Category Archives: Health impacts

EXPERT REPORT ON LOCAL IMPACTS: Dr. Phyllis Fox rips Valero’s oil train proposal

By Roger Straw, April 5, 2016

The Benicia Independent is in receipt of the 92-page expert analysis of Dr. Phyllis Fox, submitted yesterday to the City of Benicia.  As of this posting, the report has not been posted on the City’s website.

The report focuses primarily on the many significant local impacts and risk factors.  This is highly important, in that the Council is being urged to ignore all of the crucial uprail factors of health and safety that have been identified.

City staff, paid consultants, the City’s contract attorney and Valero have all cited federal law that protects railroads from local or state regulation. Together, they claim that Benicia’s City Council may not deny or mitigate Valero’s plan based on anything beyond Valero’s small boundary.

Nearly a dozen opposing attorneys have testified to the contrary, asserting that Benicia has every right to deny a permit to a company like Valero that is NOT a railroad, and to condition any approval on local government and police powers to protect the health and safety of the community and those affected by impacts of the project.

Should the Council choose to ignore uprail impacts, Dr. Fox’s lengthy listing of local impacts will offer a clear path for a decisive vote to reject Valero’s proposal.  Taken together, the horrific uprail impacts alongside these daunting on-site health and safety impacts make a convincing case for denial.

Short of denial of the land use permit for the project, Dr. Fox has shown the many fatal flaws and inadequacies of the EIR.  She calls for it to be revised and recirculated yet again.

Dr. Fox’s table of contents and a significant excerpt follow. (Significant excerpt.) (Complete document.)


……A. On-Site Fugitive Railcar ROG Emissions Are Significant
……B. Feasible Mitigation For On-Site Fugitive Railcar ROG Emissions
……C. Storage Tank ROG Emissions
…………1. Tanks Violate BAAQMD Rule 8-5
…………2. Feasible Tank Mitigation


……A. The EIR’s Quantitative Significance Risk Assessment Is Incorrect and Unsupported
…………1. The Santa Barbara County CEQA Guidelines Are Misapplied
…………2. The Santa Barbara CEQA Guidelines Are Not Solely Applicable
…………3. The EIR’s Quantitative Risk Assessment Is Unsupported
……B. Off-Site Risks from On-Site Accidents Are Significant
…………1. Number of Injuries
…………2. Number of Fatalities
…………3. Feasible Mitigation
……C. The EIR Fails to Evaluate All Feasible Types of Accidents
……D. The EIR Fails to Evaluate All Feasible On-Site Accident Scenarios
…………1. Accidents During Train Maneuvering at Unloading Facility (Impact 4.7-3)
…………2. Accidents During Line Hookup And Crude Oil Transfer (Impact 4.7-4)
…………3. BLEVE (Thermal Tear)
……E. Accidents at Other Project Facilities Were Excluded
…………1. Crude Oil Pipeline
…………2. Crude Tank Farm
…………3. Access Road
……F. Factors Contributing to Hazard Impact Significance
…………1. The Location
…………2. Ignition Sources
…………3. External Events
…………4. Centroid Location
…………5. Other Rail Traffic

……A. Flooding Could Increase Hazards
……B. The Project Could Increase Flooding
……C. Flood Mitigation
……D. The EIR Fails to Address Benicia General Plan Requirements

SIGNIFICANT EXCERPT (footnotes removed here):

[Benicia’s] Community Development Director (CDD) concluded “the Project’s on-site impacts are mitigated to a less than significant level and all the findings can be made to approve the Use Permit.” Thus, Staff recommended that the City Council overturn the Planning Commission’s denial, certify the FEIR, and approve the Use Permit (3/9/16 CDD Memo).

SAFER requested that I review the CDD’s conclusions, focusing on on-site impacts. My analysis of the record and additional analyses, documented below, indicate that the Project will result in significant on-site impacts that have not been disclosed in the EIR. These include:

• Significant on-site emissions of reactive organic gases (ROG) from railcar fugitives;
• Significant on-site ROG emissions from change in service of existing crude oil storage tanks;
• Significant cancer, chronic, and acute health impacts from benzene emitted from railcar fugitives;
• Significant off-site injury and fatality impacts from on-site accidents;
• Significant off-site flooding impacts from on-site infrastructure and railcars; and
• Significant off-site injury and fatality impacts from on-site accidents caused by seismic shaking.

Thus, the EIR must be revised to disclose these impacts, impose all feasible mitigation, and be recirculated.

Safety warning from British Health & Safety Executive

Repost from Health & Safety Executive (HSE), Great Britain
[Editor: CONTEXT – I received this in an  email from Fred Millar,  independent consultant and expert on chemical safety and railroad transportation.  Fred’s email comment puts the British commentary in a “North American oil-train” perspective:  “Impact of falling oil prices may be quite small re volumes of Crude By Rail shipments, some informed observers have noted.  But this UK HSE message highlights a likely, less visible but no less ominous impact: dangerous lowering of safety standards in the oil industry [and by implication in the newly important “pipeline on rails” railroads carrying crude oil and other hazmat].  If this impact had not been seen previously at significant levels by safety agencies, there would be no need for such blunt alarums, of course.”  – RS]

No Compromise

By Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair, 2/6/15

The impacts of falling oil prices is having a wide ranging effect in the UK – from the lower cost of filling up the car to people’s livelihoods being under threat.

It is inevitable companies seek to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and the decisions they are being forced to make are tough ones. It’s actually a stress test of leadership and senior management.

Part of that test is whether company decision makers have all the relevant information to make informed decisions.

How can they?

At the very least they have to make assumptions about what the future will look like. In this case, how long oil prices will stay at these levels? What decisions are competitor companies and industries taking? After all, they need to be making the right decisions for the company in the short term and for the mid to long term.

We’ve been here before, of course, in the 1990s when oil prices dropped and assumptions were made about the long term life of North Sea assets that proved to be wide of the mark. So this is a time when corporate memory really counts.

On that occasion the assumption was made that North Sea production would be wound down in the medium term and assets could afford to be neglected because they would soon be out of service. As prices rose again, the assets were called upon to continue to produce and many are now operating well beyond their original life expectancy. Doing that has required huge effort by the North Sea Oil and Gas industry to bring those neglected assets back up to the required standard.

Those who have led this effort to improve asset integrity deserve to be praised, but their voices need to continue to be heard as we go through this next difficult phase for the industry.

Cutting costs where there seems to be least tangible day-to-day effect is obviously tempting but leaders and senior managers need to pass the stress test on knowing where health and safety – and particularly process safety and asset integrity – sits in this mix.

Asset integrity must not suffer from short term expediency over where the axe falls. Leadership is critical to avoid wrong assumptions being made about the lifespan of assets, assumptions we know from previous experience can take years to reverse.

Current news headlines may be disconcerting, but I want all industries dealing with process safety to avoid inadvertently writing tomorrow’s headlines today.

Safety must not be compromised, even in tough times.

Bakken burn victims: Twin Cities hospitals are front line

Repost from The Star Tribune, Minneapolis MN

Twin Cities hospitals are front line in treating Bakken burn victims

There are no specialty centers near Bakken fields.

By Maya Rao, February 14, 2015
Kyle, 27, recovers at Regions Hospital after a fire on an oil site where he was working in the Bakken badly burned his legs. Photo: Maya Rao, Star Tribune

Flames seared the pants off Kyle’s legs as he raced across a bed of ruddy red rocks, screaming for help.

A pipe on a machine processing oil at high heat had burst, soaking him in methanol and sparking a fire.

“You could just feel it cooking my legs,” he said. “It almost sounded like chicken frying in an oiler.”

Hours later, Kyle woke up at Regions Hospital in St. Paul last month, after a 600-mile plane ride from the oil fields of North Dakota. His legs were burned so deeply that the bottom layer of skin would never grow back. It was the worst pain he’d ever felt.

Burn injuries among North Dakota workers have surged to more than 3,100 over the past five years, as the once nearly barren prairies have become the epicenter of a massive oil-drilling boom. Despite the flammability of Bakken crude and the danger of oil-rig work, North Dakota has no burn centers. The Twin Cities is the closest place to go for patients like Kyle, 27, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his last name not be used.

While other kinds of injuries may be more common, oil field burns are among the most painful and costly to treat. An oil field worker’s treatment at a burn unit can cost $1 million.

“The burns from the oil fields can be pretty dramatic,” said Bill Mohr, a surgeon at Regions.

Just 17 percent of North Dakota residents can be transported by air or ground to a burn center within two hours — fewer than every state but Alaska and Montana. The extra time it takes to move patients poses a medical challenge, since care administered in the first day factors into burn patients’ long-term recovery.

Mohr said oil field burns are three or four times bigger than those of the average patient and that Bakken burn victims who come in to Regions are more likely to need ventilators.

One died after arriving with 98 percent of his body burned. Some needed limbs amputated and had burns that bore down into the bone. Many never returned to the oil fields.

Shortage of burn doctors

Hospitals nationwide have been closing burn units and are grappling with a shortage of burn doctors. States with low populations, like the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, have not been able to justify opening such expensive, specialized facilities.

When a truck carrying crude crashes and explodes, or an oil rig blows out, burn victims are initially taken to a hospital in the Bakken. The staff assesses whether the burns are severe enough to fly them to burn centers in the Twin Cities, Salt Lake City or Denver.

Gary Ramage, medical director at McKenzie County Healthcare Systems in North Dakota, said he sends patients out of state if the burns affect their respiratory system, face or hands — the most difficult areas to treat — and at least 10 percent of their body.

Oilfield workers are brought to Regions almost once a month, including a patient last month who had been working on an oil heater near Mandaree, N.D., that ignited. He died.

Another dozen Bakken burn victims have been treated at the Hennepin County Medical Center in the last three or so years, according to its burn unit director, Ryan Fey.

HCMC paid closer attention to oil field burns after a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in Casselton, N.D., 13 months ago. While no one was injured, members of the medical staff are examining how they would address an oil train accident that caused mass burn injuries.

“That’s become more and more of an issue because we have all these Bakken oil trains that come rolling through just one after another,” Fey said.

Bakken hospitals are looking at how to improve burn care. Two nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dickinson, N.D., recently traveled to a Galveston, Texas, hospital to learn burn management techniques. And doctors at Regions regularly travel to the Bakken to talk to medical staff about treating burns in the early stages.

Serious oil field burns destroy what’s known as the dermis, or the thicker, second layer of skin that contains blood vessels and sweat glands. Burn doctors excise the damaged skin to prevent infections. Then they apply bioengineered tissue made of cow collagen and shark cartilage to function as the new dermis. They harvest the top layer of skin from a healthy part of the body and graft it over the artificial skin tissue.

Even after recovering from those surgeries, patients must still do months or years of physical therapy to fix the loss of flexibility in their skin. And then there is the emotional recovery: Severe burn patients can face post-traumatic stress disorder on par with soldiers.

Lighting a cigar

Advances in burn treatment mean that some oil workers who would have died a decade or two ago now have a chance.

One is Casey Malmquist. The head of a Whitefish, Mont., construction company, Malmquist came to the Bakken to build housing for oil workers. In July 2013, he stepped onto the deck of one of the newly finished homes for Halliburton employees and leaned over to light a cigar.

There was a whoosh and then an explosion. He flew off the deck. His shirt, he recalled, lit up like a lantern.

The cause appeared to be leaking propane gas that had not been properly odorized to alert him that he was near a flammable substance. He fell into a coma and woke up three weeks later at Regions, 68 percent of his body burned. The Bemidji native, then 56, seemed destined to die.

But after three months at Regions and many surgeries, Malmquist returned to Montana. He still goes to physical therapy daily and hasn’t returned to some of the activities he once loved, like hockey, because his skin is fragile and managing his body temperature is difficult.

He said living in his new body “is like wearing a wet suit that’s five times too small, and there’s ground glass between you and the wet suit.”

In November, Minneapolis attorney Fred Pritzker sued Horizontal Resources on Malmquist’s behalf, claiming the company was negligent in not odorizing the propane.


Kyle moved to Williston, N.D., in 2011 with his pregnant wife, Shawna, after he was laid off as a plumber in Helena, Mont.

He found work as a maintenance roustabout, checking oil tanks, pumping units, well heads and other equipment.

Last month, Kyle and a co-worker went to an oil pad just south of Ross, N.D., and noticed a unit by the oil treater was frozen. Oil treaters separate oil from water and gas before it moves to storage tanks. After they worked to thaw it with water from a hot oil truck, Kyle said he tried to fix a misplaced valve.

A pipe blew out and soaked him with gas. It was so uncomfortable that he took off the flame-retardant pants over his jeans just before a fire ignited.

Several men who saw Kyle ablaze tackled him and blasted him with a fire extinguisher, ordering him to roll on the ground.

As the ambulance took him to a hospital in Stanley to be stabilized, Kyle said he thought, “How am I going to support my family now?”

He woke up in Regions with a breathing tube, his legs stapled and wrapped in casts.

Kyle can walk; he strode down the hall to pick up Forrest Gump from the hospital’s movie selection after his wife joked that she’d make him watch Titanic. But it hurts.

As OSHA investigates, Kyle said he doesn’t blame his company and considers it a freak accident. He hopes to get his old job back one day.

Memories of the fire shake him. “I keep having nightmares about it,” Kyle said. “I’ve been trying to take a nap all day and … I jump and think that I’m back in the fire.”

New York Governor Cuomo bans fracking

Repost from The New York Times
[Editor: this week saw dramatic action on the part of two US governors.  See also Washington Gov. Inslee: Make big polluters pay for transportation projects.  – RS]

Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State

By Thomas Kaplandec, Dec. 17, 2014
Members of New Yorkers Against Fracking celebrated the governor’s decision outside his Manhattan office on Wednesday. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of debate over a method of extracting natural gas.

Fracking, as it is known, was heavily promoted as a source of economic revival for depressed communities along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, and Mr. Cuomo had once been poised to embrace it.

Instead, the move to ban fracking left him acknowledging that, despite the intense focus he has given to solving deep economic troubles afflicting large areas upstate, the riddle remained largely unsolved. “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great,’ ” he said. “Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’ ”

In a double blow to areas that had anticipated a resurgence led by fracking, a state panel on Wednesday backed plans for three new Las Vegas-style casinos, but none along the Pennsylvania border in the Southern Tier region. The panel, whose advice Mr. Cuomo said would quite likely be heeded, backed casino proposals in the Catskills, near Albany and between Syracuse and Rochester.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo listened to a presentation on fracking at a cabinet meeting in Albany on Wednesday. Credit Mike Groll/Associated Press

For Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, the decision on fracking — which was immediately hailed by environmental and liberal groups — seemed likely to help repair his ties to his party’s left wing. It came after a surprisingly contentious re-election campaign in which Zephyr Teachout, a primary challenger who opposed fracking, won about a third of the vote.

The question of whether to allow fracking, which involves injecting large amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressures to release oil and natural gas from rock formations, has been one of the most divisive public policy debates in New York in years. Fracking is occurring in many states, and has boomed in places like Pennsylvania and Texas. Environmental advocates, alarmed by the growth of the practice, pointed to New York’s decision as the first ban by a state with significant natural-gas resources.

Mr. Cuomo, who has prided himself on taking swift and decisive action on other contentious issues like gun control, took the opposite approach on fracking. He repeatedly put off making a decision, most recently citing a continuing — and seemingly open-ended — study by state health officials.

On Wednesday, six weeks after Mr. Cuomo won a second term, the long-awaited health study finally materialized, its findings made public during a year-end cabinet meeting convened by the governor in Albany.

In a presentation at the cabinet meeting, the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the examination had found “significant public health risks” associated with fracking.

Holding up copies of scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking.

Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?

CLICK TO OPEN Document Health Department Report on Fracking in New York State The Cuomo administration decided to ban hydraulic fracturing after concluding that the method posed inestimable public-health risks.

His answer was no.

“We cannot afford to make a mistake,” he said. “The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”

New York has had a de facto ban on fracking for over six years, predating Mr. Cuomo’s election. In 2012, he flirted with approving a limited program in several Southern Tier counties. But that same year, he bowed to entreaties from environmental advocates, stating instead that his administration would begin a new study on health risks.

Mr. Cuomo had focused much of his attention on trying to improve the economic climate upstate, and fracking appeared to offer a solution to struggling areas atop the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich rock formation that extends across parts of several states, including New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

But there was also strong opposition from groups worried about the effects of fracking on the state’s water supply, as well as on tourism and the quality of life in small upstate communities.

As he traveled around the state, Mr. Cuomo was hounded by protesters opposed to fracking, who showed up at his events and pressed him to impose a statewide ban. Opponents were also aided by celebrities who drew attention to their cause.

Complicating matters, dozens of communities across New York have passed moratoriums and bans on fracking, and in June, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled that towns could use zoning ordinances to ban fracking.

The acting state health commissioner, Howard Zucker, speaking at the meeting. Credit Mike Groll/Associated Press

Local bans, on top of restrictions that the state had planned, put 63 percent of the Marcellus Shale off limits to drilling, said Joseph Martens, the state environmental conservation commissioner. “The economic benefits are clearly far lower than originally forecast,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo seemed determined to portray both of the day’s major announcements — and their consequences for upstate New York — as decisions made by experts objectively weighing the facts, not by him.

At the cabinet meeting, he conspicuously stumbled on the name of the panel that made the casino recommendations, as if to signal his lack of involvement in its work. And he kept some distance from the fracking decision, saying he was deferring to his health and environmental conservation commissioners.

“I am not a scientist,” he said. “I’m not an environmental expert. I’m not a health expert. I’m a lawyer. I’m not a doctor. I’m not an environmentalist. I’m not a scientist. So let’s bring the emotion down, and let’s ask the qualified experts what their opinion is.”

Nevertheless, environmental groups cast the governor as a hero. Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said, “This move puts significant pressure on other governors to take similar measures to protect people who live in their states.”

Fracking supporters accused Mr. Cuomo of giving in to environmentalists’ efforts to stoke public fears.

Karen Moreau, the executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council, attributed the fracking ban to a decision by the governor “that he wants to align himself with the left.”

“Our citizens in the Southern Tier have had to watch their neighbors and friends across the border in Pennsylvania thriving economically,” she said. “It’s like they were a kid in a candy store window, looking through the window, and not able to touch that opportunity.”

Correction: December 17, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incompletely described hydraulic fracturing. It is a method of extracting natural gas or oil, not just oil, from deep underground. The error was repeated in the summary.