By Steve Young, Benicia Vice Mayor, November 21, 2018
It’s not often that the Council receives the kind of letter copied below. It is from Brien Farrell, the former City Attorney of Santa Rosa, who has retired here in town. I thank Mr. Farrell on behalf of my colleagues. After 4 hours of testimony and deliberation on Tuesday, the Council unanimously adopted a motion advancing what I hope is the mutual interest of the City and Valero in providing enhanced air monitoring for the public, as well as better communication between the two parties. We also appreciate the donation to the City Fire Department by Valero of three mobile air monitors.
Brien Farrell 4:34 PM (7 hours ago)
To Mayor, Steve, Mark, Alan, Tom
Mayor Patterson and Councilmembers:
I watched portions of last night’s council meeting on line and I watched the entire discussion surrounding the motion that was adopted.
I have attended hundreds of city council meetings. Your preparation, civility and thoughtful crafting of a compromise was a model of good government.
Our family thanks you. Air quality and economic stability are important to all of us. Our middle son is the special education coordinator at Robert Semple Elementary School. He had to be rushed to the hospital the day of the flare-up in May 2017. He did not know whether he was having a cardiac or pulmonary emergency. He had never experienced anything similar.
Evacuation planning and air quality monitoring are both critical. We strongly support local, state and federal oversight. In my past career as a city attorney, I routinely observed that local government is the most responsive and accountable.
Our son has been cleared to donate his kidney to another Benicia teacher on December 17, 2018, at the UC Davis Hospital. Upon his return to work, we worry that he might be exposed to another major air quality event or cumulative harm. Everyone assures us that his health will be normal after the kidney transplant. We would like all foreseeable risks to be minimized.
Your ongoing efforts to promote maximum transparency and protections that are fair and reasonable are much appreciated. We urge the city to impose local regulations, if it is not possible to reach compromises in six months.
Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire
By Lorraine Chow, Jul 13, 2016
This week—as thousands of Americans urge awareness to the destruction caused by oil bomb trains—an oil field in San Juan County, New Mexico erupted in flames Monday night, highlighting the continued and increasing dangers of the fossil fuel industry.
The fire broke out around 10:15 p.m. Monday at a fracking site owned and operated by WPX Energy, setting off several explosions and temporarily closing the nearby Highway 550. Fifty-five local residents were forced out of their homes.
A photo of the fire before emergency response arrived on site.Kendra Pinto
The site—located in the Mancos shale deposit area and known as the 550 Corridor and a part of Greater Chaco Canyon—contains six new oil wells and 30 temporary oil storage tanks holding either oil or produced water. All 36 storage tanks caught fire and burned, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company said.
The site was still smoldering last night and, now, “only 7 of 36 tanks at production site on fire this morning,” the company tweeted.
“The fire is being allowed to burn itself out due to the intensity of the heat, the number of oil tanks involved and to contain petroleum fluids on WPX’s five-acre site, predominantly in the storage tankage,” WPX said.
According to Albuquerque news station KOAT, WPX stopped drilling for natural gas and oil in the area last May. The company had been producing for about a week before the fire broke out.
The cause of the fire is currently unclear. “We think that in the next couple of weeks to months, we will have that information and will be able to share that with the public,” WPX San Juan Asset Team manager, Heather Riley, told the news station.
There were no reported injuries or damage to nearby property. Most of the evacuees have returned home but 10 families are still lodged in a hotel, The Farmington Daily Times reported.
Environmental advocates are speaking out about the explosion.
“The site that exploded is a brand new facility that consists of six wells drilled to shale formations that have never been adequately analyzed for impacts and safety concerns.” Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, told EcoWatch in an email.
WPX was given approval to develop the site from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division in September. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office gave final approval to drill the land in December.
“In a leap before looking scenario, the federal Bureau of Land Management in Farmington, New Mexico has allowed WPX to proceed with these shale facilities discounting the inherent danger that has now become clear with the explosion,” Eisenfeld said.
“This highlights the failure to have adequate safeguards in place to protect local communities and also raises serious questions about chemicals and toxicity associated with the explosion. Emergency response for this explosion was hours away. A thorough investigation is necessary. There should be a moratorium on these new wells until BLM completes a legally proficient Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement for the Mancos Shale/Gallup formations.”
The New Mexico environmental non-profit WildEarth Guardians noted in a statement to EcoWatch that the BLM Farmington Field Office has leased more than 90 percent of the lands it oversees to oil and gas companies and plans to auction off additional acres for fracking during the January 2017 lease sale. The office manages a total of 1.8 million acres of public land.
“Enough is enough,” Kendra Pinto, counselor chapter outreach intern, said. “It seems like every month we see more wells here, and things are going to get worse if the drilling doesn’t stop. At this rate, what will be left here for our children? The land has changed.”
WPX Energy has invested millions to drill into the tight shale formations in the San Juan Basin. The company has put in at least $160 million in developing oil plays in 2014 on its 60,000 leased acres, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
The rise of hydraulic fracturing has aided a U.S. energy boom but the environmental impact of the technology is under intense dispute, from polluting drinking water to earthquakes. Last year, WPX Energy itself came under scrutiny for failing to disclose how it is managing its impacts on communities and the local environment with its fracking operations.
“WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts, and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania,” the advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote.
WPX Energy has defended its operations and even helped produce a glossy 26-minute documentary, Down Deep, as a way of “spreading the message that fracking is safe and necessary for the U.S. energy future,” Tulsa World wrote of the film.
Still, as WildEarth Guardians pointed out, the recent oil field explosion in San Juan serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels.
“I know people want jobs,” Samuel Sage, Wildlife Guardians counselor chapter community services coordinator, said. “But why must they come at the expense of our air, water, and climate? Many other places are building clean energy generation and creating well-paying jobs in the process. That is our future, not this dirty industry.”
“Unfortunately, this may be the tip of the iceberg,” Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, said. “The Obama Administration has already leased more than 10 million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling, and BLM continues to lease more land in New Mexico to fracking interests without studying these impacts. How many more explosions and evacuations will it take before we seriously consider the cost of these dirty fossil fuel industries and simply end this leasing program?”
By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, Stand.Earth (formerly ForestEthics), 06/29/2016 01:32 pm ET
On Friday, June 3rd, a crude oil train traveled through the scenic Columbia River Gorge, a national treasure and one of the most beautiful spots in a country blessed with some of the most stunning places on Earth. It went slowly through the small town of Mosier, Ore. Children sat in class, no doubt looking forward to the weekend, people stopped by the post office, enjoying the rituals of small town life. Then the ground shook. Explosions rocked the area and a plume of thick black smoke snaked its way into the sky. The oil train had derailed a few hundred yards from that school, a few hundred yards from the city center. Four railcars spilled and caught fire — and tens of thousands of gallons of burning North Dakota Bakken crude created an inferno.
This disaster occurred as Stand and our many allies in the Crude Awakening Network were preparing for the third annual Stop Oil Trains Week of Action, planning dozens of events across the US and Canada between July 6-12 to mark the solemn anniversary of the tragic Lac Megantic oil train disaster on July 6, 2013. The Mosier derailment drove home, once again, why oil trains are too dangerous for the rails. And why Stand is asking President Obama for an immediate ban on oil trains.
Here are the top five reasons Stand, joined by hundreds of groups, community leaders, and elected officials, are calling for a ban on deadly oil trains.
1. 25 million Americans live in the oil train “blast zone”.
The US rail system was built to connect population centers, not move millions of gallons of toxic, flammable crude oil. But the oil industry is doing exactly that, sending explosive crude down the tracks right through our cities and by the homes of 25 million Americans. At Stand, we have mapped oil train routes with our Blast Zone map. You can use the map to see if your home, school, or office is inside the dangerous one-mile evacuation area. One clear finding from analyzing America’s blast zone: vulnerable populations like environmental justice communities and school children are clearly in harm’s way.
2. Oil trains can’t be operated safely.
Federal safety standards won’t improve oil train safety. Federal legislation, promises by the railroads, and federal regulations- weakened by years of interagency battles between the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board — have all come to very little. Former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Jim Hall, in a June 2016 op-ed advocating a ban on crude oil trains, put it simply: “Carrying crude oil by rail is just not a good idea.” That’s because it cannot be done safely. Period.
Thorough reporting by DeSmog Blog on the weak existing federal regulatory standards and the oil and rail industry’s failure to meet them demonstrates there have been no improvements on the safety of the 100,000 unsafe tank cars in the US fleet. Only a few hundred of these 100,000 dangerous tank cars have been retrofitted, and cars updated to the newest tank car standard will still puncture at just a few miles an hour faster than the current tank cars.
After 2025, there may be marginal improvements in the tank cars and procedures associated with oil trains. But trains will still derail, and crude will still leak and ignite.
3. Oil train fires can’t be controlled.
When an oil train derails at any speed over the puncture velocity of roughly 10 miles an hour a dozen or so cars typically come off the tracks, decouple and are thrown from their wheels. Tank cars are easily punctured, and the crude (either Bakken or diluted tar sands, both highly volatile) can either self-ignite or be sparked by a nearby ignition source.
Once the spilled oil from an oil train disaster ignites, the primary task of emergency responders is to evacuate the area due to toxic plumes, fire, and potential explosions. We write more about the difficulties here, but Bruce Goetsch, a county emergency manager in Iowa, had this advice: “Make sure your tennis shoes are on and start running.” Or listen to the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, which delivered a letter to Washington Governor Inslee on June 8 demanding an immediate halt to crude rail movement and stating that, “these fires are exceedingly difficult to extinguish, even under unusually ideal circumstances.”
4. We don’t need the oil these dangerous trains carry.
Oil trains in North America carry extreme fracked crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Saskatchewan, or diluted bitumen from tar sands deposits in Alberta. We don’t need any of this crude oil. According to the most recent information from the US Energy Information Administration, shipments of crude by rail represent only 2.5 percent of the 19 million barrel daily US oil demand. At the same time, the US exports more than five million barrels of oil per day. So the US is exporting ten times more than the 513,000 barrels of crude that is moving by rail each day. The crude moving by train contributes nothing to our energy supply. If we stopped all oil trains tomorrow Americans would never notice the difference at the gas pumps – but we would all be safer, especially the 25 million Americans living in the blast-zone.
5. Oil trains are taking us in the wrong direction.
The dangerous, unnecessary, carbon-intensive crude oil moving by train through North American cities and towns is a new phenomenon. Before 2008, crude oil rarely, if ever, moved by train. Oil companies see this oil as the future. We see a future where we leave extreme crude oil in the ground and use decreasing amounts of conventional oil as we transition to 100 percent clean energy.
The climate accords in Paris followed by the April 2016 United Nations resolution put the United States and the rest of the world on a clear, inevitable path toward reducing fossil fuels from our energy supply. These dangerous oil trains carrying extreme oil are, quite simply, not part of that future: they fail the public safety test, the energy security test, and the climate test.
Forty-seven people died in the Lac Megantic oil train disaster three years ago. Only incredible luck prevented Mosier, OR from being another Lac Megantic. It was a dead-calm day in one of the windiest part of the US, otherwise the fire could have spread quickly to more derailed cars, to surrounding forests, homes, and even to the nearby school. This was another close call, one of more than a dozen major oil train disasters over the last three years that could have been much worse. We need to end this unnecessary and unacceptable threat before our luck runs out.
This is not a radical request. In fact, the Governors of Oregon and Washington have asked for a moratorium on oil trains. Join them — and Stand: Please join us in asking President Obama for an immediate ban on oil trains.
Track failure likely cause of oil train derailment, fire in Mosier
By Donna Gordon Blankinship, Associateed Press, June 5, 2016
MOSIER, Ore. — Officials now say a track failure was likely the cause of the oil train derailment and explosion in the Columbia River Gorge Friday.
A failure of the fastener between the railroad tie and the line was likely the problem, but more investigation will be required before railroad officials know for sure, Raquel Espinoza with Union Pacific said Sunday.
Union Pacific inspects the tracks that run through Mosier twice a week, and the most recent inspection took place on May 31, Espinoza said. Union Pacific had completed a more detailed and technical inspection of this section of track at the end of April and found no problems.
“We’re doing everything we can to get you back home, but we’re not going to risk your safety,” Espinoza said at a news conference. When asked if she knew how much the cleanup was going to cost the company, Espinoza said, “I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.”
“Our priority here is bringing people home. Nothing else matters,” she added. Repairs to a water treatment system, which runs under the tracks, would need to be completed before people could return to their homes, the railroad said.
About a hundred people – a quarter of the town’s population – have been evacuated from their homes since Friday in an area about a quarter mile around the train.
Mosier’s mayor and fire chief said Sunday the derailment and fire in their town could have been a lot worse.
Fire Chief Jim Appleton says the usual amount of wind in Mosier – about 25 mph – could have turned this incident into a major disaster, destroying the town and sending flames across state lines.
“My attention was focused on the incident that didn’t happen,” Appleton said. “It probably would have burned its way close to Omaha, Nebraska. That’s how big it would have been.”
Mayor Arlene Burns said the people of Mosier were “incredibly lucky.”
“I count myself lucky that we dodged a bullet,” Burns said, after noting that her own child was at school within a few blocks of the derailment. “We hope that this is a wake-up call.”
The fire and derailment damaged essential city services in the small Oregon town, authorities said Sunday.
The Mosier waste water treatment plant and sewer system were not operational Sunday. Residents were told not to flush their toilets and advised to boil any water before they drank it or cooked with it. Mosier exhausted its water reserves fighting the fire and cooling the trains. Burns said the aquifers were completely depleted.
Officials have been conducting continuous water and air monitoring since plumes of black smoke filled the sky near the scenic Columbia River Gorge.
“Today’s priority is focused on safely restoring essential services to the community of Mosier as soon as possible,” incident spokeswoman Judy Smith of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.
No injuries have been reported. But Oregon health officials are asking people with questions or concerns to call a hotline to talk to a health expert at 888-623-3120.
Including Friday’s incident, at least 26 oil trains have been involved in major fires or derailments during the past decade in the U.S. and Canada, according to an Associated Press analysis of accident records from the two countries. The worst was a 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Damage from that accident has been estimated at $1.2 billion or higher.
Evacuated residents needing assistance should contact the Union Pacific Claim Center located across from the Mosier Market or call the claim center at 877-877-2567, option 6.
A health hotline has been set up at 888-623-3120. A boil water order remains in effect for the Mosier community.