Tag Archives: Fire Chief Jim Appleton

STEVE YOUNG: What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

Repost from the Benicia Herald

What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

By Steve Young, June 7, 2016
Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)
Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for Benicia City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)

On Friday, June 3, a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the town of Mosier, Ore. Fourteen rail cars came off the tracks, and four exploded over a 5 hour period.

There are several things that the City Council needs to keep in mind whenever they re-open discussion of the appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to reject the Valero Crude-by-Rail project. Many of the assurances given to the public about the safety of transporting crude by rail have been called into question by this derailment.

    1. The train cars that derailed and exploded are the upgraded CPC-1232 version promised to be used by Valero for this project.
    2. The train derailed at a relatively slow speed as it passed through the small town of Mosier. Union Pacific trains carrying Bakken to Valero will travel at speeds up to 50 mph in most of Solano County.
    3. The portion of track on which the train derailed had been inspected by Union Pacific three days before the derailment.
    4. A Union Pacific spokesman, while apologizing for the derailment and fire, would not answer a reporter’s question as to whether the Bakken oil had been stabilized with the removal of volatile gases prior to shipment.
      At the Planning Commission hearing, I tried repeatedly without success to get an answer from both UP and Valero as to whether they intended to de-gassify the Bakken oil prior to transport.
    5. A major interstate, Interstate 84, was closed for 10 hours in both directions while first responders used river water to try and cool the tank cars to a point where foam could be used to try and put out the fire. It took more than 12 hours to stabilize the scene.
    6. An oil sheen is in the river, despite the deployment of containment booms.

And finally, Oregon Public Broadcasting on June 4 had an exchange with the Fire Chief of Mosier, about how this experience changed his opinion about the safety of transporting crude by rail:

“Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

“He’s changed his mind.

“After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

“’I hope that this becomes the death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,’ he said. ’I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.’”

When the City Council took up the appeal of the Planning Commission decision in April, Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Campbell stated their opposition to the project, while the other three councilmembers (Hughes, Schwartzman and Strawbridge) approved Valero’s request to delay a decision on this project until at least Sept. 20. There is still time for the citizens of Benicia to tell their elected officials how they feel about this project. I urge them to do so.

Steve Young, a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, is running for the Benicia City Council in November.

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    Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

    Repost from KATU.COM

    Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier

    By Donna Gordon Blankinship, Associateed Press, June 5, 2016
    Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo).png
    Mosier tracks being replaced on Sunday, June 5 (KATU News photo)

    MOSIER, Ore. — Officials now say a track failure was likely the cause of the oil train derailment and explosion in the Columbia River Gorge Friday.

    A failure of the fastener between the railroad tie and the line was likely the problem, but more investigation will be required before railroad officials know for sure, Raquel Espinoza with Union Pacific said Sunday.

    Union Pacific inspects the tracks that run through Mosier twice a week, and the most recent inspection took place on May 31, Espinoza said. Union Pacific had completed a more detailed and technical inspection of this section of track at the end of April and found no problems.

    The railroad is focused on removing the crude oil from the damaged cars as safely and quickly as possible, Espinoza said. Its priority is to bring people home safe to Mosier, where 16 of 96 tank cars train derailed Friday and started a fire in four of the cars.

    “We’re doing everything we can to get you back home, but we’re not going to risk your safety,” Espinoza said at a news conference. When asked if she knew how much the cleanup was going to cost the company, Espinoza said, “I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.”

    “Our priority here is bringing people home. Nothing else matters,” she added. Repairs to a water treatment system, which runs under the tracks, would need to be completed before people could return to their homes, the railroad said.

    About a hundred people – a quarter of the town’s population – have been evacuated from their homes since Friday in an area about a quarter mile around the train.

    Mosier’s mayor and fire chief said Sunday the derailment and fire in their town could have been a lot worse.

    Fire Chief Jim Appleton says the usual amount of wind in Mosier – about 25 mph – could have turned this incident into a major disaster, destroying the town and sending flames across state lines.

    “My attention was focused on the incident that didn’t happen,” Appleton said. “It probably would have burned its way close to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s how big it would have been.”

    Mayor Arlene Burns said the people of Mosier were “incredibly lucky.”

    “I count myself lucky that we dodged a bullet,” Burns said, after noting that her own child was at school within a few blocks of the derailment. “We hope that this is a wake-up call.”

    The fire and derailment damaged essential city services in the small Oregon town, authorities said Sunday.

    The Mosier waste water treatment plant and sewer system were not operational Sunday. Residents were told not to flush their toilets and advised to boil any water before they drank it or cooked with it. Mosier exhausted its water reserves fighting the fire and cooling the trains. Burns said the aquifers were completely depleted.

    Officials have been conducting continuous water and air monitoring since plumes of black smoke filled the sky near the scenic Columbia River Gorge.

    “Today’s priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible,” incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.

    Authorities were working to clean up an oil sheen in the Columbia River near the scene of the derailment, while the oil inside the remaining tank cars was being moved to trucks.

    No injuries have been reported. But Oregon health officials are asking people with questions or concerns to call a hotline to talk to a health expert at 888-623-3120.

    Including Friday’s incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of accident records from the two countries. The worst was a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Damage from that accident has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.

    Evacuated residents needing assistance should contact the Union Pacific Claim Center located across from the Mosier Market or call the claim center at 877-877-2567, option 6.

    A health hotline has been set up at 888-623-3120. A boil water order remains in effect for the Mosier community.

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      Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

      Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting, OPB

      Mosier Fire Chief Calls Shipping Bakken Crude Oil By Rail ‘Insane’

      By Amelia Templeton, June 4, 2016 4:39 p.m. | Updated: June 5, 2016 9:04 a.m.
      Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday.
      Jim Appleton, Mosier fire chief, speaks Saturday, June 4, 2016, following the derailment of an oil train in his town near Hood River Friday. Amelia Templeton/OPB

      Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

      He’s changed his mind.

      After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

      “I hope that this becomes death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,” he said. “I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.”

      Federal regulators say oil from the Bakken region is more flammable and more dangerous, than other types of crude. It’s been involved in a string of rail disasters, including a tragedy that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

      OPB Groups join forcesShipments through the Columbia River Gorge have dramatically increased in recent years and oil companies have proposed building the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country 70 miles downstream from Mosier, at the the Port of Vancouver.

      Emergency responders in communities along rail lines in the Northwest have struggled to prepare for a possible disaster. Much of the focus has been on stockpiling critical equipment needed to fight oil spills and fires, including a special type of fire suppression foam.

      But Appleton said that foam was of relatively little use for the first 10 hours after the spill in Mosier. It couldn’t be directly applied to the main rail car that was on fire.

      “The rationale that was explained to me by the Union Pacific fire personnel is that the metal is too hot, and the foam will land on the white-hot metal and evaporate without any suppression effect,” he said. “That was kind of an eye-opener for me.”

      Appleton said crews spent 8 to 10 hours cooling down the adjacent rail cars with water before the final burning car was cool enough to be extinguished using the firefighting foam. Fire tending trucks drew water from the Columbia River using a nearby orchard supply line, and applied roughly 1,500 gallons of water per minute to the white-hot rail cars.

      Other first responders described a chaotic scene, and difficulty getting to the site of the accident due to a massive snarl of traffic on Interstate 84.

      “It looked like the apocalypse,” said Elizabeth Sanchey, the Yakima Nation’s environmental manager and the head of its hazmat crew. “You get into town, and there is just exhausted firefighters everywhere you look. It was quite scary.”

      Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior.
      Emergency crews on Saturday, June 4, 2016, found an oil sheen on the bank of the Columbia River near the site of an oil train derailment and spill in Mosier, Ore., the day prior. Amelia Templeton/OPB

      No lives were lost in the fire, and reports so far of property damage have been minimal, but an oil slick has appeared in the Columbia River, and officials said they haven’t determined for sure how oil is reaching the water. Yellow oil containment booms were stretched across the river to contain the oil.

      Sanchey and several other Yakama Nation first responders were monitoring the containment effort through binoculars from a nearby overpass.

      “It’s unknown how much oil is in the river, but it is in containment now, and we believe it to be relatively safe,” she said. “We currently have a sockeye run that is just starting, and lamprey live in the sediment, so that’s definitely a concern. We have endangered species at risk.”

      Jim Appleton said Friday was a horrible day for his town, and he feels like he narrowly avoided a catastrophe.

      “If the same derailment had happened just 24 hours earlier, there would have been 35 mph gusts blowing the length of the train,” he said. “The fire very easily could have spread to some or all of the 96 cars behind, because they were in the line of the prevailing wind. That would have been the catastrophe.”

      Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend.
      Crews subdued the fire from the oil train derailment in Mosier, Ore., by the morning of Saturday, June 4, 2016. Cleanup on the oil spill and charred rail cars continued into the weekend. Emily Schwing/OPB

      In a press conference Saturday, the Union Pacific Railroad apologized for the incident.

      “We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest Region,” said spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza.

      Espinoza said the railroad company will pay for the cost of fighting the fire. She said it has to wait for the area to cool down before it can extract the cars that remain and remove them by flatbed truck.

      The company said crude oil represents less than 1 percent of its cargo, and said it has trained more than 2,300 emergency responders across Oregon since 2010.

      Union Pacific set up information and health hotlines for Mosier residents. The information hotline number is 1-877-877-2567. The health hotline number is 1-888-633-3120.

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