Tag Archives: Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

Region north of Sacramento sees 200-300 tank cars carrying crude oil on a given day

Repost from The Appeal-Democrat (Sutter & Yuba counties in California)

Tracking trouble: Recent accidents highlight the dangers of transporting flammables on trains – including crude oil through Marysville

June 29, 2014, by David Bitton

It might be scarier to know how much of anything is being hauled through the Yuba-Sutter region via railroad. But it might be for the best to know exactly how much crude oil is going through; and it might help to put it into perspective.

Crude oil has been on the minds of communities with rails running through them since the booming of oil exploration and drilling in North Dakota. There have been a few high-profile accidents involving trains pulling tankers full of the crude oil.

It is now public record that Burlington Northern Santa Fe tank cars carrying North Dakota Bakken crude oil pass through Marysville about once a week. The information was released this past week from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Railroad companies sought to to restrict such information to just emergency responders, citing security concerns, but the state, after some time, went ahead and released the information.

The transporting of crude oil from the Bakken Fields in North Dakota has come under greater scrutiny in the past year, with fears over the potential problems with the crude oil that is more volatile and flammable than oil from other regions.

There have been fiery derailments in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama and Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, all involving Bakken crude oil.

The likelihood of a train derailment in Yuba-Sutter isn’t any greater or different than much of the rest of the country, area emergency responders agreed. But that doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen — they do. And due to those accidents, state and federal agencies are scrambling to tighten regulations.

Much of the concern comes from the ever-increasing quantity of crude oil entering the state by rail.

Crude oil heading to California refineries via rail has spiked in recent years from 498,000 barrels in 2010 to 6.3 million barrels in 2013, according to the California Energy Commission (a barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil).

And by 2016, as much as 150 million barrels of crude oil, or 25 percent of total imports, could be coming into the state on rail, according to the California Energy Commission.

Less than 1 percent

Despite the increases, Aaron Hunt, director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific, said crude oil entering California currently accounts for less than 1 percent of its business.

“Though we ship more grain, cement and timber than crude oil, Union Pacific has safely moved crude oil on behalf of our customers for decades,” Hunt said. “Seeking energy independence, U.S. companies have enthusiastically developed crude oil resources and rail has played a role in getting those resources to the right markets.”

Both Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific move commodities through Yuba-Sutter ranging from fruits and vegetables to sulfuric acid, anhydrous ammonia, chlorine and crude oil.

U.P. does not currently move crude oil in California originating from the Bakken region, Hunt said. But the rail company does move crude from other areas through this region.

The quantity is hard to pin down as Union Pacific isn’t releasing figures, but Bill Fuller, chairman of the Region 3 local emergency planning commission, which includes 13 Northern California counties and falls under the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, was told by the Union Pacific that as many as 200-300 tank cars carrying crude oil could be moving through Yuba-Sutter on a given day.

Well-traveled lines

Lt. Aaron Easton, deputy chief of the Marysville Police Department, said the two Union Pacific rail lines that pass through Marysville are well traveled.

“Amtrak’s passenger lines come through twice each day in the pre-dawn hours,” Easton said. “The cargo lines pass numerous times at all hours of the day and night,” he said. “Cargo includes large volumes of fuels, chemicals, and a variety of other potentially hazardous types of cargo.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation ordered the railroad carriers to notify the State Emergency Response Commission when a single train is transporting more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil into their state.

Railroad companies including Union Pacific support more stringent standards for tank cars, which are used to transport flammable liquids, including crude oil.

Tank cars are owned or leased by the companies shipping products, not by the railroad companies.

The Association of America of Railroads has standards for tank cars that currently exceed the federal requirements and have been pressing the Department of Transportation to upgrade.

Existing tank cars would need to be retrofitted or phased out, Hunt said.

“The new standard requires a thicker, more puncture-resistant shell, jacket, and thermal protection,” Hunt said. “It also requires extra-protective head shields at both ends of the tank car and additional protection for top fittings.”

Y-S ready in case of emergency

The stories are scary and run the gamut.

In April, a fire erupted after more than a dozen tanker cars carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va. No one was injured.

But last July, 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, were killed when a train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and erupted in flames that destroyed part of the downtown area.

Though a derailment and fire of that magnitude isn’t likely in Yuba-Sutter, emergency procedures are in place in case of a train derailment.

The Yuba-Sutter Hazmat Response Team, which was formed in 2012, is made up of six fire agencies — Marysville, Linda, Olivehurst, Wheatland, Yuba City and Sutter County.

Many of its members are hazardous materials technicians or specialists and have received training on rail car emergencies including leaks, spills and derailments.

“The concept was to pool the resources of local hazardous materials response teams for better protection of Yuba and Sutter Counties,” said Sutter County Fire Chief Dan Yager. “A large-scale incident involving any release of known or unknown substances would trigger the activation of this team.”

The six agencies agreed that their immediate course of action would be to determine the scope of the incident, call for mutual aid and help those in need.

“Our mission is to protect life, the environment and property, in that order,” Yager said.

If a large-scale evacuation is necessary, Yuba County Undersheriff Jerry Read said his department and the California Highway Patrol have worked together to create routes based on the scenario.

A unified command structure would be established with fire, law enforcement, county office of emergency services and railroad representatives working together, said Linda Fire Chief Richard Webb.

“Continued training and planning are the mechanisms we will continue to use in an effort to mitigate the risks associated with a derailment,” Webb said. “The projection is for Bakken crude oil shipments by rail to spike up dramatically over the next several years, which would increase the risk of a derailment possibilities.”

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CAL Energy Commission workshop: ‘wake up call’ on crude by rail

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor: Significant quote for Benicia and others along the Union Pacific rail line: “Union Pacific Railroad Spokeswoman Liisa Lawson Stark said the company is not transporting any Bakken crude into the state, but it is bringing in other types of oil.”  – RS]

California trying to catch up to dangers of crude oil shipped on railroads

By Doug Oakley, Oakland Tribune, 06/25/2014

BERKELEY — California agencies have very little authority to regulate a massive increase in crude oil shipments by rail, and only now are they realizing the magnitude of the potentially explosive situation, according to state officials speaking Wednesday at a workshop sponsored by the California Energy Commission.

“It’s a wake up call when you look at the projections,” said commission Chair Robert Weisenmiller. “We have to plan for the worst case.”

Only in the last month, thanks to an order by the U.S. Department of Transportation, have railroads begun to disclose to the state Office of Emergency Services shipments of 1million gallons or more of highly flammable Bakken crude oil. Before that happened May 7, nobody knew anything about the shipments or where they were going, Weisenmiller said.

The Valero Refinery is seen in Benicia, Calif. on Monday, May 6, 2013. The Bay Area’s five refineries have moved toward acquiring controversial
The Valero Refinery is seen in Benicia, Calif. on Monday, May 6, 2013. The Bay Area’s five refineries have moved toward acquiring controversial Canadian tar sands crude through rail delivery. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Crude oil rail shipments have increased 506 percent in 2013 to 6.3 million barrels, according to a report by the state Interagency Rail Safety Working Group released June 10. That number could increase to 150 million barrels of oil in 2016, it said. Petroleum spills on railroads in California increased from 98 in 2010 to 182 in 2013, according to the Office of Emergency Services.

In California, crude goes by rail to the cities of Richmond, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Carson, Long Beach and Vernon, according to the energy commission.

The only thing state and local governments can do to try and prevent a catastrophic disaster is to enforce federal rules and prepare local first responders, officials said. The regulatory effort falls on the California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey.

“I’m not enthusiastic about having tens of thousands of tank cars running around California because accidents are inevitable,” Peevey said at the workshop. “There’s been a huge increase in volume and we have to step up our awareness and activities, in cooperation with the federal government, but the feds have the ultimate responsibility.”

The commission recently added seven rail safety inspectors who look at rail cars, railroad lines, bridges and shipping requirements, bringing the total to 59 inspectors statewide, which Peevey said was adequate for this year.

Peevey dismissed criticism that the PUC has been too easy on industry it is supposed to regulate, and assured the public it is up to the task.

“We’ve been pretty darn tough,” he said.

Weisenmiller said the state first needs to identify the areas most at risk for crashes and make sure the tracks are maintained. He acknowledged there is no way to prevent shipments from coming into the state, but the state can “get its act together and reach out to communities near rail lines and provide first responders with information and technical expertise,” so they can respond to an accident.

As the state tries to catch up and wrap its collective mind around the increased shipments, oil companies are attempting to add projects that would bring in more oil by rail.

Valero Refining Co. is planning on 100 cars per day to its Benicia facility by the first quarter of 2015; West Pac Energy is planning 70 cars per day to a facility in Pittsburg; Phillips 66 is planning a crude-by-rail project in Santa Maria that could bring shipments through the Bay Area; Alon USA is planning 200 cars a day in Bakersfield and Plains All American is planning for 200 cars a day in Bakersfield, according to the Oil by Rail Safety in California report.

Union Pacific Railroad Spokeswoman Liisa Lawson Stark said the company is not transporting any Bakken crude into the state, but it is bringing in other types of oil.

But Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is bringing in nine full train loads of Bakken per month into California, said spokeswoman LaDonna DiCamillo. She did not know how many tank cars each train has or what the actual volume is.

Lawson Stark said that even though railroads are now required to report shipments of the highly flammable Bakken crude oil to the Office of Emergency Services, the information most likely will not be available to the public. A spokesman for the office did not immediately return phone calls.

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Benicia Congressman Mike Thompson has long record of concern over hazmat rail safety

[Editor: In an exclusive interview, the Benicia Herald details the historical background on Thompson’s response to the catastrophic derailment and spill in Dunsmuir, CA in 1991.  Note that Thompson is reported to have met with Valero and other area refinery and train safety officials.  He has proposed legislation that would involve federal intelligence oversight to guard against security threats on hazmat tank cars.  – RS]

Repost from The Benicia Herald

Congressman on Crude-by-Rail plan: ‘Make sure it’s done safely’

May 25, 2014 by Donna Beth Weilenman
MIKE THOMPSON. watchsonomacounty.comMIKE THOMPSON – watchsonomacounty.com

When it comes to looking at the dangers posed by transport of hazardous materials, “it’s not just Benicia,” U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson said Friday in an exclusive interview with The Herald.

And it’s not just since the opening of the Bakken oil fields made a light, sweet and more combustible crude oil available domestically, particularly by rail delivery.

Nor has Thompson been following these developments only since the the deadly train explosion last year that killed 47 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, or the April 30 derailment in Lynchburg, Va., that poured 30,000 gallons of crude into the James River.

His interest was sparked nearly a quarter century ago, and it’s why he said the proposed Valero Crude By Rail project “must be done right.”

In 1991, the small California resort town of Dunsmuir experienced its own toxic spill when a Southern Pacific train derailed nearby, spilling 19,000 gallons of a soil fumigant that killed more than a million fish and millions of other animals, from crayfish and amphibians to insects and mollusks.

Hundreds of thousands of trees were killed as well, and the chemical metam sodium left a 41-mile plume from the spill site to where the river enters Shasta Lake.

The disaster still ranks as California’s largest hazardous chemical spill. Many species still haven’t recovered from the spill, though fish populations have returned to normal.

At the time of the spill, Thompson was a state senator. Dunsmuir, in Siskiyou County, was in his district.

As a result of the devastating spill, he drafted legislation, Senate Bill 48, that became Chapter 766 of California’s Statutes of 1991. The bill founded the Railroad Accident Prevention and Immediate Deployment (RAPID) Force, which cooperates with existing agencies to respond to large-scale releases of toxic materials after surface transportation accidents.

The statute also ordered the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to develop a statewide plan in cooperation with the state fire marshal, businesses that would be impacted by the requirement and agencies in the RAPID Force. For a time, it also raised money through fees to supply responders with necessary equipment to tackle such emergencies.

Under the statute, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, CalFire, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services made interagency agreements so resources could be managed efficiently in preparing for or acting during an emergency.

That RAPID plan has multiple policies and directions to any agency or business in the event of a railroad accident, so the damage to public health and the environment is minimized.

Hazardous materials (hazmat) teams were formed, and regional training centers were established to provide certificate-level education, specifically in hazmat railcar safety and other specialist training to emergency responders.

“My legislation set the standard for railroad safety,” said Thompson, Benicia’s representative in the House. “It included grant money so safety officials would have the equipment for spill cleanup.”

More than a year ago, Valero Benicia Refinery applied to extend Union Pacific rail lines on its property so crude could be brought in by rail. This isn’t additional oil; it would replace some of the oil that currently is brought in by tanker ships or other methods.

A draft Environmental Impact Report on the project is due to be released June 10.

But trains already bring hazardous materials through other areas of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thompson said he has met not only with officials from Valero, but other area refineries about rail delivery of oil.

“They’re here,” he said about the refineries. “Their employees live in the community.”

That doesn’t mean the safety factors aren’t being reviewed, he said. One is the design of the oil containers that are drawn by locomotives.

Though BNSF Railway has announced it’s seeking contractors to provide tanker cars that exceed federal safety standards, that’s an unusual step for a railroad company to take because of how contracting with a railroad works.

Normally railroads don’t own their own cars, according to rail officials for both BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad: Customers either lease or own them, then contract railroad lines to move their products.

Thompson said he has had conversations about construction of those cars, with one person telling him that if rail cars are carrying products that can harm people or the environment, they should be strong enough to fall off a cliff and not break.

It isn’t practical to armor a car or make its walls so thick it can carry little inside, he conceded. But he added, “They do need to be as safe as they possibly can, to protect public safety and the environment and wildlife.”

The Association of American Railroads and its Tank Car Committee has issued a statement saying that it petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in 2011 to strengthen the standard, non-pressure tanker car, called a DOT-111.

Those cars make up 228,000 of the 335,000 active fleet tank cars, and AAR’s statement said about 92,000 DOT-111s carry flammable liquids, including crude and ethanol.

When no federal action was taken on its request, AAR itself adopted higher standards for reinforcing flammable liquid-carrying tank cars that are ordered after Oct. 1, 2011.

AAR then reiterated in 2013 its request for the federal government to enact stricter regulations, and has said the oil companies that contract with railroads have resisted spending money on the stronger rail cars.

“There’s always pushback,” said Thompson, referring to any new or strengthening of regulations or raising of standards, and not just concerning tanker cars.

As for Valero’s specific Benicia project as well as crude delivery by rail in general, Thompson said, “I want to make sure it’s done safely, so damage is minimal, if not nonexistent.

“There is risk in everything,” he said, noting that there are risks as well when trucks, ships and pipelines transport oil.

He cited as examples such ship spills as the Exxon Valdez in Alaska and the Shell Oil pipeline break that sent oil into the Gulf of Mexico in April. He described how he went to inspect the latter incident.

He said he’s also met with area train safety officials, who told him about the safety detectors designed to spot irregularities on the rails.

“We walked the track,” he said.

But there still are questions whether such transport is safe enough, and Thompson said he’s submitted to rail safety officials questions posed by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson.

As a member of the U.S. House, Thompson said he has also authored an amendment to a recent bill that also addresses rail safety.

He cited an example of one of his “walk the track” visits, when he saw rail tanker cars that were parked on a siding.

The cars were illustrated in graffiti.

Thompson said he has discussed this with federal rail safety officials, not as a vandalism problem, but as evidence of a lapse in security.

His legislation requires intelligence experts to be involved in looking at refineries, too, so that shipments by rail are secure against such violent activity.

While some refinery staff members have told Thompson that safety is being handled internally, without the need for federal involvement, he countered their objection by telling them about the tagged tankers.

“If there’s time to put graffiti on them, there’s time to put a bomb on them,” he said.

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