Category Archives: Crude By Rail

Bakersfield High School worst-case derailment scenario

Repost from the Bakersfield Californian
[Editor: this is a MUST READ article, a comprehensive and graphic description of first-responder requirements and readiness.  Someone needs to interview first responders in each of our Bay Area refinery towns, ask every single question referenced in this article, and lay out similar scenarios for the all-too-imaginable catastrophes that threaten our communities.  – RS]

Increased oil train traffic raises potential for safety challenges

By John Cox, Californian staff writer  |  May 17, 2014
Bakersfield High School is seen in the background behind the rail cars that go through town as viewed from the overpass on Oak Street.  By Casey Christie / The Californian
Bakersfield High School is seen in the background behind the rail cars that go through town as viewed from the overpass on Oak Street. By Casey Christie / The Californian

First responders think of the rail yard by Bakersfield High School when they envision the worst-case scenario in Kern County’s drive to become a major destination for Midwestern oil trains.  If a derailment there punctures and ignites a string of tank cars, the fireball’s heat will be felt a mile away and flames will be a hundred feet high. Thick acrid black smoke will cover an area from downtown to Valley Plaza mall. Burning oil will flow through storm drains and sewers, possibly shooting flames up through manholes.

Some 3,000 BHS students and staff would have to be evacuated immediately. Depending on how many tank cars ignite, whole neighborhoods may have to be cleared, including patients and employees at 194-bed Mercy Hospital.  State and county fire officials say local 911 call centers will be inundated, and overtaxed city and county firefighters, police and emergency medical services will have to call for help from neighboring counties and state agencies.

While the potential for such an accident has sparked urgency around the state and the country, it has attracted little notice locally — despite two ongoing oil car offloading projects that would push Kern from its current average of receiving a single mile-long oil train delivery about once a month, to one every six hours.

One project is Dallas-based Alon USA Energy Inc.’s proposed oil car offloading facility at the company’s Rosedale Highway refinery. The other is being developed near Taft by Plains All American Pipeline LP, based in Houston.

Kern’s two projects, and three others proposed around the state, would greatly reduce California’s thirst for foreign crude. State energy officials say the five projects should increase the amount of crude California gets by rail from less than 1 percent of the state’s supply last year to nearly a quarter by 2016.

But officials who have studied the BHS derailment scenario say more time and money should be invested in coordinated drills and additional equipment to prepare for what could be a uniquely difficult and potentially disastrous oil accident.

Bakersfield High Principal David Reese met late last year with representatives of Alon, which hopes to start bringing mile-long “unit trains” — two per day — through the rail yard near campus.

He said Alon’s people told him about plans for double-lined tank cars and other safety measures “to make me feel better” about the project. But he still worries.

“I told them, ‘You may assure me but I continue to be concerned about the safety of my students and staff with any new (rail) project that comes within the vicinity of the school,'” he said.

Alon declined to comment for this story.

Both projects aim to capitalize on the current price difference between light crude on the global market and Bakken Shale oil found in and around North Dakota. Thanks to the nation’s shale boom, the Midwest’s ability to produce oil has outpaced its capacity to transport it cheaper and more safely by pipeline. The resulting overabundance has depressed prices and prompted more train shipments.

There are no oil pipelines over the Rockies; rail is the next best mode of shipping oil to the West Coast. Kern County is viewed as an ideal place for offloading crude because of its oil infrastructure and experience with energy projects. Two facilities are proposed in Northern California, in Benicia and Pittsburg; [emphasis added] the other would be to the south, in Wilmington.

A local refinery, Kern Oil & Refining Co., has accepted Bakken oil at its East Panama Lane plant since at least 2012. The California Energy Commission says Kern Oil receives one unit train every four to six weeks.

NATIONAL CHANGES

Shipments of Bakken present special safety concerns. The oil has been found to be highly volatile, and the common mode of transporting it — in quick-loading trains of 100 or more cars carrying more than 3 million gallons per shipment — rules out the traditional safety practice of placing an inert car as a buffer between two containing dangerous materials.

The dangers of shipping Bakken crude by unit train have been evident in several fiery derailments over the past year. One in July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings when a 74-car runaway train jumped the tracks at 63 mph.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said 99.9 percent of U.S. oil rail cars reached their destination without incident last year. Two of its divisions, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, have issued emergency orders, safety advisories and special inspections relating to oil car shipments. New rules on tank car standards and operational controls for “high-hazard flammable trains” are in the federal pipeline.

Locally operating companies Union Pacific Railroad Co. and BNSF Railway Co. signed an agreement with the DOT to voluntarily lower train speeds, have more frequent inspections, make new investments in brake technology and conduct additional first-responder training.

Until new federal rules take effect next year, railroads can only urge their customers to use tank cars meeting the higher standards.

“UP does not choose the tank car,” Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt wrote in an email. “We encourage our shippers to retrofit or phase out older cars.”

The San Joaquin Valley Railroad Co., owned by Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming Inc., is a short line that carries Kern Oil’s oil shipments and would serve the Plains project but not Alon’s. A spokesman said SJVR is working with the larger railroads to upgrade its line, and the company inspects tracks ahead of every unit train arrival, among other measures designed just for oil shipments.

STATE LEVEL PROPOSALS

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a big change in the way California protects against and responds to oil spills.

His 2014-15 budget calls for $6.7 million in new spending on the state’s Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund to add 38 inland positions, a 15 percent staffing increase. Currently the agency focuses on ocean shipments, which have been the norm for out-of-state oil deliveries in California.

To help pay for the expansion, Brown wants to expand a 6.5 cent-per-barrel fee to not only marine terminals but all oil headed for California refineries.

“We’ll have a more robust response capability,” said Thomas Cullen, an administrator at the Office of Spill Prevention and Response, which is within the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A representative of the oil trade group Western States Petroleum Association criticized the proposal March 19 at a legislative joint hearing in Sacramento. Lobbyist Ed Manning said OSPR lacks inland reach, and that giving such responsibilities to an agency with primarily marine experience “doesn’t really respond to the problem.”

WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd has emphasized the group has not taken a position on Brown’s OSPR proposal.

Also at the state capitol, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has forwarded legislation requiring railroads to give first responders more information about incoming oil shipments and publicly share spill contingency plans. The bill, AB 380, would also direct state grants toward local contingency planning and training. It is pending before the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

LOCAL PREPARATIONS

In recent years Kern County has conducted large-scale, multi-agency emergency drills to prepare for an earthquake, disease outbreak and Isabella Dam break. There has not been a single oil spill drill.

Emergency service officials say that’s not as bad as it sounds because disasters share common actions — notification, evacuation, decontamination.

Nevertheless, State Fire and Rescue Chief Kim Zagaris, County Fire Chief Brian Marshall and Kern Emergency Services Manager Georgianna Armstrong support the idea of local oil spill drills involving public safety agencies, hospitals and others.

Kern County is well-versed at handling hazardous materials. Some local officials say an oil accident may actually be less dangerous than the release of toxic chemicals, which also travel through the county on a regular basis.

There have been recent accidents, but all were relatively minor.

Federal records list 18 oil or other hazardous material spills on Kern County railroads in the last 10 years. No one was injured; together the accidents caused $752,000 in property damage.

Most involved chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid. Only two resulted in crude oil spills, both in 2013 in the 93305 ZIP code in the city of Bakersfield. Together they spilled a little more than a gallon of oil.

But the risk of spills rises significantly as the volume of oil passing through the county grows.

“The volume is a big deal,” Bakersfield Fire Chief Douglas R. Greener said. “Potentially, if you have a train derail, you could see numerous cars of the same type of material leaking all at once.”

Kern County firefighters are better prepared for an oil spill than many other first responders around the state. They train on an actual oil tanker and have special tools to mend rail car punctures and gashes. The county fire department has several trucks carrying spray foam that suffocates industrial fires.

But Chief Marshall acknowledged a bad rail accident could strain the department’s resources.

He has been speaking with Alon about securing additional firefighting equipment and foam to ensure an appropriate response to any oil train derailment related to the company’s proposed offloading facility.

What comes of those talks is expected to be included in an upcoming environmental review of the project.

“We recognize the need to increase our industrial firefighting program,” Marshall said.

Chief Zagaris said Kern’s proximity to on-call emergency agencies in Tulare, Kings and Los Angeles counties may come in handy under the Bakersfield High spill scenario, which is based on fire officials’ assessments and reports from several similar incidents over the past year.

He and Marshall would not estimate how many people would require evacuation in the event of a disaster near the school, or what specific levels of emergency response might become necessary.

But Zagaris said local public safety officials would almost certainly require outside help to assess injuries, transfer people in need of medical care, secure the city and contain the spill itself.

“I look at it as, you know, depending what it is and where it happens will dictate how quickly” outside resources would have to be pulled in, he said.

    CRUDE – inspirational speeches & videos

    Repost from C.R.U.D.E. (Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment)

    INSPIRATION: Speeches and Educational Forum Film clips

    This page has select video recordings of teach-ins from the 2013-14 Sunflower Alliance speakers series as well as the keynote speaker for the 350 BayArea DIrty Energy Clean Energy conference, Stanford University’s Dr. Marc Jacobson. Film clips from the Sunlfower Alliance forums (shown below) feature the following speakers:  Antonia Juhasz (investigative reporter, oil industry analyst and author); Greg Karras (refinery specialist and senior scientist with CBE); Marilaine Savaard (spokesperson from the Lac Megantic Citizens Committee); Diane Bailey (senior scientist, Natural Resources Defence Council); Mayor Gayle McLaughlin of the City of RIchmond; Pennie Opal Plant (Idle No More) and, last but not least, community activists Marilyn Bardet (Benicia), George and Lyana Monterey (Pittsburg) and Nancy Rieser (Crockett/Rodeo)

    But first…

    • A MOMENT OF INSPIRATION FROM THE 2014 GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL AWARDS (San Francisco)

    THE ROBERT KENNEDY JR KEYNOTE SPEECH: For 25 years the Goldman family has been honoring grassroots environmental activists from all over the world.  This year, Kennedy opened the awards ceremony. His voice was hoarse but his words and spirit were passionate.  Kennedy pulled no punches and basically blew the top off the Opera House.

    For all of you battle-weary activists out there, take heart!  There ARE folks out there — no different from you or me — who fight the Davy and Goliath battles and prevail!

    Here are the 2014 award winners:  http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipients/current kennedyHere is Kennedy’s speech:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac86elWP-l0

    • SUNFLOWER ALLIANCE CRUDE BY RAIL COMMUNITY FORUMS 

    Sunflower Alliance sponsored educational forums in Berkeley, Martinez, Pittsburg and Richmond informed the public about the dangers of crude by rail and the local refinery expansion projects, namely: Chevron (Richmond), Phillips 66 (Rodeo) Valero (Benicia) and Wespac (Pittsburg). Below are links that will give you access to speaker content from the Sunflower Alliance forums in both RIchmond  and in Berkeley.  These film clips are really the next best thing to being there!

    girl with gas mask

    To see presentations made by the 5 people below (filmed at the Bobby Bowens Center in RIchmond), click here  http://www.sunflower-alliance.org/video_clips_forum_on_crude_by_rail

    • Antonia Juhasz (leading oil industry analyst, author of Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill and The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s ,Most Powerful Industry – and What We Must Do To Stop It)
    • Marilaine Savaard (spokesperson for the Citizens Committee of Lac-Megantic Quebec, site of the devasting oil train explosion that wiped out the center of town and claimed 47 lives)
    • Gayle McClaughlin (City of RIchmond Mayor who has taken on Chevron)
    • George Monterrey (a community organizer from the Pittsburg Ethics Council, one of two organizations who have taken on the Wespac infrastructure project)
    • Pennie Opal Plant (Idle No More, SF Bay Solidarity and the Connect the Dots Refinery Corridor Healing Walks)

    To see presentations made by the 5 people below (filmed at the Berkeley Ecology Center) click here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgpCKeWaLhk&list=PLpBEkz110SpOb-DDgp70S6Cd6swBTBoA0&index=2

    • Greg Karras (senior scientist from Communities for a Better Environment/CBE)
    • Marilyn Bardet (Community Activist from Benicia, fighting the Valero project)
    • Diane Bailey (senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council)
    • Lyana Monterrey (activist, Pittsburg Defence Council organzing around the  WesPac infrastructure project)
    • Nancy Rieser (activist from Crockett, one of many folks dealing with the Phillips 66 project in Rodeo)

    If you keep watching…you will see more clips from a “Call to Action” sponsored by the group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community.

    • WATCH THIS SPACE FOR KEYNOTE SPEECH BY STANFORD PROFESSOR MARC JACOBSON AT MAY 2014 THE DIRTY ENERGY/CLEAN SOLUTIONS CLIMATE CONFERENCE IN THE SF BAY AREA

    While we wait for the presentation to go up on the web, enjoy this video of David Letterman interviewing the professor! Click the link below to watch the Late Show segment.

    http://vimeo.com/83279421jacobson

      Martinez to Benicia: Oil Refinery Protest Draws About 100 Demonstrators

      Repost from the East Bay Express
      [Editor: Many thanks to the East Bay Express for excellent coverage of this colorful and important event (below).  Benicia old timers were heard to say that sleepy little Benicia has probably NEVER seen a protest demonstration like this.  Check out two facebook pages for great photos of the day: facebook.com/stopcrudebyrail AND facebook.com/events/220829548127114/?ref=22.  – RS]

      East Bay Oil Refinery Protest Draws About 100 Demonstrators

      Jean Tepperman —  Mon, May 19, 2014

      Accompanied by a four-kayak flotilla and a fifth-generation Martinez resident on horseback, about one hundred environmental activists marched seven miles from Martinez to Benicia on Saturday to protest the local toxic pollution and global climate impact of Bay Area oil refineries. The march was spearheaded by a Bay Area group affiliated with Idle No More, an organization of Canadian First Nations people fighting development of the tar sands oil fields in Alberta and other environmentally destructive projects on their traditional lands.

      refinery_walk1_5-17.jpeg

      Kelly Johnson

      Specific targets of the protest were proposed expansion projects at the Chevron (Richmond), Valero (Benicia), and Phillips 66 (Rodeo) refineries, a crude oil transportation terminal in Pittsburg planned by energy infrastructure company WesPac, and the major investment of Shell (Martinez) in the Canadian tar sands mines. The Saturday march was the second of four planned Refinery Corridor Healing Walks — the first, from Pittsburg to Martinez, was held in April, and future walks are planned for June and July, ending up at Chevron in Richmond. The series of walks aims to “connect the dots” to “bring awareness to the refinery communities, invite community members to get to know one another, and to show support for a just transition beyond fossil fuels,” according to the group’s website.

      At a gathering at the Martinez Regional Shoreline before the march, a winner of this year’s Goldman environmental prize, South African Desmond D’Sa, described the high rates of leukemia, cancer, and asthma in his home town of Durban and the community’s struggles against Shell Oil there, urging the crowd to “fight them (refineries) wherever they are.” Penny Opal Plant, of the East Bay Idle No More group, said she only recently began to conceive of the refinery corridor as a total area suffering from the “immense devastation” caused by oil refineries.

      Richmond residents have long protested pollution from Chevron, most recently the toxic explosion that sent 15,000 seeking medical treatment in August 2012. Benicia residents have also organized to oppose environmental hazards. In the last year, local groups have also formed in Pittsburg, Crockett-Rodeo, and Martinez to protest refinery expansion and transportation plans, including major increases in the amount of crude oil to be carried by rail through the Bay Area and beyond.

      Describing the dangers of mining, refining, and transporting oil, and looking ahead to a future free from fossil fuel, Opal Plant said, “We are Mother Earth’s immune response awakening. We’re born at this time to do this thing.”

      refinery_walk2_5-17.jpeg

      Kelly Johnson

      The group’s route first went through the Shell refinery, then over the bridge to Benicia, with a view of the Valero refinery there. From a hilltop vista point next to Carquinez Strait, Benicia activist Marilyn Bardet pointed out refineries and planned oil industry project sites, as well as the environmentally Suisun Marsh. Railroad tracks leading to the Valero refinery, she said, go right through the marsh. A spill of tar sands crude oil, she added, would be impossible to clean up because the oil is so heavy it would sink and cause irreparable damage.

      The next Refinery Corridor Healing walk is scheduled to go from Benicia to the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo on June 14.