Category Archives: Emergency Readiness & Response

KQED: Valero Flaring Sends 10 to 20 to Kaiser Medical Center

Repost from KQED, The California Report
[Editor: Significant quote: “On Friday, officials said that only two residents called with respiratory complaints, and there was no indication that anyone was hospitalized. But… Between 10 and 20 people went to the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center, according to Kaiser spokeswoman Deniene Erickson.”]

Benicia Mayor Calls For Key Emergency Improvements After Valero Refinery Outage and Flaring

By Ted Goldberg, MAY 9, 2017
PHOTO: The power outage on May 5, 2017, at the Valero Refinery in Benicia lasted several hours and led to flaring at the refinery. Flaring is a process that allows the refinery to relieve pressure – but it can send out smoke and toxic gas. (Craig Miller/KQED)
The power outage on May 5, 2017, at the Valero Refinery in Benicia lasted several hours and led to flaring at the refinery. Flaring is a process that allows the refinery to relieve pressure – but it can send out smoke and toxic gas. (Craig Miller/KQED)

Benicia has to do a better job of telling its residents about major emergencies, the city’s mayor said Monday, after a series of communication problems surfaced in connection with a power outage at the Valero refinery that has caused intermittent flaring since Friday morning.

The city’s government access television station broadcast inaccurate and inadequate information in the hours after the outage and not enough residents could hear the city’s emergency sirens, said Mayor Elizabeth Patterson in an interview.

“It’s really troubling that we don’t have these things in place,” Patterson said.

On Monday air regulators announced that Valero is being penalized for the incident.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is investigating the flaring, issued four notices of violation to the energy company on Friday, three for excessive smoke and one for causing a public nuisance, according to agency spokeswoman Kristine Roselius.

On Monday afternoon the district issued a fifth notice of violation for excessive visible emissions.

“Valero was preparing for start-up when smoke started  coming out of one of the stacks,”  Roselius said.

A Valero spokeswoman has not returned a request for comment on the district’s penalty.

The refinery’s first full power loss in 30 years started around 6:30 a.m. Friday. The outage began shortly after crews took one of two transmission lines offline to complete upgrades, said Matt Nauman, a Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman.

Circuit breakers opened after a component of a “protective relay system failed,” according to Nauman.

But the San Francisco-based energy company did not directly contact Benicia officials quickly enough about the outage, Mayor Patterson said.

“Why didn’t PG&E call the city of Benicia so that we could begin to think about the consequences of power loss to the refinery 15 minutes earlier than we were alerted by Valero?” Patterson asked.

PG&E says it did tell the city, just not as fast as the mayor would have liked.

A company representative contacted the Benicia fire chief and the Solano County of Emergency Services at 8 a.m., according to PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras, adding that utility crews worked quickly and safely to restore power in 18 minutes.

The outage caused gases used in the refining process to build up inside the refinery. To relieve pressure, Valero sent toxic gas to its flares.

Valero, like other refining companies, emphasizes that the flaring process is a safety device.

At first that process sent flames and a huge plume of smoke into the sky, which resulted in the evacuation of an industrial area near Valero and a shelter-in-place order for two elementary schools.

Even that order wasn’t clear. Initially, some authorities called for the rest of the city, except for the adjacent industrial area, to stay indoors.

“All other areas of town shelter in place. Keep doors and windows closed. Bring pets inside,” said a tweet from the Benicia Police Department.

Minutes later the agency published a corrected tweet, focusing the order on the two schools, but that was not entirely clear.

“No shelter in place for the rest of the (city) except for Matthew Turner and Robert Semple. Everyone’s encouraged to close doors and windows,” the follow-up tweet read.

On Friday, officials said that only two residents called with respiratory complaints, and there was no indication that anyone was hospitalized.

But, it turns out, the toxic air did send people to the hospital.

Between 10 and 20 people went to the emergency department at Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo Medical Center, according to Kaiser spokeswoman Deniene Erickson.

The flaring continued over the weekend and on Monday as Valero restored operations.

“We may have some intermittent flaring as we continue through safe startup process,” said Valero spokeswoman Lillian Riojas in an email Monday.

Meanwhile, the city has begun a top-to-bottom review of its emergency response, according to Benicia Fire Chief Jim Lydon.

“There are some systems that we need to go back and look at and assess their functionality and make sure they’re working properly,” Lydon said in an interview Monday, adding that he saw complaints from residents about the emergency communication on social media.

After that review is completed, Mayor Patterson is calling for a City Council hearing to explore ways to improve emergency communication.

That hearing would also investigate why Valero does not have a backup power source, something Patterson said she was unaware of until Friday’s emergency.

The afternoon of the outage a company official blamed California’s greenhouse gas regulations for preventing the creation of an alternative power source.

Valero expanded its refinery in recent years to reduce emissions, according to Don Cuffel, the company’s health, safety, environmental director. That expansion increased the facility’s electrical load but the company never got a permit to create a “co-generation unit”.

“Adding another co-generation unit to the refinery only increases our carbon footprint,” Cuffel said at a Friday news conference.

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Washington: New rule requires railroads to show they can handle oil spills

Repost from the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
[Editor: Significant quote: “…California and Minnesota have implemented similar laws for railroads.”  – RS]

Washington: Railroads must show they can handle oil spills

By the Associated Press, September 1, 2016 2:16 PM

HIGHLIGHTS
Washington’s Department of Ecology has adopted a new rule requiring that railroads shipping oil through the state demonstrate that they can immediately respond to any spills.

FILE - This June 6, 2016, file aerial video image taken from a drone shows crumpled oil tankers lying beside the railroad tracks after a fiery June 3 train derailment that prompted evacuations from the tiny Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Ore. Federal investigators on Thursday, June 23, 2016, blamed Union Pacific Railroad for the derailment along the Oregon-Washington border, saying the company failed to properly maintain its track. Preliminary findings on the derailment raise questions about why the company didn't find the broken bolts that triggered the wreck when it inspected the tracks right before the derailment.
FILE – This June 6, 2016, file aerial video image taken from a drone shows crumpled oil tankers lying beside the railroad tracks after a fiery June 3 train derailment that prompted evacuations from the tiny Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier, Ore. Federal investigators on Thursday, June 23, 2016, blamed Union Pacific Railroad for the derailment along the Oregon-Washington border, saying the company failed to properly maintain its track. Preliminary findings on the derailment raise questions about why the company didn’t find the broken bolts that triggered the wreck when it inspected the tracks right before the derailment. Brent Foster AP

OLYMPIA, WASH.  |  Washington’s Department of Ecology has adopted a new rule requiring that railroads shipping oil through the state demonstrate that they can immediately respond to any spills.

The department said Thursday the rule takes effect Oct. 1, and it brings railroads into line with rules for companies moving oil by pipeline and by vessel.

Railroads will have to provide Ecology with contingency plans detailing steps the railroad will take if oil spills or a substantial risk of a spill occurs during transport. Officials say they’ll review each plan and require that they be tested through appropriate drills.

The state says California and Minnesota have implemented similar laws for railroads.

This fall, Washington is also beginning to require that facilities receiving shipments of crude oil by rail notify Ecology, which will share notice of those plans with local first responders.

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None on Kentucky hazmat team got new training for rail oil spills

Repost from the Lexington Herald Leader
[Editor:  I asked a knowledgeable friend about permitting in Kentucky: Was crude oil envisioned for Somerset back before its opening in 2007? Was there a more recent Continental permitting process before they could begin shipping crude by rail? Any environmental impact reports? Are folks in Kentucky opposing this?  Here is my friend’s response: “Long story short: Kentucky is pretty relaxed when it comes to permitting. Whatever business they envisioned at the rail park 10 years ago is what they can do. The area is nonattainment, so no air quality permits were required. All the environmental scrutiny the facility ever got was an EPA-supervised cleanup of the site, which was a former steam locomotive maintenance shop. Did that, got their wastewater discharge permit, and they were off to the races. There won’t be any meaningful opposition. That area has a strongly pro-business, anti-regulation bent. They built the county’s landfill over top of a cave system that feeds into the local drinking water supply and didn’t even bat an eye.”  – RS]

None on Kentucky hazmat team got new training for rail oil spills

By Curtis Tate & Bill Estep, McClatchy Washington Bureau, August 26, 2016 5:59 PM
Continental Refining has begun shipping oil and oil products by rail through the Somerset Rail Park in southern Kentucky.
Continental Refining has begun shipping oil and oil products by rail through the Somerset Rail Park in southern Kentucky. | Continental Refining

A Kentucky oil train terminal illustrates a persistent gap between the risks posed by increasing volumes of crude oil moving by rail and the training available to local first responders specifically for it.

Continental Refining, which operates a 5,500-barrel-a-day refinery in Somerset, Kentucky, announced this week that it plans to move oil and oil products through the Somerset Rail Park, an $8 million rail-to-truck cargo transfer facility that opened in 2007.

But no one on the 12-county hazardous material team that would respond to an oil spill or fire at the facility has received the training that’s been developed in the past few years for such incidents.

That’s in spite of a $2.6 million federal grant last year to Somerset’s Center for Rural Development to develop training for rural or volunteer firefighters to respond to oil train derailments.

$8 million
Federal funds earmarked to build the Somerset Rail Park

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress tightened safety standards for shipping oil by rail in the wake of a string of fiery derailments across North America. The worst of those killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. Last year alone, there were seven derailments involving oil and three involving ethanol across North America.

Continental declined to respond to questions about the safety of its Somerset operation, including whether the rail cars it uses meet the new federal standards and whether it had notified local emergency responders about the shipments and offered them training.

$2.6 million
Federal grant to the Center for Rural Development for firefighter training

Doug Baker, the chief of the Somerset-Pulaski County Special Response team, said the refinery had a history of working well with the hazmat team and other local first responders.

Continental had not notified him specifically about its shipments to the Somerset Rail Park, Baker said, but the refinery had made an effort in the past to include the hazmat team and fire department in emergency planning.

Baker said the special response team had trained technicians at the refinery and helped develop its safety plan. In case of an oil train fire, he said, his team had access to a supply of firefighting foam in the county and the trucks to pump it.

“We’re as prepared as anyone can be for a railroad derailment,” he said. “The response here, to me, would be as good as any you would find anywhere in the state and maybe the nation.”

47
People killed in the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train derailment in 2013

Railroads have offered new training opportunities to emergency responders since the Lac-Megantic disaster. Norfolk Southern, which serves the Somerset Rail Park, operates a safety train, a traveling classroom used to educate fire departments.

According to the safety train’s 2016 schedule, the closest it came to Somerset was Knoxville, Tennessee, about 100 miles away, in early August.

Norfolk Southern and other major railroads have also paid for firefighters from across the country to attend an advanced training class at the railroad industry’s testing facility near Pueblo, Colorado.

Baker said no one on his team had participated in the training in Tennessee or Colorado.

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said first responders in Kentucky were welcome to contact the railroad about training opportunities by going to the safety train’s website.

1 million
Barrels of oil a day transported in trains across the U.S. in 2014

At the peak in 2014, about 1 million barrels a day of oil were moving across the country by rail. But because of low oil prices and new pipeline capacity, that number has fallen nearly by half.

Continental declined to specify where it sources its oil, but the refinery is capable of refining the light, sweet crude that’s produced in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, Continental’s Somerset refinery processed more than 200,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil recovered from the March 2015 derailment of a BNSF oil train in Galena, Illinois.

IN 2015 ALONE, THERE WERE SEVEN DERAILMENTS INVOLVING OIL AND THREE INVOLVING ETHANOL ACROSS NORTH AMERICA

The shippers of oil products and ethanol are supposed to begin phasing out older, less-protected tank cars in rail transportation starting in January 2018. New cars must be built with thicker shells, better crash protections and thermal blankets to protect from fire exposure. Older cars must be retrofitted with those features.

Depending on the type of product and the risk it poses, the older cars can be used through 2029, with a two-year extension possible if the industry can’t complete the retrofits fast enough.

In a series of stories over two years, McClatchy showed that fire departments across the country lacked the resources and training to deal with derailments of trains carrying millions of gallons of flammable liquids.

McClatchy also used open records laws in more than two dozen states, including Kentucky, to obtain information about large shipments of oil by rail.

In 2014, the federal government required railroads to notify first responders about the shipments. Norfolk Southern sued the Maryland Department of the Environment before it could release the records to McClatchy, but a judge eventually ruled against the railroad.

Estep, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, reported from Somerset, Kentucky.

 

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