Tag Archives: California Energy Commission

KCRA: Joint Legislative Oversight Hearing on Transport of California Crude Oil by Rail

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

Lawmakers voice concerns over oil trains in California

Jun 19, 2014

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —State lawmakers learned at a hearing Thursday that there is very little they can do to regulate the growing number of oil trains entering California, and even tracking their movements is proving difficult.

“I almost feel like our hands in California are tied,” said Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democratic state senator from Santa Barbara, during a joint hearing of several Assembly and Senate committees.

Watch report: State lawmakers voice concerns over oil trains

Paul King, deputy director of the Office of Rail Safety at the California Public Utilities Commission, testified that the recently passed state budget will allow his agency to hire seven additional rail inspectors.

However, he said public concerns about the shipments are justified.

“The risks are very high,” he said. “These things explode when they derail with any force at all.”

An official from the California Energy Commission told lawmakers the amount of crude oil imported into the state by rail has increased by more than 90 percent during the first four months of the year, compared to the same time last year.

He said oil trains are headed to facilities in McClellan Park in Sacramento County and the Bay Area city of Richmond.

He said five more terminal facilities are planned and a facility at the Port of Stockton that could receive 6,500 barrels per day was in the early stages.

“Were there to be a derailment in the Sacramento railyard, a scant distance from here, everyone in downtown Sacramento, including the State Capitol, would be threatened,” said Assembly Member Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

Lawmakers also expressed concern about the environmental impact and the potential effect on drinking water if a derailment were to happen near a major waterway or reservoir.

Jayni Hein, a U.C. Berkeley law professor testified that regulating railroads is normally the job of the federal government and that states can intervene in only limited circumstances.

Recently, the federal government ordered rail companies to begin sharing information about oil train shipments with state and local governments.

However, state officials testified the reports they have received so far are for shipments that have already arrived.

“That’s unacceptable. They need that information earlier than later.  I think the public has the right to know too,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Aguora Hills, who chaired the hearing.

Juan Acosta of BNSF Railway said his company would consider sharing shipment details with state officials but wanted assurance the information will not become public.

If it does, he said, the trains might become targets.

“That’s the danger, a terrorist or somebody who’s misguided or who has some bad intention.  I think that’s the concern we have,” Acosta told KCRA 3.

Jan Rein of Midtown Sacramento testified at the hearing.

She later told KCRA 3 she lives a few blocks from the tracks and used to love to hear the trains rumble by, but not anymore.

“I don’t want to be incinerated in my own home,” she said.

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    Vallejo Times-Herald: Joint Legislative Oversight Hearing on Transport of California Crude Oil by Rail

    Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
    [Editor: Note near the end of this story, “Patterson, who joined Henke on a four-person panel addressing on-the-ground risks, did not address the merits of Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail project in Benicia.”  Patterson read a prepared statement by her personal attorney affirming her right to offer testimony, and was commended later in the hearing by Senator Wolk.  Mayor Patterson’s testimony can be viewed here – scroll ahead to minute 1:22:20 and 1:43:45.  – RS]

    Benicia Mayor Patterson testifies at hearing about oil-by-rail risks

    Lawmakers looking to address safety concern
    By Tony Burchyns, 06/19/2014

    As state lawmakers look to address the risks from a surge in oil train traffic, Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson joined others Thursday in testifying at a legislative oversight hearing in Sacramento about the need for more actions to prevent and respond to accidents that could threaten public safety.

    In her remarks, Patterson asked whether state and local agencies are prepared to deal with deadly tanker rail accidents like last year’s explosive derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people.

    “If you are in an industrial area or a cultural center or a school the actual first-responders are those people who are affected,” Patterson said. “And that’s (the) ultimate primary concern that I have that we don’t put people at risk and that we don’t have the children or the people going to a concert or workers or residents exposed to that kind of threat.”

    Driven by increased North American oil production, California and the nation are experiencing a surge in oil-by-rail traffic.

    In California, imports grew from only 70 tanker carloads in 2009 to nearly 9,5000 carloads last year, and could increase up to 230,000 carloads – a quarter of all the crude oil refined in the state – in 2016, according to the California Energy Commission.

    About 3.8 million Californians who live along train routes face increased safety risks posed by new unloading facilities planned or under construction, according to a study by the Natural Resource Defense Council.

    Thursday’s hearing provided an opportunity for regulators, community members and first-responders to look at what the risks and needs are in terms of safety and response.

    Issues raised included uncertainty over the timing and comprehensiveness of new federal rail tank car standards and operational rules, a need to more fully assess the risks from increased oil train traffic in California and a lack of timely and complete information about hazardous cargo before it passes through local communities.

    The need for more training and resources for first-responders was also identified.

    “Your immediate concern is the incident that takes place today, tomorrow and next week,” said Kurt Henke, chief of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

    Patterson, who joined Henke on a four-person panel addressing on-the-ground risks, did not address the merits of Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail project in Benicia. If approved, the project would allow Valero to bring in up to 100 tanker carloads of crude per day to its Benicia refinery.

    The project’s draft environmental impact report was released Tuesday.

    The proposed rail route would pass through rural and urban areas, including parts of Sacramento and Davis.

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      Sen. Lois Wolk calls for stronger safety inspection regulations

      Repost from The Vacaville Reporter
      [Editor: See also coverage in The Daily Democrat, The Davis Vanguard.  – RS]

      Wolk urges more regulation on rail crude oil shipments to Solano refinery

      By Reporter Staff  |  06/09/2014

      The battle over local crude oil rail shipments moved to Sacramento late last week as Senator Lois Wolk, D-Solano, called on legislators Friday to support a proposal to strengthen the state’s railroad safety inspection force.

      Wolk is seeking the inspection upgrade in light of the growing volume of crude oil shipments through heavily populated areas of California and numerous crude oil rail accidents in recent years.

      In a letter sent in advance of today’s scheduled release of a draft Environmental Impact Report on a proposal to transport crude oil through the heart of the Capitol Corridor to the Valero Refining Company in the city of Benicia, Wolk laments a lack of increased regulatory oversight for such shipments. Rail shipments of crude oil in California like those proposed by Valero are slated to increase 25-fold in the next few years, according to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and California Energy Commission.

      “However, there has not been a corresponding increase in regulatory oversight capacity to address this significant increase in risk to California’s citizens,” Wolk wrote in the letter to members of the Legislature’s Budget Conference Committee, scheduled to hear Governor Edmund G. Brown’s budget proposal to add seven inspectors to the PUC’s railroad safety staff. “Additional oversight is needed to provide some assurance that these shipments are made safely and in compliance with federal and state regulations, as well as other known safety practices.”

      Several destructive crude oil rail accidents have taken place in the U.S. and Canada in recent years, including the July 2013 derailment of 72 tanker cars loaded with 2 million gallons of flammable crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, that resulted in 47 deaths, more than $1 billion in damages, and 1.5 million gallons of spilled crude oil, Wolk noted.

      Valero’s proposal has elicited concern from public and elected officials regarding the safety risks of transporting crude oil through Benicia and other densely populated areas of Northern California. Other concerns include the potential for increased commuter traffic.

      “An event such as Lac Mégantic could have catastrophic effects if it occurred in any populated area of California,” Wolk said.

      The Valero proposal seeks to add three rail tracks and an off-loading track on Valero’s property to allow crude oil to be transported into the refinery. Currently, crude oil is delivered into Valero Benicia through pipeline and ships.

      During a meeting in Benicia earlier this spring, company officials said that the railroad addition would make the refinery more competitive by allowing it to process more discounted North American crude oil. They insisted that the railroad traffic up to 100 tank cars per day would not affect the region’s air quality, and safety standards would be met.

      “It would not increase crude delivery, just make it more flexible,” John Hill, vice president and general manager of the refinery, told citizens at the meeting.

      Another point of contention was the type of crude oil that would be transported into Benicia by rail.

      An opposition group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, said the project will allow the delivery of the highly flammable Bakken crude from North Dakota. Concerns also have been raised about the possible use of Canadian tar sands oil, regarded as more polluting than other crudes.

      However, officials said there will be no change in the delivered type of crude. They said the refinery can, and will be able to, handle any blend of crude oil as long as it meets density and sulfur requirements for its facility. They did not disqualify Bakken crude as a possible part of a blend.

      Times-Herald, Vallejo staff contributed to this report.

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