Garamendi praises Benicia City Council for crude-by-rail vote
By Ryan McCarthy, September 23, 2016
FAIRFIELD — Rep. John Garamendi is praising the Benicia City Council for its unanimous vote rejecting a proposed crude oil by rail facility that Valero corporation would have operated and Garamendi said would have led to dangerous railcars traveling through Fairfield, Suisun City, Dixon and Davis.
“The action by the Benicia City Council is a clear signal that shipping oil by rail presents a serious safety problem that must be addressed before our communities are faced with increased oil shipments,” Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Thursday in a news release. “The council did the right thing by forcing a pause on oil by rail through our communities.”
The congressman, who represents the 3rd District that includes Fairfield and Suisun City, authored the Bakken Crude Stabilization Act to reduce the volatility of oil transported by rail and make it safer to transport, the release said.
By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent, December 6, 2015
California Reps push rail safety amendments, vote no on gutted energy security bill
Benicia’s neighboring congressional representatives, Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and John Garamendi (CA-3) co-sponsored TWO important amendments in new legislation passed recently by Republicans in the House. The amendments were not enough to rescue a fundamentally bad bill. DeSaulnier, Garamendi and Benicia’s rep, Mike Thompson (CA-5), all voted against passage. (IMPORTANT: See Reasons below.)
1. According to a December 3 press release, a measure to improve the safety of crude oil rail shipments across the nation, introduced by Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-17), and Congressman John Garamendi (CA-3), was passed in the House by unanimous consent and included as an amendment to the Republican sponsored North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (H.R. 8).
The amendment requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study the maximum level of volatility that is safe for transporting crude oil-by-rail within one year. Since 2008, oil traffic has increased over 5,000 percent along rail routes leading from production zones in the central continent to refineries and hubs along the coast.
“Crude oil production is at record levels, and railroads are moving more crude oil than ever. For over 25 years, I have represented areas in Contra Costa County which include four oil refineries and two destination facilities for oil-by-rail. This initiative is a first step in addressing concerns of communities, like those in my district, that face threats of environmental degradation, injury, and loss of life due to the unsafe handling of volatile oil in our railroad system,” said Congressman DeSaulnier.
2. Another amendment to the bill, introduced by Rep. Garamendi, added the single word “transportation” to the section directing the Department of Energy to study “energy security valuation methods.” According to Rep. Garamendi’s press release:
Energy policy can’t simply focus on “generation” …. “How we transport energy deserves very careful consideration. Too often, these choices are made without consideration of strategies to achieve important policy goals like creating good manufacturing jobs and enhancing our national security. Safety must also be a top concern: oil train traffic has increased by 5,000 percent because of the shale oil boom. The risk of derailments, spills and explosions is very real, and we need a volatility standard to guarantee the safety of the communities this oil traffic passes through. Oil trains can and do pass by major residential neighborhoods and schools in my district, including Davis, Dixon, Suisun and Marysville. I want them to be as safe as possible.”
Reasons… Garamendi’s press release included his reasons for voting NO on the bill as amended:
Despite the success of his amendments, Congressman Garamendi voted against final passage of H.R. 8. The bill started out as a bipartisan compromise on energy policy before being gutted in favor of a bill that caters to the wish lists of big coal and big oil at the expense of consumers, agriculture and the environment.
“The very same week that leaders across the globe are meeting in Paris to find a worldwide solution to climate change, our Congress is seeking to lock our country into dependence on energy sources like coal and oil that pollute our environment and contribute to climate change,” said Congressman Garamendi. “H.R. 8 would artificially subsidize coal, inhibit the development of clean energy technologies, and reverse progress on energy efficiency. With climate change threatening our planet and way of life, we need to search for new solutions, not drag our country back to the energy policy of the last century.”
Congressman Garamendi was especially troubled by the adoption of an amendment to allow unfettered exports of crude oil without any safeguards for American motorists or industries.“If our country is seeking to become energy independent, it makes zero sense to allow unrestricted exports of our oil overseas,” he said. “It may make more profits for the oil industry, but it won’t help consumers, agriculture, or the refinery industry here at home. It’s a bad idea.”
Repost from Chico News & Review [Editor: This article is well-written and documents gutsy analyses by a regional firefighter and County officials who understand that local safety is at the mercy of federal regulators. Three years of Russian roulette – and more. A “must read.” – RS]
Russian roulette on the railways
Butte County train tracks are Bakken-free for now, but emergency responders fear a return of the volatile fuel
By Evan Tuchinsky, 05.21.15
What is ‘Bakken’?
The light crude oil known as Bakken comes from fracking a geologic formation of that name under North Dakota, Montana and Canada. Less dense and with less carbon, light crudes yield more gasoline than heavier crudes, but also are more volatile.
Trains crash. That fact hit home last week when a passenger train derailed in Philadelphia and also last year, on Nov. 26, when a cargo train derailed in the Feather River Canyon.
The risk of devastation multiplies when the derailed train carries volatile crude oil. A recent spate of those accidents has garnered national attention, too, prompting the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) to release new regulations governing the conveyance of flammable liquids. The measures have drawn near-unanimous opposition, though, and done little to assuage lingering local fears.
“My constituents have raised concerns and the Board [of Supervisors] is concerned,” said Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk, who represents Chico. “We’re hoping that some of the legislation and some of the discussion that comes forward will make even stiffer requirements on the transport of this Bakken oil.”
The DoT regulations came out May 1. Five days later, another oil train crashed, in North Dakota. By last Friday (May 15), both the petroleum industry and environmentalists had filed legal challenges to the DoT’s so-called “final rule.”
The International Association of Fire Fighters also has voiced objections. Representing more than 300,000 firefighters in North America, the IAFF protested a provision that allows railroads to keep the contents of their trains confidential—under the banner of national security.
Russ Fowler, battalion chief with Cal Fire Butte County and coordinator of the local Interagency Hazardous Materials Team, has additional concerns. DoT regulations phase out tank cars that are not up to the current safety standard, rather than pull them off the rails for retrofitting or retirement. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has argued that the alternative would result in increased oil-tanker traffic on highways.
Fowler says one particular railcar commonly used to carry volatile Bakken crude oil, the DOT-111, “just [wasn’t] designed for that product.” Since railroads have until 2018 to get those cars up to standard, “we have three years of potential Russian roulette on our hands if light crude oil is transported down the Feather River Canyon like it was done last fall.”
Cal Fire has communicated with BNSF Railway, Fowler said, and has been told no crude oil deliveries have come through Butte County this year. “I have no reason not to believe them,” he added, though he’s seen DOT-111s riding on Chico tracks.
Lena Kent, BNSF’s spokeswoman for California, confirmed by email that “we are not currently transporting Bakken crude in your county.” She also wrote: “We do provide information to the Office of Emergency Services in California.”
That’s in contrast with last year, when train cars carrying millions of gallons of the explosive oil, reportedly around one shipment per week, did make their way way along the Feather River Canyon. Experts tie the reduction of imports to a reduced demand for the fuel, a lighter type that’s similar to gasoline and thus extremely volatile.
While Cal Fire dreads the prospect of an urban crash, the Feather River Canyon presents a distinct set of frets.
Train tracks head into remote areas that are difficult for emergency responders to reach. Access roads don’t always run adjacent to the rail route—not even parallel in certain spots. Depending on where a crash occurred, spilled oil could contaminate the Feather River and Lake Oroville—a major source of water for California—or could start a forest fire should it ignite.
Even without a blaze or river release, “it would make an ugly, oily mess in the canyon,” Fowler said. “It would be a terrible environmental disaster.”
Butte County supervisors articulated such concerns to the California Public Utility Commission and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, before the DoT released its regulations. OES responded by saying the state is investing in “purchasing new Type II hazardous material emergency response units” and in “local training specific to … rail safety incidents.”
For Supervisor Doug Teeter, the board chair who represents the Ridge, that’s little assurance. He has a powerless feeling—believing “it’s just a matter of time” before an accident happens locally, yet knowing “as a county we have no control” over the rails.
“We’re at the mercy of the federal regulators,” he continued. “All we’re really getting is a little response on improved training and equipment. That is not nearly enough to handle a 100-car spill.”
Either in populated or unpopulated areas.
“We as a hazmat team plan for worst-case scenarios,” Fowler said. “Just because you plan for a worst-case scenario doesn’t mean you can mitigate the worst-case scenario, because there are things that can happen that are so catastrophic that it would overwhelm local resources until more regional or statewide resources could come in to help.”
Should legal challenges fail, and in the absence of local authority, a remedy to the DoT regulations remains: Congress. Teeter recently met with a representative of Sen. Barbara Boxer. Meanwhile, North State Congressman John Garamendi has introduced legislation to make light crude safer for rail transport.
Teeter encourages constituents to write congressional representatives and senators. He finds encouragement even in the controversial DoT regulations, which arose amid an uproar.
“Maybe now we’ll have a voice,” Teeter said. “Maybe something can happen.”
Repost from The Davis Enterprise [Editor: Significant quote: “‘DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol,’ the letter reads. ‘Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.'” That said, Mayor Wolk joined the long list of officials who say they don’t want to STOP oil trains, only make them “safer.” Good luck. More photos here. – RS]
Garamendi calls for greater Bakken oil-by-rail safety
By Dave Ryan, April 9, 2015
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, called for less volatile Bakken crude oil — which is transported across the country by rail — on Wednesday morning, using the backdrop of the Davis Amtrak station to drive his point home.
Garamendi introduced the Bakken Crude Stabilization Act on March 26 in a bid to protect what he said are 16 million Americans living and working near railroad shipment lines. If approved, the bill will require lower vapor pressure for transported Bakken crude to reduce its volatility, a practice currently required in Texas and to some degree in North Dakota.
Vapors like propane and butane add to the unstable nature of Bakken crude during train derailments.
On Wednesday, Garamendi and other government officials explained why requiring more safety for railroad tank cars is essential to communities along rail lines like Davis and Fairfield, should there be an explosion. As if on cue, freight trains carrying black tank cars rumbled by as Garamendi spoke.
“You’d wipe out downtown Davis and possibly hundreds of people,” he said, adding that stripping out volatile vapors would prevent a fireball rising what he said was a hundred feet in the air.
Solano County Supervisor Skip Thomson said there are refineries and pipelines in his county, but also populations along rail lines and an environmentally sensitive marshland.
“If we de-gas the oil, that is a huge thing for safety,” Thomson said. “We need to ask that legislation be passed. … We need to move this quickly.”
Environmental groups say Bakken crude oil is transported through Yolo and Solano counties along Union Pacific Railroad lines that run through Davis, Dixon, Fairfield and Suisun City on their way to the Valero oil refinery in Benicia. A proposal is pending before the Benicia City Council that could increase the number of rail tank cars moving through those cities, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments.
So-called “up-rail” community groups are fighting the proposal, and local governments in Yolo and Solano counties are working for better safety and oversight of the Valero project, which is still in the environmental review process.
Davis Mayor Dan Wolk said local agencies’ goal in the Valero project is not to stop commerce, but to ensure that adequate safety measures are in place.
Meanwhile, at the state level, a warren of rules protecting rail commerce prohibit states and localities from enacting restrictions on rail traffic, leading to calls for the federal government to step in.
However, laws protecting railroads, some more than a century old, ensure that railroads have a strong hand in approving any new regulations that the federal Department of Transportation or the Federal Railroad Administration may impose on their industry. Most regulations are created by consensus with the railroads.
Garamendi said a legislative approach is the quickest way to get the railroads to implement safety standards.
“Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil by rail, lives and communities are at risk,” the congressman said in a prepared statement released at the news conference.
“We need the federal government to step in and ensure that the vapor pressure of transported crude oil is lower, making it more stable and safer to transport. We also need to upgrade and ensure the maintenance of rail lines, tank cars, brake systems and our emergency response plans.”
Getting railroads to help beef up local safety planning is a big part of what state and local governments are trying to wring out of the rail industry. One key demand is to get the railroads to disclose to emergency first responders what is inside their tank cars.
In a March 3 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation written by Garamendi and Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D- Sacramento, the pair said the need for safer train cars has long been documented and is overdue.
“DOT began working on updated rules in April of 2012 and from 2006 to April of 2014, a total of 281 tank cars derailed in the U.S. and Canada, claiming 48 lives and releasing almost 5 million gallons of crude and ethanol,” the letter reads.
“Serious crude-carrying train incidents are occurring once every seven weeks on average, and a DOT report predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing billions of dollars in damage and possibly costing hundreds of lives.”
Asked Wednesday what the chances are of a railroad safety bill passing through a Republican-controlled Congress, Garamendi said “excellent,” evoking some chuckles from other government officials standing by.