Category Archives: Evacuation zone

SACRAMENTO BEE: Northern California towns lack resources to handle oil train fires, spills

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Northern California towns lack resources to handle oil train fires, spills

By Jane Braxton Little, April 23, 2016 7:49 AM

HIGHLIGHTS
• Lassen County town has no reliable water supply for firefighting
• Crude oil transport by rail grew 1,700 percent in 2015
• Federal government providing hands-on response training

A BNSF train carrying dozens of tank cars crosses an 80-year-old trestle heading south to Union Pacific Railroad tracks through the Feather River Canyon.
A BNSF train carrying dozens of tank cars crosses an 80-year-old trestle heading south to Union Pacific Railroad tracks through the Feather River Canyon. Jane Braxton Little

WESTWOOD – BNSF Railway trains carrying crude oil and other hazardous materials rumble through this Lassen County community every day – past homes, churches and a scant block from the downtown commercial center.

If a tank car were to derail and explode, Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen would take the only action he’s equipped for: Evacuation. Of all 1,000 residents.

Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen CQ stands next to the BNSF Railway tracks, a stone’s throw from the fire station in this Lassen County community.
Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen CQ stands next to the BNSF Railway tracks, a stone’s throw from the fire station in this Lassen County community. Jane Braxton Little

Westwood has no consistent source of water, and the closest trailers with enough foam to extinguish a large blaze are a full four hours away, he said: “We’d just have to get everybody out and go from there.”

Rural officials like Duerksen have been worried for decades about the chlorine, ammonia, propane and crude oil transported through their northern California communities by BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad. But a dramatic surge in production in oil fields in the Midwest and Canada increased the volume from about 10,000 railroad tank cars in 2008 to nearly half a million in 2014. In 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported a 1,700 percent increase in crude oil transportation by rail.

That’s slowed significantly in the last year, a change generally attributed to a drop in the price of oil. But emergency responders worry that the volume will swell again when crude oil prices rise. In recent weeks, many have observed an increase in the number of tank cars on trains running south toward Sacramento and San Francisco.

That could be a precursor to the half-mile long oil trains planned for travel through Northern California to Benicia. Valero Refining Co. has proposed building a rail loading station that would allow importing oil on two 50-car trains a day to the city 40 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The trains would run through Roseville, downtown Sacramento, West Sacramento, downtown Davis, Dixon and other cities. East of Roseville, the route is uncertain. Trains could arrive via Donner Summit, Feather River Canyon, or through the Shasta and Redding areas.

WE’D JUST HAVE TO GET EVERYBODY OUT AND GO FROM THERE.
Westwood Fire Chief Forest Duerksen

On Tuesday, the Benicia City Council postponed until September a decision on Valero’s appeal of a February planning commission recommendation that unanimously rejected the proposal.

Accidents have mounted with the increase in the number of trains transporting oil around the country. A 2013 oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, haunts firefighters across the continent. The fire and detonation of multiple tank cars carrying Bakken crude oil killed 47 people and destroyed dozens of buildings.

No one was hurt in 2014, when 11 cars derailed on Union Pacific tracks in the Feather River Canyon, spilling corn down a hillside above the river that supplies drinking water to millions of people as far south as Los Angeles. The cars could easily have been carrying crude oil, with substantial environmental consequences far beyond the Feather River, said Jerry Sipe, director of Plumas County’s Office of Emergency Services.

“We were lucky,” he said.

In 2015 there were 574 railway “incidents” involving hazardous materials while in transport, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Of these, 114 were in California, and three in Roseville, site of a large rail yard. Most were minor, and none involved fatalities.

Officials in California’s up-rail cities, including Sacramento, have raised objections to plans to expand oil train traffic, saying not enough attention is being given to safety concerns. But these large urban jurisdictions are far better equipped to respond to incidents than their counterparts in rural Northern California, where train tracks pass through some of the state’s roughest terrain.

In these rural areas, the people responding first to oil spills and accidents are generally local fire departments like Duerksen’s, one of the nation’s 20,000 all-volunteer fire organizations. Among the small rural communities along BNSF’s tracks through Northern California, the Westwood Fire Department is one of the better equipped for a hazardous materials accident.

Duerksen took advantage of a BNSF program at the railroad industry’s training and research center in Pueblo, Colo. That gave him hands-on experience in using water and foam on a burning railcar, and taught him advanced techniques for containing spills.

1,700 percent
Increase in crude oil transportation by rail in 2015

Since then, several volunteer firefighters from Westwood and communities along the BNSF line have attended the training. Quincy and other fire departments along the Union Pacific line have also sent volunteers to Pueblo.

Plumas County was recently awarded a grant to acquire an oil spill trailer with firefighting foam and 1,200 feet of “hard booms,” which can contain large quantities of hazardous materials. Sipe said it will be positioned along Highway 70 at Rogers Flat for quick deployment in the Feather River Canyon, where aging trestles and sharp curves make it among the most accident-prone rail lines in the state.

“We’re better protected now than a year ago,” Sipe said.

Despite the improvements, many fire departments remain untrained and poorly equipped. In Greenville, where the BNSF line passes directly through residential and commercial areas, none of the 25 volunteers has been to the oil-spill training in Pueblo, said Chris Gallagher, general manager of the Indian Valley Community Services District, which oversees the fire department. Four of the department’s 10 pieces of equipment have been deemed inoperable by the California Highway Patrol, he said.

“We definitely need some help,” said Gallagher.

That could come through an innovative program taking the Pueblo emergency response training on the road. Rail safety experts will travel to communities around the country providing hands-on accident preparedness to firefighters. Funded by a $2.4 million award from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the mobile training program is expected to train about 18,000 first responders from remote rural communities in 2016.

The award is part of a $5.9 million grant to provide hazardous materials training for volunteer or remote emergency responders. Plumas County has already requested the mobile training, Sipe said.

BNSF strongly supports these programs, said Lena Kent, a company spokeswoman. Last year alone it trained 10,000 first responders, 1,500 of them in California.

Duerksen, the Westwood fire chief, said he feels much safer than he did two years ago, when the increase in oil-train traffic had emergency responders on edge. “We’re better trained and better prepared now,” he said.

But not everyone is content with the increased training and beefed-up emergency response equipment. Larry Bradshaw, a retired therapist and community activist in Westwood, is advocating for additional safety requirements for BNSF. He wants to see a high-risk rail designation extended from Greenville to Westwood, imposing a 45 mph maximum speed and increasing the number of inspections.

“We’re not prepared at all. There’s no way we can respond to a spill. The only thing we can do is evacuate,” Bradshaw said.

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    No decision on Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal after fifth day of hearings

    Repost from the San Luis Obispo Tribune

    No decision on Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal after fifth day of hearings

    By David Sneed, April 15, 2016 10:27 AM

    HIGHLIGHTS
    • 
    Planning Commission continues the discussion to May 16, when a decision is expected
    • Panel considered a range of issues, including air quality, bridge safety and emergency response
    • Public turnout Friday was light because no public comment was taken

    Planning commissioners listen Friday during the fifth hearing on Phillips 66’s oil-by-rail proposal for its Nipomo Mesa refinery.
    Planning commissioners listen Friday during the fifth hearing on Phillips 66’s oil-by-rail proposal for its Nipomo Mesa refinery. Credit: David Middlecamp

    After a fifth daylong hearing, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission did not come to a decision on a controversial proposed rail spur project at the Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa refinery and scheduled a sixth and possibly final hearing for May 16.

    During Friday’s hearing, the commission considered a wide range of issues associated with the project, including air quality, bridge safety, hazards, emergency response and the composition of the oil to be shipped. One of the greatest fears regarding the proposed rail spur at the Phillips 66 oil refinery is that one of the long trains supplying the refinery could derail in a fiery crash.

    “What is a rail car going to do if it turns over on the (Cuesta) Grade,” asked Commissioner Jim Irving. “Is it going to blow up?”

    Jim Anderson, refinery manager, said the company will use the latest, most up-to-date tankers to transport the oil according to the Department of Transportation requirements to prevent that from happening. He also said the type of crude oil the tankers will be hauling is the heavier, less flammable kind.

    “These cars are the state-of-the-art according to the DOT,” he said. “We will not start this project without those cars.”

    John Peirson, a consultant with Marine Research Specialists of Ventura, which prepared the project’s environmental impact report, said even with the heavier crude oil, crashes have resulted in explosions and fireballs. He also said a thinner would be added to make the oil easier to pump and transport, and that this would increase its flammability.

    “It is less likely, but it is possible,” he said.

    For oil train accidents, the evacuation zone along the railroad is half a mile on either side. In San Luis Obispo County, 88,377 people live within half a mile of the tracks, said Ryan Hostetter, senior county planner.

    The evacuation zone is the area adjacent to the tracks in which a person is liable to be injured in the event of a fire and explosion. Of greatest risk are densely populated areas and public facilities such as schools and hospitals. For example, Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo is near the railroad.

    “These are areas where you would expect very severe consequences,” said Steve Radis, another MRS consultant. “Potentially, if you were outdoors, you could be injured, and evacuating a hospital would be a major disruption.”

    The amount of crude oil transported by rail has increased 50 times since 2009. Since that time, three accidents a year involving oil cars have occurred nationally, none locally, Radis said.

    In October 2015, Cal Fire conducted a simulated oil car derailment accident drill at the California Men’s Colony prison that involved 100 people. The simulation included multiple fires, creek pollution and inmate injuries, Battalion Chief Laurie Donnelly said.

    It took several hours to put the oil fires out, but the most time-consuming part of the drill was treating the injured inmates.

    “We did well, but we found a few areas of improvement, which is to be expected in a drill like that,” she said.

    More than 50 people were in attendance Friday at the commission’s fifth hearing on the project.

    Public turnout at Friday’s hearing was light compared with past hearings, which attracted hundreds of people. The light turnout was attributable to the fact that no public comment was taken.

    The oil company has applied to build a 1.3-mile rail spur with five parallel tracks from the main rail line to its Nipomo Mesa refinery, an unloading facility at the refinery and on-site pipelines.

    These improvements would allow the refinery to accept five trains a week for a maximum of 250 trains per year to deliver crude oil to the refinery. Each train would have three locomotives, two buffer cars and 80 rail cars carrying a total of 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.

    County staff is recommending the proposal be denied. The project drew more than 400 speakers at previous hearings as well as thousands of letters and comments sent from around the state.

    Opponents say the project will cause air pollution and other environmental consequences. They are also concerned about a derailment causing an oil spill and fire.

    In order to reduce these environmental impacts, Phillips 66 has offered to reduce the shipments to three trains a week, or 150 per year.

    Supporters say the project is needed to keep the refinery economically viable and protect its 200 jobs. They also point out that the refinery has operated safely and the state needs the oil products it will produce.

    Whatever decision the Planning Commission makes will certainly be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.

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      NORTHEAST PUBLIC RADIO: Advocates Call On Feds To Ban Rail Transport Of Bakken Oil

      Repost from WAMC Northeast Public Radio
      [Editor:  Significant quote: “More than 80 environmental, business, recreational and other organizations along with former members of state agencies, current and former state legislators and both the Plattsburgh and Burlington City Councils have signed a letter to the Vermont and New York Congressional delegation calling for a ‘federal legislatively imposed ban on the transport of oil along Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.'”  – RS]

      Advocates Call On Federal Officials To Ban Rail Transport Of Bakken Oil

      By Pat Bradley, Apr 14, 2016
      PAT BRADLEY/WAMC

      A coalition of environmental and municipal officials stood in a park overlooking the Saranac River and a rail trestle this morning. They announced a new effort to convince federal representatives from New York and Vermont to ban crude oil transport in order to protect Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

      The group met at MacDonough Park across from City Hall. The park is only a few hundred yards from a rail trestle that daily sees trains carrying crude oil cross over the Saranac River as it empties into Lake Champlain. The advocates say transporting Bakken oil by rail remains an unacceptable risk to Vermont and New York, and is especially hazardous to the sensitive ecosystems of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.

      More than 80 environmental, business, recreational and other organizations along with former members of state agencies, current and former state legislators and both the Plattsburgh and Burlington City Councils have signed a letter to the Vermont and New York Congressional delegation calling for a “federal legislatively imposed ban on the transport of oil along Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.”

      National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel Jim Murphy outlined a precipitous increase in rail accidents nationally over the past three years and says the oil trains that travel along Lake Champlain are too dangerous. “We have concluded that there is no safe way to transport this oil at this time. The trains that roll along this lake are sometimes twice the length of the train that destroyed Lac Megantic. The danger is just simply too high.”

      Plattsburgh Ward One City Councilor Rachelle Armstrong called the oil trains travelling through the city an ominous problem. “Our municipalities need to stand up and become the advocates in a bold and aggressive way so that we bring the attention to bear on this issue that our leaders at the federal level need to recognize.”

      The rail corridor along Lake Champlain also passes through the Adirondack Park. Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan says the trains pose a significant risk to the largest park in the contiguous United States. “This is also considered to be a biosphere reserve by the United Nations. The danger here is also to a drinking water supply for one hundred eighty thousand people. Lake Champlain serves as water for people from Vermont, New York and Quebec. So we have grave concerns about the environment, about communities and about wild lands here and we’re hoping that the federal government takes them seriously.”

      The trains carrying Bakken crude travel 100 miles along Lake Champlain and through the Adirondacks to the Port of Albany. Lake Champlain Committee Executive Director Lori Fisher believes a catastrophic accident is not a matter of if, but when. “In the past we have pushed for a ban on the DOT-111’s. That hasn’t happened. There’s been some movement to upgrade trains to the twelve thirty two’s. They don’t represent a greater safety for our communities. That’s why we see the need to push for a ban on oil transport until it can be safe. We know it’s not safe now and it’s a ticking time bomb and we need to act now.”

      The advocates noted that the evacuation zone from an oil train derailment in Plattsburgh includes City Hall, the downtown business area, the Country Government Center and numerous schools.

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