The front page headline of the June 14-15 edition of the Martinez News-Gazette read: “Crude by rail not a local threat, CAER director says.” The article covered the recent City of Martinez Public Safety Committee, which convened to examine the Bakken crude by rail issue. The meeting was dominated by CAER director Tony Semenza, who is also principal of a consulting firm that serves a number of major local refineries.
Mr. Semenza was quoted “… there is one train, with up to 100 tanker cars, that originates in Stockton every 7-10 days and ends up at the Kinder Morgan facility in Richmond, traveling via the tracks that parallel Highway 4.” In other words, this train is going right through Martinez! It rolls over the (rusty) Alhambra trestle carrying 3,000,000 gallons of Bakken crude, the same oil that has been exploding all over North America and that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. According to maps recently released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an explosion by an oil train on that track would threaten thousands of Martinez residents and endanger five schools located within the zone of impact.
Minimizing the issue by only focusing on the one present train ignores recent trends and projections for the near future. Only one train now. There were none this time last year. Next year, if the refineries have their way, there very well could be a drastic increase of oil train traffic through our town. Nationally, crude oil train traffic is skyrocketing, from 9,500 carloads in U.S. in 2008 to 434,000 in 2013. California crude-by-rail rose an incredible 506 percent just from 2012 to 2013, with a further 24-fold increase expected by 2016. Accidents have also increased across the country.
Just in the past 11 months, there have been nine major derailments of oil trains, involving explosions, evacuations and spills. These trains spilled over a million gallons of crude oil, more than spilled by railroads in the past 37 years combined. And with crude-by-rail projects pending all around Martinez in Benicia, Pittsburg, Rodeo and Santa Maria, we will see more than just one train every 7-10 days. So, let’s not minimize the risk. Volatile crude by rail IS something we need to be concerned about here in Martinez.
The disappointing part of the Martinez Public Safety Committee meeting was the decision by Mike Menesini and Anamarie Avila Farias to not immediately elevate the issue to the full City Council, despite the current threat to our health and safety. If you live anywhere near the tracks, check out www.mrtenvgrp.com for more information, and write or call your city council to ask them to do something meaningful on this issue quickly. Other Bay Area cities have passed resolutions opposing the passage of crude by rail. Martinez needs to do the same.
Martinez Environmental Group Members Aimee Durfee, Tom Griffith, Bill Nichols, Jim Neu, Kathy Petricca, Guy Cooper, Nancy Peacock, Karen & Arnie Wadler
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.
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.
Report minimizes risk from oil trains through Roseville, Sacramento
By Tony Bizjak and Curtis Tate The Sacramento Bee | Jun. 17, 2014
A much-anticipated report released Tuesday offered new details and some controversial safety conclusions about a Bay Area oil company’s plan to run crude-oil trains daily through Roseville and Sacramento to Benicia.
Valero Refining Co., which operates a sweeping plant on a hillside overlooking Suisun Bay, plans to transport crude oil from undisclosed North American oil fields on two 50-car trains every 24 hours through the Sacramento region to the Benicia site. One would run at night and the other in the middle of the day to minimize conflicts with Capitol Corridor passenger trains, which share the same line.
If the project is approved, Valero would begin shipments later this year or early next year. The trains would cut through downtown Roseville, Sacramento and Davis, and pass within a quarter-mile of 27 schools, 11 of them in Sacramento, according to the draft environmental impact report, which was commissioned by the city of Benicia, lead agency on the project.
In findings that already are provoking debate, authors of the draft report concluded that the shipments would not constitute a significant safety risk for communities along the rail route because those trains are very unlikely to crash or spill their oil.
“Although the consequences of a release are potentially severe, the likelihood of such a release is very low,” wrote the report’s author, Environmental Science Associates of San Francisco. The report notes that safety steps by federal officials and railroad associations, such as slower train speeds through some urban areas and more track inspections, already are reducing the chance of crashes.
A spill risk assessment included in the report calculates the probability of a spill of 100 gallons or more in the 69 miles between Roseville and Benicia as occurring only once every 111 years. The key report section regarding impact on up-rail cities, including Sacramento, Davis, West Sacramento and Roseville, concludes: “Mitigation: None required.”
Several local Sacramento leaders on Tuesday said they had not yet read the Benicia report, which runs hundreds of pages, but that they weren’t soothed by a declaration that oil spills are unlikely.
Mike Webb, director of community development and sustainability in Davis, said the assessment misses a frightening reality for people living along the rail line: “It only needs to happen once to be a real problem.”
Across North America, six major crude-oil train crashes in the last year resulted in 2.8 million gallons of oil spilled, some of it causing explosions and forcing evacuations. The worst of those occurred last July in Lac-Megantic, Canada, where a runaway Bakken train crashed, spilling 1.6 million gallons of crude and fueling an explosion that killed 47 people and leveled part of that city’s downtown.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced a bill last week to charge the oil industry a rail-related fee to pay for safety measures. In an interview earlier this week, he said he believes “it is not a matter of will (a spill) happen, it’s when. We have to be prepared.”
The debate over the Valero project is part of a growing discussion nationally about crude oil safety, prompted by increased pumping in recent years of less-expensive crude oil from Canada and the Bakken fields of North Dakota.
The surge in extracting North American oil is enabling some companies, such as Valero, to reduce reliance on overseas shipments of foreign oil. At the same time, it has caused a dramatic increase in the number of trains crisscrossing the country, pulling 100 cars or more of flammable crude through downtowns, with almost no notice to the public and minimal warning to local fire departments.
The debate was heightened by a federal warning earlier this year that Bakken crude may be more volatile than other crudes, and by federal concerns that the fleet of train tanker cars in use nationally is inadequate to safely transport crude oils. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration issued a report saying California is behind in taking steps to protect cities and habitat from potential oil spills given the increase in crude oil shipments.
The draft environmental impact report released Tuesday does not state whether Valero will be transporting Bakken crude to Benicia. Valero has declined to disclose publicly exactly which crude oils it will ship. But the report lists Bakken as one of the lighter crudes Valero could ship.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering amending tank car design standards in light of concerns raised by recent fiery spills. Valero officials say they already have purchased some tank cars that have more safety features than most rail cars in use nationally. Valero spokesman Chris Howe said his company would expect to phase in retrofits of those cars, depending on what the federal government ultimately requires.
In California, the Valero crude-by-rail project is one of a handful planned by refineries. Another by Phillips 66 in Santa Maria likely will involve crude oil shipments through Sacramento. Several Kern County refineries also are adjusting or planning to retrofit their sites to receive crude shipments by rail. Trains last year began delivering crude oil to a transfer station at McClellan Park in Sacramento.
Rail companies are insisting that details of those shipments not be disclosed to the public, saying they are worried about security issues and don’t want to divulge “trade secrets” to competitors.
Local officials, including fire chiefs, recently have said they want to know more about the Valero project in particular. The Davis City Council has passed a resolution saying it does not want the shipments to come through the existing UP line in downtown.
Sacramento Rep. Doris Matsui, responding to questions by email Tuesday, expressed concern as well. “As the number of cars coming through Sacramento increases, it is clear that our risk also increases,” she wrote.
Webb, the Davis community development director, said representatives from Sacramento area cities will meet in two weeks to discuss the Benicia environmental report. Several local officials have said they would like Valero and UP to work with them on safety measures, including more communication about train movements and hazardous materials training.
The Benicia report declines to specify the routes trains may take to get from oil fields to Roseville, saying that any potential routes beyond Roseville are speculative. The most likely routes, according to people knowledgeable about rail movements, are through the Sacramento Valley via Dunsmuir and Redding, as well as over Donner Summit or through the Feather River Canyon.
The conclusion that an oil spill between Roseville and Benicia is a once-in-111-years event was made by Christopher Barkan, an expert on hazardous rail transport at the University of Illinois who did a risk assessment attached to the draft environmental impact report. Barkan previously worked for the American Association of Railroads, the industry’s leading advocacy group in Washington, and does research supported by the railroad association, according to his institute’s website.
Barkan, in an email, said his work for Benicia was not influenced by his relationships with the railroad association.
“The AAR had nothing to do with this project,” he wrote. “Whenever I am approached about conducting projects such as this, I discuss any potential conflicts of interest with other sponsors, as I did in this case, and it was mutually agreed that there was none … My role is to apply the best data and analytical methods possible to assess risk, irrespective of the sponsor.”
Benicia city officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The draft EIR will be circulated for public comment this summer. Those comments will be incorporated into a final environmental document, to be voted on by the Benicia City Council. The council has the authority to approve changes at Valero’s plant to allow the oil company to begin rail shipments.
Howe, the Valero spokesman, complimented the city of Benicia on “the thoroughness and detail” of the report.
“We are reviewing the material published today and will be developing comments as part of the process. We look forward to working with the community and the city of Benicia toward completion of this important project.”