, Plumas County Environmental Health, State Water Quality Board, State Department of Toxics, State Drinking Water, Cal Office of Emergency Services, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The accident occurred around 3 a.m. Nov. 25. By 8 a.m. Union Pacific had placed containment booms 100 feet down the Feather River. Fortunately, none of the cars landed in the river and only a small amount of corn spilled into the river.

    One of the important facts that should be emphasized here concerns containment supplies and where they are located. It took roughly five hours for the railroad to have containment booms in place. According the Plumas County officials, Union Pacific does not have any spill containment kits in Plumas County. A formal request from the grand jury was emailed to Union Pacific safety representatives asking about the whereabouts of containment kits — according to their response (the grand jury received a very quick email reply that day), Chico, Roseville and Reno, Nevada, were the closest railroad facilities that had emergency containment kits.

    Other revelations from the after-action report revealed that the Union Pacific Railroad Dispatch Center could not pinpoint the exact location in the Feather River Canyon to the Warning Center. In addition, dispatch was not “forthcoming” on what was spilled, although the center did state that the Plumas County Sheriff’s Department was notified that “there were no injuries, no hazardous materials released, and that no assistance was needed.” The corn spill after-action report in its conclusion posted its “corrective actions from railroad incident” review. Some of the recommendations are summarized here:

    —Push Union Pacific dispatch for better initial report information.

    —Use GPS to pinpoint incident location.

    —Coordinate with the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for any incident in the Feather River Canyon.

    —The incident commander for any hazardous materials incident is designated as the primary law enforcement authority.

    —Follow Plumas County Hazardous Materials Response Plan.

    —The Office of Emergency Services will try to find a local Union Pacific dispatch contact person.

    Evidently, the cause of the corn derailment was a section of the railroad track breaking or separating. Ironically, Union Pacific reported that all railroad ties along the Feather River Canyon were replaced in 2013. Union Pacific conducts track inspections at regular intervals and reportedly it conducts Feather River Canyon inspections every three months. Nonetheless, the corn derailment exemplifies that rail accidents can happen at any time.

    In respect to the other crude-by-rail spills, the same results were concluded. Train speed was not a factor and rail and bridge inspections were documented before the incidents occurred. The crude-by-rail derailments were all on relatively flat landscapes. The Feather River Canyon route, with its rocky and unstable terrain, is much more prone to outside factors that can lead to derailments.

    According to 2013 Plumas County Hazard Mitigation Plan, in 2007 and in 2012 a rockslide struck and derailed passing trains. The 2007 slide derailed 22 rail cars; 20,000 gallons of peanut oil ruptured from several cars and 30,000 gallons of highly flammable denatured alcohol also spilled down the embankment. The 2012 incident was caused by a large boulder that fell onto the tracks and was struck by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train. Over 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the train into the Feather River.

    The recent crude-by-rail spills throughout the U.S. showcase the dramatic rise in domestic oil production and rail shipments to coastal refineries. According to railroad data, in 2008 there were reportedly about 10,000 oil cars carrying domestic crude. In 2014, there were over 400,000 crude-by-rail train cars, representing a 4,000 percent increase. Furthermore, the type of crude oil coming from shale deposits from Bakken oil fields (commonly referred as “light crude”) is high combustible. In almost every instance in which trains carrying Bakken crude derail and tanker cars are punctured, fiery detonation results. First responders and emergency service crews can merely watch it burn and concentrate on containment perimeters rather than extinguishing the oil fire. Without sensationalizing a disaster that occurred in another place, had any of the recent oil tanker disasters happened along the Feather River route, particularly at locations near population areas including downtown Portola, Blairsden, Twain and Keddie, where the railroad tracks are relatively close, the extent of the damage could have been far different.

    The grand jury would first like to acknowledge as a matter of fact that hazardous chemical hauling is an integral part of our economy. As potentially dangerous as they are, crude oil, gasoline and chemicals are used safely every day. Without them our economy and all the things we do, all the products we require in our daily lives, the way we move would be changed; just about everything revolves around the consumer and the safe use of chemicals and their byproducts.

    That being said, the vital role of both the national carriers of hazardous materials and our public safety officials at each level is to make safety the No. 1 priority. Safety, defined here, entails the complete processing of any particular product, from its extraction and refinement to transportation, delivery and ultimate usage.

    Railroads carry over 40 percent of our nation’s freight. When conducted safely and securely, commodity transport over rail is proven to be economically the best and most efficient mode of transportation in terms of fuel efficiency, supply chain costs and safety. Intermodal traffic refers to the transport of goods on trains. Today, two major rail companies, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, transport intermodal goods through Plumas County. According to the Union Pacific Railroad, chemical transport is roughly 17 percent of total payload being carried. The breakdown of goods, however, is not representative of actual train payloads. In other words, trains passing through the county could have any number of railcars full of one particular commodity or another and the cars may be full or empty.

    The grand jury has found that the mission statements, top priorities, primary focus and action plans are remarkably similar in commitment, scope and language between hazardous material producers, transport carriers and government officials at every level. In other words, everyone directly engaged in the production and distribution of everything delivered over rail, by air or on pavement — as well as their overseers — share a common pledge to make safety their top priority in the public domain and the environment.

    In addition, the grand jury has studied the after-action reports of many of the most recent crude-by-rail derailments and public highway chemical transport accidents and learned that in nearly every case, there were inspections completed days or weeks before the incidents, rail and highway speeds were under the mandated limits and handling of the volatile payloads were properly done according to federal safety mandates.

    According to official published reports, there has been more oil spilled from trains in the past two years than in the previous four decades. Between 1975 and 2012, around 800,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled in the U.S. By comparison, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data, over 1.5 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars.

    As a result of the series of ruptures and fires that have recently plagued the U.S., federal regulators are considering higher safety standards and further upgrades such as thicker tanks, rollover protection for chemical carrying tanker cars, electronic braking systems on individual rail cars and increased track inspections.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a notice for crude oil and high-hazard flammable trains tanker cars, calling for a phaseout of the older CTC-111A tanker car (commonly known as the DOT-111). Currently there are still around 300,000 CTC-111A cars still being used throughout the U.S. These tanker cars each generally carry between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons of oil. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation the older CTC-111As have the following safety flaws:

    —Thin skins: Upon derailment, tanks often rupture.

    —No head shields: Shields on both ends of tanker cars can prevent puncturing during collisions.

    —Poor protection over valves and fittings.

    —Lack of pressure relief devices for boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions.

    In short, the older CTC-111A tanker cars were not designed for hauling flammable materials.

    The new replacement tanker car, called the CPC-1232 (CPC is a railroad industry standard that stands for casualty prevention circular), features new standards for hazardous material railway transport. As of November 2011, all new tank cars built for transporting crude oil and ethanol must follow new standards, including half-height shields, thicker tank and head material, normalized steel, top fitting and gauge protection and recloseable pressure relief valves.

    As of March 2015, there are reportedly 60,000 of the newer CPC-1232 tanker cars hauling crude in the U.S. In response to all the recent crude-by-rail derailments, Union Pacific, CSX and Burlington Northern Santa Fe have all stepped up in increased safety inspections and adapting new safety standards. The railroads are now relying on distributed power units, which place locomotives in the middle and/or both ends of the trains. Studies show that placing power locomotives on both ends and in the middle enhances safety because it even spreads physical forces on the train.

    This revelation is significant — the 1991 Dunsmuir toxic chemical derailment was caused by this very reason. The power locomotive was placed in the rear of a 97-car train and light and empty cars flanked a full tanker car filled with 19,000 gallons of metam sodium. The investigation of the Dunsmuir disaster found that because all the power was placed at the rear of the large train, the uneven power distribution caused the train to buckle.

    Metam sodium is a soil fumigant. When it spilled into the upper Sacramento River — because of poor containment action and the nature of toxicity of the chemical — it killed every plant and fish for approximately 40 miles downstream.

    Railroads also use wayside electronic detectors to monitor railroad tracks. New safety detecting technology is also being used in their prevention and risk reduction process that features use of lasers and ultrasound to identify rail defects.

    The grand jury has learned that many of the hazardous material railcars do not belong to the rail carrier but to the company producing and transporting the product. For example, most of the older CTC-111A and newer CPC-1232 tanker cars are actually owned by the crude oil fracking companies and refineries.

    The number of trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials is actually based on sheer economics. For example, in 2014, when oil prices hovered around $100 a barrel, the price sent domestic oil production to an all-time high. Crude-by-rail oil shipments though Plumas County increased substantially as coastal refineries in Martinez and Benicia purchased more oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and other domestic oil fields in Texas and Oklahoma.

    DISCUSSION
    The grand jury chose a review of several recent U.S. crude-by-rail derailments for comparative reasons. The after-action reports provide valuable findings and recommendations from disasters that can happen anywhere, anytime. The reports are particularly invaluable to first responders, and public safety agencies.

    After-action reports detail each incident from the time of the initial report that entails the scope and severity of the incident. In response to the above disastrous incidents, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a “call to action” in January, calling on “rail company executives, associations, shippers and state and federal agencies to discuss how stakeholders can prevent and mitigate the consequences of rail accidents that involve flammable liquids.”

    The grand jury also believes that examining the recent corn spill in Plumas County and comparing it with the way other derailments were handled can lead to information and recommendations that enhance and hopefully improve upon the vanguards (prevention, preparedness, response, recovery) of any future local potential disaster.

    The tenets from the PHMSA call to action report produced similar recommendations — a strategic approach that promotes “effective preincident planning, preparedness, response, outreach and training.” One important point that the grand jury kept hearing was a difficulty and lack of communication between the railroad and local emergency management officials. One of the key elements the PHMSA call to action report specifically addresses is the absolute need for interaction and relevant guidance to first responders and local emergency management teams to “safely and effectively manage incidents.”

    The report also called for preincident planning and communication with all organizations to learn about what is being transported. Emergency response teams must have the training to safely contain and protect themselves and the contaminate zone affected. The need for a local hazmat team cannot be overemphasized.

    The following crude-by-rail disasters summarized in this grand jury report illustrate some of the potential circumstances other public safety agencies have had to deal with. Despite all the mandated safeguards dealing with hazardous material hauling, i.e., safe speeds, upgraded rail cars, railcar and track inspections, specialized training, etc., accidents can happen anytime and anywhere within transportation routes of hazardous materials.

    Plumas County and the surrounding 12 counties in northeastern California lie within Region 3 of the State Emergency Services System. At the time of this report, Plumas County has no hazmat team. Upon any need for hazmat response, Plumas County must contact nearby Butte or Shasta teams. In more serious incidents, Plumas County would have to enlist state or federal emergency service agencies.

    Lac-Megantic, Canada: In July 2013 a train carrying 72 tank cars full of crude oil exploded after the train braking system released, sending the unmanned train on a downhill run into the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The runaway train crashed into a crowded downtown pub, killing 47 people and destroying over 30 buildings. According to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation, the train had been idling and unmanned for over seven hours and the emergency braking system disengaged. The train then rolled down the tracks for several miles, picking up speed and eventually derailing into downtown Lac-Megantic. Of the four disaster crude-by-rail spills mentioned in this report, the results from the official investigation determined that sheer neglect (train left running and unattended and braking system released, causing a runaway unmanned train) was the primary factor in the disaster.

    Aliceville, Alabama: A 90-car train carrying Bakken crude derailed in November 2013 and exploded. Nearly 750,000 gallons of its 2 million gallon load spilled in wetlands in Alabama. Officials still assail cleanup operations today and report that containment booms and absorbent products were ineffective.

    Lynchburg, Virginia: In April 2014 a CSX train carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the James River. Oil fires from the ruptured tanker cars burned for two days. Reports indicate that the tanker cars were all the new CPC-1232 model.

    Casselton, North Dakota: In December 2013 a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train hauling grain derailed and fell across another set of tracks. Shortly after, a crude oil train heading in the opposite direction struck the derailed cars and derailed itself. Several tanker cars exploded. A slow response to the first incident set up the chain of events for the explosive second incident.

    Montgomery, West Virginia: In February 2015 a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia derailed sending 27 tanker cars off the tracks. Twelve of those rail cars exploded, not at once, but randomly for up to 12 hours. The cause is still under investigation.

    In the event of a local hazardous material disaster, the Plumas County Office of Emergency Services is notified and it determines the scope and magnitude of the incident and then contacts the Plumas County Board of Supervisors. Depending on the incident assessment of the Plumas County OES, the BOS has the authority to officially declare an emergency, which allows the Plumas County OES to request help from relevant local, state and federal agencies.

    Through leadership and partnership with all first responders, each incident goes through a foundational process that includes prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. The first three steps of the mitigation process rely on the safe containment of the hazardous material as quickly as possible with a special focus on protecting human life (isolate, deny entry, protect life safely, mitigate). The recovery phase, however, can last for years. The Dunsmuir toxic spill, for example, seriously impacted the area for several years after. At the time of this report, the crude-by-rail spills were all still in the recovery phase. Fortunately, the Plumas County corn derailment had a minimal effect on the environment. The first three phases of emergency services mitigation at the corn spill served as a great training exercise for all agencies and first responders involved.

    Recovery, in this case, was at a minimum in terms of environmental impact.

    In regard to Plumas County hazmat, the grand jury has learned that the county must rely on local volunteers to devote their time as first responders.

    Plumas County has had a difficult time finding enough volunteers to cover the entire county, and retaining volunteers after hazmat certification and specialized training has not worked out. All the local fire districts within Plumas County have been actively seeking volunteers.

    FINDINGS
    F1) The grand jury finds that communication between Plumas County public safety agencies and railroad officials is profoundly inadequate.

    F2) The grand jury finds that the lack of spill and containment equipment along rail routes in Plumas County poses a direct threat to public safety and the natural environment.

    F3) The grand jury finds that relying on hazmat response teams from surrounding counties compromises response times and threatens Plumas County public safety and natural resources.

    F4) The grand jury finds that the lack of training of first responders concerning hazardous materials that they may have to deal with could have profound consequences.

    F5) The grand jury finds that population centers within Plumas County that are in close proximity to railroads have grossly inadequate protection resources.

    RECOMMENDATIONS
    R1) The grand jury recommends Plumas County Emergency Services and the Plumas County Environment Health Agency establish direct local contact with Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe and any hazardous material carrier that operates within the county.

    R2) The grand jury recommends that Plumas County negotiate with railroad officials to have spill containment booms and absorbent kits in key strategic storage facilities in Plumas County.

    R3) The grand jury recommends that the BOS find the means to provide hazmat training and certification to in-county first responders.

    R4) The grand jury recommends more hazardous material training between first responders and all those involved in mitigating hazardous material disasters. Union Pacific, for example, offers tank car safety training in Roseville at the California Office of Emergency Services Specialized Training Institute every year. The training involves practically all aspects of hazardous material incident mitigation.

    R5) The grand jury recommends that the BOS and Plumas County OES conduct a “what-if” evaluation for population centers within Plumas County that are within potential “blast zones” of crude-by-rail tanker cars.

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      Western Cities Magazine: A Growing Risk – Oil Trains Raise Safety and Environmental Concerns

      Repost from Western City Magazine

      A Growing Risk: Oil Trains Raise Safety and Environmental Concerns

      By Cory Golden, in the February 2015 issue of Western City
      George Spade/Shutterstock.com
      George Spade/Shutterstock.com

      More and more often, trains snake down through California from its northern borders, with locomotives leading long lines of tank cars brimming with volatile crude oil.

      Rail remains among the safest modes of transport, but the growing volume of crude being hauled to California refineries — coupled with televised images of fiery oil train accidents elsewhere — have ratcheted up the safety and environmental concerns of city officials and the residents they serve.

      Local and state lawmakers have found that their hands are largely tied by federal laws and court rulings pre-empting new state and local regulation of rail traffic.

      Growing Volume and an Increasing Number of Accidents

      Until recently, California’s refineries were served almost entirely through ports. An oil boom in North Dakota and Canada from the Bakken shale formation and a lack of pipeline infrastructure have led to a dramatic increase in oil-by-rail shipments nationwide.

      Oil imports to California by rail shot up 506 percent to 6.3 million barrels in 2013 (one barrel equals 42 gallons). That number will climb to 150 million barrels by 2016, according to the California Energy Commission.

      The surge represents an “unanticipated, unacceptable risk posed to California,” said Paul King, deputy director for the California Public Utilities Commission’s Office of Oil Rail Safety, during a Senate hearing last year.

      As the volume of oil being transported by rail has swelled, derailments in the United States and Canada have also increased. Despite $5 billion in industry spending on infrastructure and safety measures — with half of that for maintenance — railroads spilled more crude in the United States during 2013 than in the previous four decades combined, according to an analysis of federal data by McClatchy DC News.

      Railroads continue to boast a better than 99 percent safety record, and most spills have been small, but with each tank car holding more than 25,000 gallons of oil, the exceptions — including eight mishaps in 2013 and early 2014 — have been dramatic and devastating, none more so than an accident in July 2013. That’s when 63 cars from a runaway train exploded, leveling much of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killing 47 people.

      So far, California has been spared a major crude oil accident, but the number of spills here is climbing: from 98 in 2010 to 182 in 2013, according to the California Office of Emergency Services (OES).

      Trains carrying Bakken crude travel south through Northern California, turning from the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and rumbling through the hearts of cities large and small. The trains pass within blocks of the state Capitol, hospitals and schools and through sensitive ecological areas such as the Feather River Canyon and Suisun Marsh.

      Lethal Accidents Spur a Push for Increased Safety Measures

      The Lac-Mégantic accident and others that have followed have led to a push for change at the federal level. Two agencies of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Railroad Administration and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, shoulder responsibility for writing and enforcing railroad safety regulations.

      In early 2014, the DOT and railroad industry announced a series of voluntary steps to increase safety. The DOT released a comprehensive rule-making proposal in July 2014, calling for structurally stronger tank cars, new operating requirements, speed restrictions, enhanced braking controls and route risk assessments, and a classification and testing program for mined gases and liquids.

      The DOT proposal calls for phasing out within two years older model tank cars, called DOT-111s, long known to be vulnerable to rupturing in a crash. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, first urged replacing or retrofitting them in 1991.

      In September 2014, the American Petroleum Institute and Association of American Railroads jointly asked the DOT for more time — up to seven years to retrofit tank cars.

      Another safety measure, called positive train control (PTC), makes use of global positioning systems. It is intended to prevent collisions, derailments due to high speeds and other movements that could cause accidents, like a train using track where maintenance is under way. PTC can alert train crews to danger and even stop a train remotely.

      Following a 2008 Metrolink crash in Los Angeles that killed 25 people — caused when an engineer missed a stop signal and collided with a Union Pacific freight train — Congress mandated PTC implementation on 60,000 miles of track nationwide. Large railroads have spent $4.5 billion to implement the technology, but the industry says it cannot meet its 2015 deadline.

      Among the members of California’s congressional delegation demanding stricter regulations are Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who have called for more information to be released to first responders on train movements.

      Sen. Feinstein also wrote a letter that urged the DOT to include pneumatic brakes, which can greatly reduce stopping distances, in its planned review of tank car design, and to extend the PTC requirement to any route used by trains carrying flammable liquids near population centers or sensitive habitat.

      Meanwhile, Industry Continues to Grow

      The growth in domestic crude oil is reflected in projects that include seven proposed, completed or under-construction expansions that together would have a maximum oil-by-rail capacity of 561,000 barrels per day at Bakersfield, Benicia, Pittsburg, Santa Maria, Stockton and Desert Hot Springs (see “Increasing Refinery Capacity” below).

      As of December 2014, the Kinder Morgan Inc. facility in Richmond was the only refinery that could receive unit trains, which are trains with 100 or more tank cars carrying a single commodity and bound for the same destination.

      InterState Oil Co. had its permit to offload crude at McClellan Park, in Sacramento County, revoked in November 2014 by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. The district said it had issued the permit in error and that it required a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

      Refineries in Bakersfield, Vernon, Carson and Long Beach were receiving crude deliveries from manifest trains, which carry a mix of cargo.

      Safety Efforts Focus on Planning, Preparedness and Response

      The Federal Rail Safety Act of 1970 authorized the U.S. secretary of transportation to create uniform national safety regulations. States are allowed to adopt additional, compatible rules if they do not hinder interstate commerce and address a local safety hazard. Courts have consistently ruled against almost all attempts by states to use the local safety hazard exception, however.

      Thus, unable to regulate train movements, California lawmakers and agencies have pursued three main courses of action: planning, preparedness and response.

      In the Golden State, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) shares authority with the federal government to enforce federal safety requirements, and OES and local agencies lead emergency response. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown expanded the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response to include inland areas.

      The Legislature approved a Senate Joint Resolution, SJR 27 (Padilla), urging the DOT to safeguard communities and habitat, strengthen the tank car fleet, mandate the earlier voluntary safety agreement with railroads and prioritize safety over cost effectiveness.

      Recent legislation includes AB 380 (Dickinson, Chapter 533, Statutes of 2014), which calls for increased spill-response planning for state and local agencies and requires carriers to submit commodity flow data to OES, and SB 1064 (Hill, Chapter 557, Statutes of 2014), which seeks to improve accountability and transparency regarding CPUC’s responses to federal safety recommendations.

      The FY 2014–15 state budget also allocated $10 million to the CPUC, which planned to add seven more track inspectors, and authorized the state oil spill prevention fund to be used for spills in inland areas. In addition, the budget expanded the 6.5 cent per-barrel fee to include all crude oil entering the state.

      The 10 state agencies that have some hand in rail safety and accident response have formed the Interagency Rail Safety Working Group. It issued a report last June that called for, among other things, older tank cars to be removed from service, stronger cars, improved braking, PTC and better markings on cars so that firefighters know how to proceed in an accident.

      Speaking to Richmond residents in December 2014, Gordon Schremp, senior fuels specialist for the California Energy Commission, welcomed the moves to increase safety at the federal level. All indications were that railroads were complying with new measures like lower speed limits, he said.

      “Does it mean there will be zero derailments? No, but the goal is to get there,” said Schremp.

      Local government officials face a daunting challenge when it comes to disaster response.

      The Interagency Rail Safety Working Group also found that, as of June 2014, there were no hazardous materials response teams in rural areas of Northern California and units in other areas of the state lacked the training and equipment needed to take a lead role. Forty percent of the state’s firefighters are volunteers.

      “Training is of the utmost importance,” said Deputy Chief Thomas Campbell, who oversees the Cal OES Hazardous Materials Programs. “We understand that local governments are limited in finances and that it’s difficult to get firefighters out of rural communities to train because they are volunteers.”

      Some Local Communities Oppose Expansion

      At the local level the proposed expansion of California refineries sometimes has run into heated opposition.

      After news reports revealed that Bakken crude was being transported into the City of Richmond, City Manager Bill Lindsay wrote a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in November 2014 calling for it to revoke energy company Kinder Morgan’s permit to offload the crude there. That followed a lawsuit filed by environmental groups to revoke the permit — a suit tossed out by the judge because it was filed too late.

      Elsewhere, a proposal by Valero Energy Corp. would bring 1.4 million gallons of crude daily to its Benicia refinery. The proposal has been met with letters questioning the city’s environmental and safety analysis from senders that have included the CPUC, Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and cities along the rail line, including Davis and Sacramento. The Union Pacific Railroad has responded by stressing federal pre-emption of rail traffic.

      Even as those proposals played out, a pair of derailments in Northern California underscored the importance of the debate. While neither spill involved crude oil or hazardous materials, both served as a warning of the need for California to improve its emergency response capability. Eleven cars carrying freight derailed and spilled into the Feather River Canyon near Belden on Nov. 25, 2014. Three days later, one car tumbled off the tracks near Richmond. The cars were loaded with corn in the first instance and refrigerated pork in the second.

      What’s Ahead

      The League continues to closely monitor developments in oil by rail. In September 2014 the League made recommendations to the DOT on the federal rule-making governing rail safety. The recommendations included providing more information and training to first responders, mandating speed limits and stronger tank cars, and using all available data to assess the risks and consequences of crude oil transport. Two months later, the National League of Cities passed a resolution stressing many of the same safety measures.

      League of California Cities staff conducted a series of webinars during fall 2014 to better acquaint members with the oil-by-rail issue, and its Public Safety and Transportation policy committees took up the subject in January 2015 meetings.


      Increasing Refinery Capacity

      The California Energy Commission is tracking the following projects, which would dramatically increase the oil-by-rail capacity of refineries:

      • Plains All American Pipeline LP in Bakersfield, which took its first delivery in November 2014, has a capacity of 65,000 barrels per day (bpd);
      • Alon USA Energy Inc. in Bakersfield, under construction, will be able to receive 150,000 bpd;
      • Valero Energy Corp. in Benicia, which is presently undergoing permit review, would have a 70,000 bpd capacity;
      • WesPac Energy-Pittsburg LLC in Pittsburg, undergoing permit review, could receive up 50,000 bpd by rail and 192,000 bpd through its marine terminal; and
      • Phillips 66 in Santa Maria, undergoing permit review, could accept 41,000 bpd.

      In addition, Targa Resources Corp. at the Port of Stockton is planning an expansion that would enable it to receive 65,000 bpd. And Questar Gas Corp. is planning a project that could see it offload 120,000 bpd near Desert Hot Springs, then send it through a repurposed 96-mile pipeline to Los Angeles.


      Photo credits: Ksb/Shutterstock.com; Steven Frame/Shutterstock.com.

       

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        Vallejo Times-Herald: State officials say Benicia underestimated oil train risks

        Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

        State officials say Benicia underestimated oil train risks

        Officials urge city to redo Valero refinery project safety analysis
        By Tony Burchyns, 09/25/2014

        State officials say Benicia has underestimated the risks of running oil trains through Roseville and other parts of Northern California to the Valero refinery.

        In letter to the city last week, officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Public Utilities Commission called on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing the refinery to receive two 50-car oil trains a day.

        The letter follows similar critical comments from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the cities of Davis and Sacramento and the University of California at Davis. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and San Francisco Baykeeper also have sent letters to Benicia expressing concerns about the project.

        The state officials’ letter said that total potential derailments attributable to the plan, including those outside California, should be considered in the risk study. Officials also said that the city’s draft environmental impact report paid insufficient attention to train accidents other than derailments.

        “The analyses of environmental impacts, including the risk and consequences of derailments, should not be limited to the section of track between Roseville and Benicia, and track at the refinery itself,” officials wrote. “The analyses should also cover the many miles of track, the distance of which will vary depending on entry point into the state, between the state border and Roseville.”

        Valero’s project description identifies North America, Texas and other locations as possible sources of crude, but direct routes through Southern California and other areas of the state and country are not analyzed.

        City officials have said their analysis was limited to the Union Pacific line between Benicia and Roseville because the other rail routes are unknown or haven’t been disclosed.

        The letter also criticized the city’s finding that the risk of train spills of more than 100 gallons between Rosville to Benicia would be once in 111 years. Critics have said the analysis is flawed because it relies on rail safety data that predates the nation’s crude-by-rail boom.

        The letter asserts that the city’s derailment and accident rate calculations are problematic and the legal enforceability of Valero’s commitment to use tank cars that meet that highest safety standards is unclear.

        Benicia has declined to comment thus far on the numerous letters received during the report’s public comment period that ended Sept. 15. However, the city plans to respond to the comments before the project’s next public hearing, which has yet to be set.

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