Tag Archives: Sen. Fran Pavley

CA Fish & Wildlife wants new emergency regulations by September

Repost from The Los Angeles Times, Business
[Editor:  Significant quote: “Plans also call for safety drills and, possibly, the placement of safety equipment at potentially dangerous rail ‘pinch points.’  …These points include spots along rail routes through the Feather River Canyon and Donner Pass in Northern California, the Tehachapi Pass and San Luis Obispo in the central part of the state, and urban rail corridors in Southern California, officials said.”  Hmmm … how about urban rail corridors in Northern California??  – RS]

State moves to improve safety in transporting oil by rail

Marc Lifsher, July 7, 2014
A year after rail tanker cars carrying crude oil in Canada exploded and killed 47 people, California is stepping up efforts to prevent a similar disaster on tracks crisscrossing the state. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A year after rail tanker cars carrying crude oil in Canada exploded and killed 47 people, California is stepping up efforts to prevent a similar disaster on tracks crisscrossing the state.

In recent weeks, the state began pumping more money into a new rail safety program, the Legislature approved new fees on oil being carried by train, and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department started planning how to better protect inland waterways from oil spills.

“We have a clear and present risk to Californians right now from potential spills,” said Chuck Bonham, Fish and Wildlife director. “We’re moving fast per the Legislature to best prepare California for that risk.”

There’s good reason for rushing, Bonham warned. Crude oil shipments to California last year rose to 6.3 million barrels, up 1.1 million barrels from the 2012 total. Imports could rise to 150 million 42 gallon barrels, a quarter of the state total, by 2016, the California Energy Commission estimates.

The Fish and Wildlife Department, which oversees the state’s Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, is set to hire 38 technicians to boost a current crew of 250 people, previously funded to deal mainly with coastal oil spills.

Top Fish and Wildlife officials already are meeting with other federal, state and local government agencies to set priorities and schedule a series of emergency response drills at high-risk stretches of rail lines, such as in the mountains, marshlands and densely populated urban neighborhoods.

The new hires and expanded responsibility will be paid for by a fee of 6.5 cents per barrel of crude oil transported through the state by rail or pipeline. The fees were approved by the Legislature in mid-June after a heated battle between California’s powerful oil industry, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown and environmentalists.

The governor basically got what he wanted: a dedicated source of money to help respond quickly to both maritime spills and potential and actual accidents involving pipelines and rail tanker cars bringing crude oil to refineries from in-state wells and fields in the Great Plains and Canada.

But that’s just part of the state’s response to the threat posed by train wrecks involving crude oil cargoes. The state Public Utilities Commission is hiring seven additional track inspectors to work with federal government counterparts to keep oil trains with up to 100 tank cars rolling safely.

And lawmakers still are considering even more measures to require railroads to provide greater information about oil trains passing through communities, establish round-the-clock emergency communications, and levy per-tank-car fees for emergency response activities.

“The funding in the budget is an important step,” said Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), author of one of three tank-car-safety bills, “but more actions can be taken to help prevent and respond to accidents.”

The Brown administration’s goal is to set up a comprehensive system for safeguarding an estimated 7,000 rail and 5,000 pipeline crossings over inland waters.

With that in mind, Fish and Wildlife already has hosted a number of meetings with state and federal government agencies, including the State Fire Marshal and the U.S. Coast Guard, that also deal with oil spills. State officials are reaching out to railroad companies and tank car manufacturers, who are working on more crash-resistant rolling stock.

“The folks who transport oil and store oil in appreciable volume need to develop contingency plans for how to protect sensitive sites,” said Thomas Cullen, a former Coast Guard captain, who runs the state’s prevention and response program.

Plans also call for safety drills and, possibly, the placement of safety equipment at potentially dangerous rail “pinch points.”

These points include spots along rail routes through the Feather River Canyon and Donner Pass in Northern California, the Tehachapi Pass and San Luis Obispo in the central part of the state, and urban rail corridors in Southern California, officials said.

“We’ve got to go shoulder-to-shoulder working with industry,” Cullen said.

One of the first steps, he said, will be issuing emergency regulations for rail and pipeline oil transportation, which he hopes can happen by September.

Officials said permanent regulations should be ready about a year later, after Fish and Wildlife holds hearings to get input from railroads, oil companies, environmentalists, local government agencies and neighborhood groups.

Oil companies, which had opposed some parts of the governor’s program, including the fee for inland shipments, say they want to cooperate with the state’s expanding safety efforts.

“It’s going to add some additional expense to getting California energy to consumers,” said Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn., a trade group.

“Our primary concern,” he said, is to see that state money goes to first responders “to give them the equipment and training necessary so people can have confidence that this is a safe transportation mode.”

New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: This interactive OES map, “Rail Risk and Response” is an incredibly detailed resource – as you zoom in, additional features appear.  Hazards shown on the map include geologically unstable areas, proximity to dense population centers, proximity to waterways, schools and hospitals, pipelines, sensitive species or habitat, etc.  The story in the Sacramento Bee does not contain a link to the map.   Here’s the intro page for the interactive map.   And here’s the map itself.  – RS]

New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Newspapers, Jul. 4, 2014

A map put together by multiple state agencies in California shows that the location and capability of emergency response teams don’t always align with the biggest risks presented by an expected increase in crude oil shipments by rail in the coming years.

The map shows that the state’s largest population centers, including Sacramento, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, have the most robust emergency response capabilities.

But rural stretches of California’s rail network, including locations with a history of derailments, have the least equipped and least trained emergency response teams, according to the map produced by the Interagency Working Group on Oil by Rail Safety.

The map shows large concentrations of hospitals, schools and neighborhoods around many rail lines through California cities. Additionally, it shows that the state’s rail network frequently intersects with fault lines, rivers and streams and sensitive wildlife habitats.

California has some of the best-trained and best-equipped emergency response teams in the country, according to some experts, but they’re not always where they’re needed.

“Proximity matters,” said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.

Since Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a shift in state oil spill and prevention resources in his budget in January, members of the California Legislature have held hearings and offered legislation to improve the state’s preparedness.

“Everyone recognizes this is a critical need throughout the state,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills.

Starting next year, California will begin imposing a 6.5-cent-a-barrel fee on oil transported to the state by rail to fund oil spill response and prevention efforts. State lawmakers have introduced another bill to levy an additional fee to train and equip firefighters who may be called to respond to a rail incident.

California officials soon expect the state to receive as much as a quarter of its oil supply by rail, which means more frequent train movements through the state’s highest-risk areas.

“It makes what we’re doing that much more important,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The map was presented last week by the state Environmental Protection Agency at a workshop on crude oil trends at Berkeley City College. It shows a dearth of response capability in locations where derailments have occurred more frequently, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

These include the Cantara Loop on the upper Sacramento River, the site of a 1991 train derailment that released thousands of gallons of pesticide, killing fish along a 40-mile stretch of the river.

They also include the Feather River Canyon, which according to documents released last week by OES, is the route of a twice-monthly train of Bakken crude oil. The trains, operated by BNSF, pass through Sacramento on their way to a rail terminal in Richmond.

“A spill into these sources of water makes it even more problematic,” Pavley said.

Another vulnerable site: Cuesta Grade, a steep, serpentine stretch of track north of San Luis Obispo. A proposed crude-by-rail terminal at the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria, south of San Luis Obispo, would bring five 80-car oil trains a week over the line, operated by Union Pacific.

Aaron Hunt, a spokesman for Union Pacific, said that the railroad had reached out to fire departments across California in the communities where it operates and has offered “comprehensive” hazardous materials training to first responders around the state.

“We annually train local, state and federal first-responders on protocols to minimize the impact of a derailment in their communities,” he said.

BNSF, the railroad that hauls more crude oil than any in North America, is offering hazardous materials training for hundreds of firefighters, including some in Sacramento, according to spokeswoman Lena Kent.

Trains transporting crude oil are not new in California. From 1983 to 1997, Southern Pacific Railroad operated one such train every day between Bakersfield and South Los Angeles over the Tehachapi Pass.

But that oil was thicker California crude that doesn’t ignite easily, and it was also transported in specially designed tank cars. Much of the crude oil coming into the state today is lighter and more flammable, and it’s loaded into a fleet of tank cars with a long record of failure in derailments.

“In light of new risks, it’s essential for first responders to have the right training and equipment to prepare for and respond to accidents,” said Curtis Brundage, a hazardous materials specialist with the San Bernardino Fire Department, in a state Senate hearing last month.

The worst accident occurred a year ago, in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. An unmanned Bakken crude oil train broke loose and derailed in the center of town. Massive fires and explosions killed 47 people and leveled entire blocks of buildings.

More derailments followed, though none fatal, as the railroads and the federal government initiated a series of safety improvements. Emergency response officials from all over the country have testified in Washington in the past few months that local fire departments lack the resources to confront large fires from trains carrying 3 million gallons of oil.

In a report last month, OES made a dozen recommendations to improve the safety of California communities, including increased track inspections, stronger tank cars, more funding for emergency response and better notification of hazardous shipments from the railroads.

Hill gives the railroads credit for taking the issue seriously with stepped-up track inspections, new operating procedures, orders for stronger tank cars and offers to train emergency personnel. But he added that state lawmakers and agencies were right to push for more before a trickle of oil shipments by rail to California turned into a steady stream.

“We saw what happened elsewhere,” he said. “This is just to make sure California is prepared.”