Tag Archives: Placer County

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Sacramento-area leaders concerned about crude-rail risks

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

Sacramento-area leaders concerned about crude-rail risks

Uprail communities urge Benicia to address oil train safety hazards
By Tony Burchyns, 08/09/2014

Sacramento-area leaders are voicing concerns about Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail plan, accusing Benicia of paying too little attention to potential “very serious” hazards of increased oil train shipments through Placer, Sacramento, Yolo, Solano and Contra Costa counties.

In a draft comment letter on the project, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments last week sharply criticized a Benicia study that found that the crude oil trains rattling through cities and sensitive habitats would pose no “significant hazard” whatsoever.

“We believe that conclusion is fundamentally flawed, disregards the recent events demonstrating the very serious risk to life and property that these shipments pose, and contradicts the conclusions of the federal government, which is mobilizing to respond to these risks,” the letter states.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that crude-by-rail shipments pose an “imminent hazard,” based on a recent pattern of fires and spills involving crude oil shipments from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

The letter urges the city to “substantially revise” the project’s draft environmental impact report “so that it will fully inform the public and the City Council of the full impacts.”

Valero is proposing daily shipments of up to 70,000 barrels of crude to its Benicia refinery. The tank cars would originate at unspecified North American sites and be shipped to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Roseville yard, where they would be assembled into two daily 50-car trains to Benicia.

Last month, Benicia officials extended the public comment period on the project’s draft environmental impact report to Sept. 15.

The council — which represents six counties and 22 cities in the Sacramento region — is set to approve its draft letter later this month. Meanwhile, the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, Yolo County Board of Supervisors and Caltrans separately have submitted comment letters to Benicia expressing concerns about the project.

Yolo County officials contend that Benicia’s project analysis “provides only a brief review of the environmental, safety, and noise effects on upstream communities.”

“All areas along the route will have the same trains traveling on them,” the Yolo County officials wrote. They added that potential risks to all communities along the rail line should be studied.

The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District recommended that the city offset increased air emissions from locomotives by supporting clean-tech programs in the region. The district also faulted the city for not studying the project’s cumulative air pollution effects throughout Sacramento and Yolo counties, as well as parts of Placer, El Dorado, Solano and Sutter counties.

Caltrans focussed its concerns on how oil train deliveries would impact Interstate 680 near the Bayshore Road off-ramp. They recommend safety measures — including rail signals — at the Bayshore Road crossing to prevent freeway backups during peak commute hours.

The agency also requested that a mechanism be put in place to advise Caltrans directly of any accidents affecting the freeway.

Benicia Senior Planner Amy Million said the city would respond to all valid project concerns following the close of the public comment period. The next public hearing on the project is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 250 E. L St.

    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.