Tag Archives: Diane Bailey NRDC

Oil trains to pass through Stockton

Repost from The Record, Stockton, CA
[Editor: Significant quote: “‘These aren’t rail cars filled with rubber duckies. They’re filled with dangerous crude oil,’ said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.”  – RS]

Crude oil transport danger for Stockton?

Deadly 2013 explosion in Quebec among incidents fueling concerns
By Alex Breitler, Record Staff Writer, August 03, 2014
Top Photo
A train passes through Stockton carrying crude oil and other flammable liquids Friday morning. | CRAIG SANDERS/The Record

It’s no misprint: Explosive crude oil shipments into California last year increased 506 percent.

And a series of high-profile derailments and fiery explosions across North America has fueled fears that those seemingly ubiquitous tanker cars could someday spell disaster here, too.

The surge has really just begun. In a few years the quantity of oil rolling down our railways will be “huge,” said Michael Cockrell, director of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services.

“You’re looking at some really major transportation of oil, and it’s everywhere,” Cockrell said. “It’s going to be all up and down the state.”

The spike is tied to increased domestic drilling in North Dakota, where the Bakken shale formation produces especially valuable and especially volatile crude oil. Trains provide a fast and flexible way to transport that oil to West Coast refineries.

Stockton’s a bit off the beaten path for at least some of these shipments, which often enter the state via Donner Pass or the Feather River Canyon, traveling through Sacramento on the way to Bay Area refineries.

Still, with Stockton serviced by two major railroad companies and with tracks stretching through urban areas to the north, west and south, advocacy groups argue there is a risk here.

“These aren’t rail cars filled with rubber duckies. They’re filled with dangerous crude oil,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.

It’s impossible to say how many oil trains already roll through town. Railroads don’t divulge that information, citing security concerns. Only recently did they begin notifying local emergency response officials about incoming shipments.

But there are indications Stockton may have a part to play in the oil transportation boom.

Documents describing a controversial proposed terminal in Pittsburg show that trains carrying oil would come from the east, from Stockton. Plans call for up to one train per day, five days a week to arrive at the Pittsburg terminal. From there, the oil would be shipped through pipelines to refineries.

Plans are also in the works for a $320 million terminal at the Port of Stockton. Commissioners in 2012 approved a lease for the petroleum terminal and storage facility on 33 acres near Washington Street and Navy Drive, said Port Director Richard Aschieris.

It hasn’t been built yet. But Reuters reported last month that trains would deliver 70,000 barrels of oil per day to the port’s Targa Resources Partners terminal. The Houston-based company would then load the oil onto ships to be delivered to refineries.

Aschieris said that in addition to petroleum, Stockton’s terminal will also handle ethanol, natural gas, propane and other materials. He said it will generate $1.2 million a year in taxes for the city and county combined, along with 20 full-time, high-paying jobs.

Aschieris said the project makes sense from a safety perspective.

“No matter what they’re moving, if they move it onto a barge or ship, I would contend that is safer than putting it on trucks and taking it right in through the Bay Area,” he said.

As for the trains that would deliver the oil, Stockton’s flat terrain decreases the odds of a derailment, said Aschieris, who added that private railroads have made “huge investments” in improving local tracks.

The debate over the transportation of crude oil spreads far beyond Stockton and California.

In Quebec, 63 tanks cars of crude oil exploded in July 2013, killing 47 people. Eight other major accidents have been reported in the past two years.

Tellingly, train accidents involving crude oil have increased even while the overall number of train accidents and hazardous material spills has declined.

In late July, acknowledging that the growing reliance on trains “poses a significant risk to life, property and the environment,” the federal government announced plans to phase out older tank cars within two years. They also took action to improve notifications about oil shipments, to reduce the speeds at which oil trains travel through towns, and to encourage railroads to choose the safest routes.

Most crude oil is still transported by marine vessels. But the quantity sent by train has skyrocketed from 1 million barrels in 2012 to 6.3 million barrels last year, and experts say the number could climb as high as 150 million barrels by 2016, according to a report by a working group convened by Gov. Jerry Brown.

For Cockrell, with county Emergency Services, the oil shipments are yet another potential disaster to worry about.

Since railroads are regulated by the federal government, he said he’s concerned that local governments may have difficulty seeking assistance responding to a derailment, and that it might be difficult to seek reimbursement from the private railroads.

Many people could be affected by a large spill in an urban area, Cockrell said.

One advocacy group, San Francisco-based ForestEthics, recently issued “blast zone” maps showing the half-mile evacuation zones overlaid on rail routes that could conceivably carry shipments of crude oil. And the Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that almost 4 million Californians could be at risk.

Opposition has grown to the proposed new oil terminal in Pittsburg. Other projects are in the works in Bakersfield, Benicia, Santa Maria and Wilmington (Los Angeles).

Mike Parissi, with San Joaquin County’s Environmental Health Department, said the county’s multi-agency hazardous materials team trains for potential railroad disasters – though not specifically for crude oil spills.

“The big thing with the crude oil is it’s very flammable,” he said. “But we can deal with any kind of flammable liquid incident that might come.”

Back at the port, Aschieris said crews there are used to handling hazardous materials. So are the railroads, said a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, whose tracks pass through Stockton.

“We’ve actually handled hazardous material for many, many years, and we’ve done so safely,” said spokeswoman Lena Kent. “Unfortunately there have been a few high-profile incidents.”

She would not say how much crude oil her company sends through Stockton. She did say two crude oil trains per month enter the state, a tiny fraction of the 1,600 all-purpose trains that Burlington Northern operates throughout the country on any given day.

Union Pacific did not respond to a request for information about its shipments.

Bailey, the scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the trains should be rerouted, adding that they have a “stranglehold” on the cities through which they pass.

“I haven’t really seen anyone entertain this conversation,” she said. “Does it make sense to bring mass quantities of really dangerous crude oil through people’s cities, so close to their homes?”

 

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    KQED: Routes revealed for BNSF trains hauling volatile crude oil in California

    Repost from KQED Science
    [Editor: Of great interest for many in California, but lacking any comment on the Union Pacific rail line that transports freight to Benicia and over the Benicia Bridge to Contra Costa County and the East Bay.  Latest on the Union Pacific line as of 6/27/14: The Riverside Press Enterprise reports that “Union Pacific submitted a letter May 29 to the state office, saying the company was “compiling and reviewing the data.”  – RS]

    Revealed: Routes for Trains Hauling Volatile Crude Oil in California

    Molly Samuel, KQED Science | June 25, 2014
    A BNSF train carrying crude oil passes through downtown Sacramento. (Courtesy of Jake Miille)
    A BNSF train carrying crude oil passes through downtown Sacramento. (Jake Miille)

    State officials have released routing information for trains carrying a volatile grade of crude oil through California.

    The newly released information reveals that tank cars loaded with oil from the Bakken formation, a volatile crude that has a history of exploding, rumble through downtown Sacramento and through Stockton about once a week. Before they get there, they travel along the Feather River, a major tributary of the Sacramento and a key source of drinking water. They pass through rural Northern California counties — Modoc, Lassen, Placer, Plumas, Yuba and Butte — before reaching their destination in Contra Costa County.

    This is the first time that information about the trains’ routing in California and their frequency has been made public. About once a week, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train enters the state from Oregon, headed for the Kinder Morgan rail yard in Richmond. Each train is carrying a million gallons or more of Bakken crude.

    “The purpose of the information is really to give first responders better awareness of what’s coming through their counties,” says Kelly Huston, a deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

    The notifications (shown below) provided by BNSF to the state list the counties through which the trains pass, and the average number of trains per week. They’re retrospective, reporting what’s already happened, rather than looking ahead to what trains could be coming.

    “Right now the information, because it’s not very specific, is being used as an awareness tool,” said Huston.

    An emergency order issued by the federal Department of Transportation requires railroads to notify emergency responders about large shipments of Bakken crude. BNSF had asked the OES to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which state officials refused to do. After keeping the notifications secret from the public for a few weeks, the state decided to release them on Wednesday, following the lead of other states that had already done so.

    “We think it is very important that those responsible for security and emergency planning have such information to ensure that proper planning and training are in place for public safety,” Roxanne Butler, a spokeswoman for BNSF, wrote in an email. “But we also continue to urge discretion in the wider distribution of specific details.”

    The DOT issued the order after a series of fiery derailments involving Bakken crude in Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia, among other states. Last July, a train carrying oil from the Bakken exploded in a town in Quebec, killing 47 people.

    MAP: State officials have confirmed that crude is traveling by rail in the counties shaded gray on the map, below. Also shown are rail lines owned by California’s two major railroads, BNSF and UP, which share some of the lines. Click on the rail lines or counties to see identifying information. Not all lines shown in the shaded areas carry Bakken crude. (Map produced by Lisa Pickoff-White)

    California Crude-by-Rail Shipments by KQED News

    “We want the rail companies to do everything they can to ensure public safety,” said Diane Bailey of the Natural Resources Defense Council. She says there are three things that would help assuage her concerns: safer rail cars, slower speed limits, and making sure the trains are always staffed.

    Butler said the railroads themselves have also pushed to phase out the DOT-111 railcars that have been involved in the accidents. “The rail industry also implemented a number of additional safety operating practices several months ago to reduce the risk of moving crude by rail,” she wrote, “including lower speed limits and had addressed the train securement issue in August of 2013 as part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s emergency order.”

    California lawmakers have introduced bills that would provide more money for oil spill response, and require more information from railroads about hazardous materials. The recently-passed California budget includes a fee on oil entering California by rail, which would help fund the state’s Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response. It also provides more money to the California Public Utilities Commission for rail safety inspectors.

    Transporting crude oil by rail is a burgeoning business, thanks to an oil boom in North Dakota. In 2013, more than 6 million barrels of crude oil came into California by rail. In 2008, there were none.

    California Crude-by-Rail Weekly Tracking

    Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly included Davis in the list of cities the trains pass through.

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