Tag Archives: California Public Utilities Commission (PUC)

Concerns of communities heard at meeting of the Cal Energy Commission in Crockett CA

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Contra Costa residents pushing for more information on crude by rail

By Karina Ioffee, Bay Area News Group,  03/27/2015 05:22:01 PM PDT

CROCKETT — With plans in the works to transport crude oil by rail through Contra Costa County cities to a Central California refinery, local residents say they want assurances that state and federal agencies are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

Less than 1 percent of crude that California refineries received in 2014 came by rail, but the negative perception of transporting oil by train has grown sharply because of highly publicized accidents. A derailment in Quebec in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed parts of a town; another in West Virginia contaminated local water sources and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez on May 6, 2013.
Tanker cars sit on railroad tracks near the Shell Refinery in Martinez on May 6, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

If the Phillips 66 plans are approved, an estimated five trains a week, each hauling 80 tank cars, could travel through Contra Costa cities, then Berkeley, Oakland and San Jose along the Amtrak Capitol Corridor, before arriving at the refinery in Santa Maria.

At a community meeting here Thursday, residents peppered a representative from the California Energy Commission about what kind of emergency plans were in place should a train derail and explode, what timelines the federal government had for new and improved tanker cars, and whether railroad companies have enough insurance in case of a catastrophic event.

Many came away unsatisfied with what they heard, saying they were terrified by the prospect of rail cars filled with Bakken crude from North Dakota, which is lighter and more combustible than most types of petroleum.

“The oil companies are getting all the benefits and the communities who live near them are taking all the risk,” said Nancy Rieser, who lives in Crockett and is a member of Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, a community organization.

Her group is pushing the railroad industry to release its risk-assessment information, required for insurance purposes, to better understand what kind of plans companies have in an event of an emergency and whether their insurance policies would cover a large incident. Railroad companies have so far declined to release the information.

“You need to have hospitals at the ready, you need to have first responders, so if you keep it a secret, it’s as if the plan didn’t exist,” Rieser said. “You can’t be coy with the communities.”

Regulations about rail safety are written and enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Public Utilities Commission focuses on enforcement in the state, employing inspectors to make sure railroads comply with the law. There is also an alphabet soup of state agencies such as the Office of Emergency Services (OES), the Office of State Fire Marshal (OSFM), California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

But to what extent the agencies are working together to prepare for crude-by-rail transports and how they’re sharing information remains unclear. Last year, an Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, put together by Gov. Jerry Brown, produced a report recommending that additional inspectors be hired to evaluate tracks, rail cars and bridges; more training for local emergency responders; and real-time shipment information to local firefighters when a train is passing through a community. According to the report, incidents statewide involving oil by rail increased from three in 2011 to 25 in 2013.

Many at Thursday’s meeting said the only way to prevent future accidents was to ban the transport of crude by rail completely, until all rail cars and tracks had been inspected.

“These trains are really scary because we live so close to them and we feel the effects deeply through emissions and air pollution,” said Aimee Durfee, a Martinez resident. Statewide, Californians use more than 40 million gallons of gasoline each day, according to the California Energy Commission.

Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said railroad companies are already shifting to new cars — outfitted with heat shields, thicker tank material and pressure-relief devices — although the process is gradual because of the sheer volume of the fleet, estimated at more than 25,000. New rulings specifying tanker car standards and timelines about phasing in updated technology are also expected this May.

“No human activity is completely risk-free,” Weinstein said, adding that the spill rate for trains transporting crude was roughly four times higher than accidents involving pipelines.

“Communities are resistant to crude by rail and they are against pipelines, but they also want to go to the pump and be able to fill up their car.”

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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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