Category Archives: Local Regulation

Berkeley Vice Mayor: more crude oil trains to cross Benicia Bridge enroute to Southern California

[The Berkeley resolution: “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley]

Several times over recent months, I have been urged to pay attention to a Santa Maria Refinery rail project in San Luis Obispo County.  Phillips 66 wants to import Bakken and tar-sands crude oil into their Santa Maria Refinery on trains with up to 80 tank cars per day.  Community activists there are organizing to oppose that project just as we are here in Benicia.  Until now, I have resisted paying much attention to their efforts.  I have been intentionally Valero-Benicia-focused, given my limited time and resources.

But I was very interested to learn today that Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio has crafted a resolution for the Berkeley City Council “Opposing transportation of hazardous materials along California waterways through densely populated areas, through the East Bay, and Berkeley.”  Vice Mayor Maio acknowledges that local regulation will not be easy: “Mitigating the impacts of transporting crude and other commodities by rail has been a challenge, as the railroads claim they are subject to federal law but not to California law.  They are asserting federal pre-emption and arguing that other agencies have no authority to mitigate the impacts.  However, this is not correct.  Every permitting agency — cities, counties, and air districts — has the authority to deny land use and other permits if the applicant refuses to mitigate impacts.”  She goes on to offer a number of steps the Berkeley Council can take, including the resolution mentioned above.

An impressive effort.  We should take similar action here in Benicia.

Downloading the Maio/Berkeley materials, I noticed maps and text describing Union Pacific tank cars traveling along the Capitol Corridor and right through Benicia to Berkeley and beyond: “The crude oil trains would enter northern California via Donner Pass, through Auburn, Rocklin, and Roseville, proceed along the Sacramento River through Sacramento and Davis to Benicia and along the San Francisco Bay through Martinez, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland.  From Oakland the trains would use the Coast Line via Hayward, Santa Clara, San José, Salinas and continue along the Pacific Coast into San Luis Obispo County.  The same tracks are used by Amtrak for passenger transport.”  (see p. 2 of 8)

Capitol Corridor Route MapI really hope Vice Mayor Maio is NOT right about the route of these trains – in a brief search, I could not verify the route on the San Luis Obispo County website.  I am not certain, but it seems there might also be routes that pass southward through Stockton and then westward to Pittsburg and beyond, avoiding the Suisun Marsh and the Benicia Bridge.  But if Maio is right, Benicia is not only preparing for Valero’s 100 cars/day to stop and unload, but another 80 cars/day that would pass right through and over the Benicia Bridge, along the Carquinez Strait to the East Bay and beyond.  This is game-changing and highly significant to those of us who are primarily Benicia-focused.  The cumulative impacts of the crude by rail boom will be huge and many-faceted if we don’t band together statewide.

Stay tuned.  I’ll keep you informed if I can get clear on the route the Santa Maria trains will travel.

Roger Straw
Editor, The Benicia Independent

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Local officials may check Solano “Industrial Safety Ordinance”

Repost from Vallejo Times-Herald
[VERY interesting in this story: “Local officials say they may need to revisit the county’s Industrial Safety Ordinance to see whether modifications should be made to ensure safety in dealing with Bakken crude, which is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.”  – Editor]

Huge increase in crude oil by rail to Bay Area concerns local leaders

By Robert Rogers/MediaNews Group
Posted:   03/18/2014 01:08:00 AM PDT 

RICHMOND — Bakken crude oil from North Dakota is part of the mix of increased crude-by-rail shipments into Contra Costa County, raising concerns from local leaders about whether current regulations are sufficient to minimize risks of transporting the volatile fossil fuel.

“There’s a lot more to be learned, but Bakken (crude) is coming in now,” said Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division Director Randy Sawyer. “How much, I don’t know.”

Kinder Morgan Inc., at 1140 Canal Blvd. in Richmond, secured a permit last month to transfer crude from rail cars to trucks, said county Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, and is the only facility in the Bay Area that receives crude shipped on Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains, according to the California Energy Commission.

Domestic oil harvesting has increased in recent years, most notably in North Dakota, where drillers use hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to fracture rock and extract oil. As the haul has increased, more oil is coming by rail to California refineries for processing.

Northern California volume of crude by rail increased 57 percent during 2013, from 74,332 barrels in January to 116,657 barrels in December, according to California Energy Commission statistics. But the bulk of the increase statewide went to Southern California refineries, as total state volume spiked from 155,841 barrels in January to 1,180,662 barrels in December. Only about one tenth of all crude-by-rail imports came to Northern California.

About 85 percent of the crude by rail delivered to Northern California in 2013 came from North Dakota, followed by 12.5 percent from Colorado, according to the commission. Four of the five Northern California oil refineries listed by the commission are in Contra Costa County, with the other in Benicia.

The city of Benicia is considering local resident concerns about Valero’s proposals to ship crude by rail.

Local officials say they may need to revisit the county’s Industrial Safety Ordinance to see whether modifications should be made to ensure safety in dealing with Bakken crude, which is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.

What local agencies can do to regulate the rail cargo, which is typically covered by federal interstate commerce laws, is limited.

The changes come as popular resistance to increased refining of continental oil has been building.

In the past month, critics hosted town hall-style meetings in Richmond, Martinez and Pittsburg decrying planned increases in crude-by-rail shipments into the Bay Area. Activists drew attention to rising accident numbers, with particular emphasis on a train explosion in July in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed. Other derailments and explosions have occurred in the past year in Alabama and North Dakota.

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NY locals, state and feds join together to demand rail reform

Repost from The Journal News

Fast-track oil train standards, Rockland officials say

Khurram Saeed, The Journal News    11:20 p.m. EDT March 17, 2014

Officials want tighter regulations and safer tank cars in place for freight trains transporting crude oil through Rockland County.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey and local elected officials and community leaders at a press conference in West Nyack March 17, 2014 demanded new rules to ensure the safe transport of crude oil through the region.(Photo: Ricky Flores/The Journal News)

WEST NYACK –  A small cadre of federal, state and Rockland officials on Monday demanded that the U.S. transportation department boost safety standards for trains that carry crude oil through local communities and environmentally-sensitive areas.

At one point during the press conference held at the rail crossing on Pineview Road, a southbound oil train slowly rolled past. It was hauling dozens of the tank cars, known as DOT-111s, that are prone to rupturing following derailments or collisions.

In December, a train moving 99 empty oil tank cars — each large enough to carry about 30,000 gallons — hit a car carrier at the site but did not derail.

About 14 oil trains move through Rockland each week on CSX tracks, shuttling between Chicago and refineries along the East Coast, a recent Sunday story in The Journal News detailed.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently working on stricter standards for transporting crude oil by rail and the tank cars that carry them.

Safe transport of the more volatile crude oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota must be “fully tackled” by the DOT, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey said. She said voluntary initiatives by the oil and rail industries were a good start but called for better planned routes, more transparency and improved tank cars.

“The promises of industry just aren’t enough to safeguard the public,” said Lowey, D-Harrison.

Rockland Legislators Alden Wolfe, D-Montebello, and Harriet Cornell, D-West Nyack, on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx asking his office to “fast-track rule changes” endorsed by Lowey and New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Several speakers noted CSX’s River Line passes near Lake DeForest and the Hackensack River, which supply hundreds of thousands of residents in Rockland and Bergen County, N.J., with drinking water. An oil spill in the reservoir would be devastating, they said.

“Guess who pays for the catastrophes and clean-ups?” asked Cornell — before explaining it would primarily fall to taxpayers.

Rockland Sheriff Louis Falco said he planned to meet with CSX in the coming weeks. His officers have been checking speeds of trains during the day — they have largely been in compliance, he said — and would soon begin observing them at night.

He also wants CSX to provide a daily list of what is aboard the trains so he can notify local police and fire departments.

“It takes a lot of people working together to make it clear that this is unacceptable,” Lowey said.

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