Category Archives: Local Regulation

Nat’l Ass’n of Railroad Passengers: oil trains blocking Amtrak trains

Repost from The Hill
[Editor:  This January post shows what can happen when local officials and companies like Valero have no control over railroad companies’ shipping schedules.  – RS]

Oil shipments blocking Amtrak trains

By Keith Laing, January 29, 2014

Freight trains carrying crude oil shipments are blocking Amtrak trains in the northwest United States, according to complaints from the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).

The passenger railway advocacy group wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that oil-by-rail shipments are blocking trains on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route, which runs from Chicago to Portland and Seattle.

Crude oil train shipments have come under fire after a series of derailments. The railroad passenger association said trains that stay on the tracks are also causing problems for Amtrak passengers.

“Delays of up to eight to ten hours have plagued the Empire Builder, inflicting extreme inconvenience—often at considerable personal expense—to literally thousands of Amtrak passengers and their families,” NARP President Ross Capon wrote to Foxx.

“While severe weather has played a contributing factor, the delays are in large part due to the logjam of rail congestion caused by hundreds of additional freight trains transporting crude oil extracted in North Dakota to refineries in other parts of the U.S.,” Capon continued.

Capon said NARP “recognizes the key role that America’s freight railroads play in fueling economic activity in the U.S.”

But he said that Amtrak and the freight rail company that operates the tracks the Empire Builder line runs on should be able to work out a better scheduling agreement.

“Amtrak and host railroad BNSF Railway Company must come together to ensure that the Empire Builder’s passengers have continued access to adequate, reliable public transportation,” he said. “The Empire Builder serves communities in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington State, and Oregon, with some 18.8 million people living within 25 miles of an Empire Builder station. The train acts as a vital transportation link for hundreds of rural communities to essential services in urban population centers.”

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have said there would be less crude oil shipment by rail if the controversial project was allowed to be built. The Obama administration has resisted calls for constructing the pipeline, citing environmental concerns, even as it plans to ramp up its regulation of oil trains.

Capon said it was particularly important for officials to figure out a way to make service reliable on Amtrak’s northwest line because it travels through several smaller states that have sparse air service.

“Amtrak’s Empire Builder carried 536,400 passengers in fiscal year 2013 along a 2,256 mile corridor that has little in the way of transportation alternatives, and regularly experiences extreme winter weather conditions that close down airports and road networks,” he said. “Without a fully functioning rail service, many of these Americans will be effectively stranded.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari told The Hill that the company is dealing with the oil train-induced delays by shipping stations in Grand Forks, Devil Lake, Rugby, N.D. to make up time on its overnight cross country trip.

Magliari said Amtrak was negotiating with BNSF Railway for an equitable solution.

“We met two weeks ago with BNSF,” he said. “This dates back well before current winter weather blast. They told us they are making capacity improvements, but we should not expect to see an improvement in how our trains managed with their tracks until later this year.”

Magliari said the detours around trains that are carrying crude oil “requires passengers to disembark in Fargo, N.D. at 3:35 a.m. to get on chartered buses to take them to the three missing stops.

“We’re going to keep working with BNSF to try to mitigate these delays and inform our passengers what’s going on, but we’re concerned about this for our passengers and for our business,” he said. “This is our most popular, by ridership, overnight route in the country. It’s going to celebrate 85th anniversary later this month.”

Amtrak acquired the Empire Builder route from a private rail company when it was created by Congress in 1971.

A BNSF spokeswoman told the Grand Forks Herald newspaper that it was “working” with Amtrak to find a solution to the delays.

The company blamed the train backup on winter weather in the midwest U.S.

“BNSF service is being impacted by extreme cold and winter weather conditions across the Midwest,” BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth told the North Dakota paper.

“The extreme cold and snow are presenting significant operating challenges for our operations,” McBeth continued. “To recover, we are operating our westbound trains on our route through New Rockford and eastbound traffic through our Devils Lake route. We will continue working with Amtrak as our network recovers.”

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Richmond City Council calls for ban on Bakken crude by rail

Repost from The Contra Costa Times
[Editor’s note: See Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia’s letter to Richmond Mayor/City Council here. – RS]

Richmond calls on Congress to halt crude oil transport through Bay Area

By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times

Posted:   03/25/2014

RICHMOND — A unanimous Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to call on Congress to halt rail transport of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota pending new regulations and explore what local measures could be enforced to thwart truck transport of the volatile fuel mix on local streets.

The resolution, proposed by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, follows revelations in recent days of massive increases in crude-by-rail shipments into Contra Costa County, including at Kinder Morgan in Richmond, the only facility in the Bay Area that receives crude shipped on Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains and transfers it to trucks for transport to Bay Area refineries.

“There are terrible threats in our midst,” McLaughlin said. “Ultimately, we need to ban (Bakken crude) from coming through our community.”

The resolution directs city staff to send a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division Director Randy Sawyer, Congressmen George Miller and Mike Thompson, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, State Senators Loni Hancock and Mark Desaulnier and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner urging them to work on new regulations, including halting the transport of crude near Bay Area communities. Councilman Tom Butt added an amendment directing staff to explore whether the city could use its own regulatory powers to ban transport of Bakken crude on city streets.

Railroad activity is typically beyond the scope of local laws and is regulated at the federal level.

The vote followed a presentation by oil industry author Antonia Juhasz detailing the nationwide increase in accidents associated with rail transport of Bakken crude, which is fracked in North Dakota and is more volatile and susceptible to explosion than heavier crude blends.

The volume of crude transported by rail into Northern California increased by 57 percent during 2013, according to California Energy Commission statistics.

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.

“A whole lot more oil is being spilled by trains,” Juhasz said. “It’s dramatically worse.”

From 1975-2012. 792,600 gallons of oil were spilled in train accidents, Juhasz said. In 2013, 1.3 million gallons were spilled in accidents, more than the combined total of every year since 1975.

Juhasz said the problem centers on three factors: More oil is being harvested and moved within the continent, it’s being sent to coastal refineries for processing and export due to higher international prices, and regulation has not kept pace with the rapid changes.

“The National Transportation Safety Board said oil spill response planning requirements are practically nonexistent,” Juhasz said. “They recommend that you require rerouting to avoid transportation of such hazardous materials through populated and other sensitive areas.”

In the past month, critics have hosted town hall meetings in Richmond, Martinez and Pittsburg decrying planned increases in crude-by-rail shipments into the Bay Area. On Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution directing city staff to oppose efforts to transport Bakken crude through the city.

Juhasz drew specific attention to rising accident numbers, with particular emphasis on a train explosion in July in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed.

“There is a movement toward more federal regulation,” Juhasz said. “This (resolution) would not just be an exercise, it would add to the cacophony of voices making that demand.”

Not all residents were convinced.

“I read about your agenda item to encourage to regulate this, now I am hearing ban it,” said Don Goseny, a Richmond resident. “That is kind of overregulation isn’t it? No one is even asking is there a safe way to transport this crude.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia released a statement Tuesday saying he is concerned that “there was no clear communication” between BAAQMD staff members and Kinder Morgan before a permit was issued to the offloading company last September, when Juhasz said it began offloading Bakken crude. He said the issue will be discussed at the next BAAQMD meeting on April 21.

“The dramatic increase in the volume of Bakken shale crude oil being transported by rail through Northern California should be of great concern to local government,” Gioia wrote.

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East Bay Express: Richmond and Berkeley oppose oil by rail

Repost from East Bay Express

Richmond and Berkeley Oppose Fracked Oil and Tar Sands Rail Shipments

Jean Tepperman —  Wed, Mar 26, 2014

The city councils of both Berkeley and Richmond unanimously passed resolutions last night calling for tighter regulation of the shipping of crude oil by rail through the East Bay. The Berkeley resolution went further, committing Berkeley to oppose all shipment of crude oil by rail through the city until tighter regulations are in place.

Information has recently come to light about crude-by-rail activity in both cities. In September, with no public announcement, the Kinder Morgan rail yard in Richmond quietly switched from handling ethanol to crude oil. And a new proposal calls for shipping crude oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria on train tracks that run through the East Bay.

Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.
USGS – Fracked oil from Bakken shale is highly explosive.

At the Richmond City Council meeting, oil-industry expert Antonia Juhasz presented evidence from both the BNSF railroad and Kinder Morgan websites showing that the crude oil coming into the Richmond rail yard is fracked from the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. This Bakken crude has been responsible for several recent disastrous explosions when trains carrying it have derailed, with the worst accident in Lac Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed and the downtown destroyed.

Juhasz added that there were more derailments and accidents involving crude by rail in 2013 than in the previous thirty years combined. More crude is being shipped by rail because of the huge increase in production of crude from North Dakota Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands, both far inland, and the need to get the fossil fuel to the coasts to refine and export.

Juhasz also reported that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that emergency response planning along the rail routes is “practically nonexistent” and that current regulations are “no longer sufficient” — and that it’s not safe to carry crude oil in the type of car currently being used. Because of all this, the NTSB has recommended that trains carrying crude oil be rerouted “away from populated and other sensitive areas.”

Several Richmond council members and community speakers expressed surprise that the switch to crude oil happened with no public notice. Andres Soto of Communities for a Better Environment said the “real culprit” was the staff of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which approved Kinder Morgan’s application to make this change without notifying the public or even the air district board members.

City councilmembers wrestled with the fact that the city has no jurisdiction over railroads — only the federal government can regulate them. But Juhasz and McLaughlin said a resolution by the city was important as part of a demand from many cities and organizations for more regulation of crude by rail.

The resolution called on federal legislators to move quickly to regulate the transportation of the new types of crude oil from Bakken shale and Canadian tar sands. Many speakers argued in favor of a moratorium on shipping crude by rail until adequate regulations were in place.

Meanwhile in Berkeley, another oil-industry expert, environmental engineer Phyllis Fox, described the plan to ship crude oil through the East Bay to Santa Maria — probably through Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland — since these tracks are built to carry heavy trains. She projected a map showing that rail lines in California parallel rivers and go through the most populated areas, so accidents would be “disastrous.”

Information released about the plan doesn’t reveal the source of the crude oil, but Fox said the two main kinds of crude oil being shipped by rail are from Bakken shale — oil that is highly volatile and prone to explosion — and Canadian tar sands — very heavy oil that is especially toxic and difficult to clean up. “One catastrophic event,” Fox said, “could cause irreversible harm.”

Other sources have pointed out that the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County is geared to refining heavy crude oil, so it’s most likely that the crude headed to that plant would come from the Canadian tar sands.

Many speakers in the public comment period supported the resolution, including residents of Crockett/Rodeo and Martinez, who are waging similar battles in their communities. Speakers pointed out a wide range of problems with shipping crude by rail in addition to the immediate danger. In a pre-meeting rally in support of the resolution, Mayor Tom Bates said the issues “go beyond the danger to our community to our whole carbon future. If we don’t get off fossil fuel we’re all doomed.”

The resolution commits Berkeley to file comments opposing crude-by-rail projects in any draft permit-approval process, starting with the Santa Maria project; to file comments opposing new projects in the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo and the Valero refinery in Benicia; and to support the federal Department of Transportation in creating strict regulation of rail shipments of crude oil. In presenting the resolution, Maio also said Berkeley should form a coalition with other cities fighting crude-by-rail projects.

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