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 MarysvilleJune 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.
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.”