Category Archives: Martinez CA

LPG Tank Cars derail in Martinez – could have been a catastrophic event

Derailment in Martinez: the nightmare no one wants

By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent – 05/01/2018
LPG tank car derailment Martinez 2018-05-01 (KTVU Fox 2 News)

Early this morning, at least two tank cars carrying liquid petroleum gas (LPG) derailed while backing into the Shell Refinery in Martinez, CA.  (See brief KTVU News coverage.)

Thank our lucky stars that those tank cars backing into the refinery did not tip over or leak!  Had they done so, and a spark ignited a fire, the accident might’ve resulted in a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion, or “BLEVE” (blɛviː/ BLEV-ee).

Sharon Kelly described a BLEVE this way on DeSmogBlog: “As liquids in a metal tank boil, gasses build up, pressurizing the tank even despite relief valves designed to vent fumes. Tanks finally explode, throwing shrapnel great distances, and spitting out burning liquids that can start secondary blazes.”

BLEVEs were responsible  for the massive degree of destruction and loss of life in Lac Magantic, Canada.  If those Martinez tank cars had caught fire and erupted, the whole Shell Refinery might’ve blown up!  Downtown Martinez, the AMTRAK station, and the 680 freeway might’ve been threatened.

LPG tank car derailment Martinez 2018-05-01 (KTVU News)

Photos of the derailed cars show the 4-digit Hazardous Material Identification Placard: 1075.  The Emergency Response Guidebook, published by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration identifies the code for 1075 on p. 31 as one of the following flammable materials:

Butane, Butylene Isobutane, Isobutylene, Liquefied petroleum gas, LPG, Petroleum gases, liquefied Propane Propylene.

This is EXTREMELY dangerous.  On p. 170 of the Emergency Response Guidebook, emergency responders are cautioned:

In fires involving Liquefied Petroleum Gases (LPG) (UN1075); Butane, (UN1011); Butylene, (UN1012); Isobutylene, (UN1055); Propylene, (UN1077); Isobutane, (UN1969); and Propane, (UN1978), also refer to BLEVE – SAFETY PRECAUTIONS (Page 368).

BLEVE is defined : “A boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE, /ˈblɛviː/ BLEV-ee) is an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached temperatures above its boiling point.”

Page 368-369 of the Emergency Response Guidebook reads as follows:

BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion)
The following section presents, in a two-page format, background information on BLEVEs and includes a chart that provides important safety-related information to consider when confronted with this type of situation involving Liquefied Petroleum Gases (LPG), UN1075. LPGs include the following flammable gases: Butane, UN1011; Butylene, UN1012; Isobutylene, UN1055; Propylene, UN1077; Isobutane, UN1969; and Propane, UN1978.

What are the main hazards from a BLEVE?
The main hazards from a propane or LPG BLEVE are:
– fire
– thermal radiation from the fire
– blast
– projectiles
The danger from these decreases as you move away from the BLEVE centre. The furthest reaching hazard is projectiles.


    Train tank cars carrying LPG derail near Shell refinery in Martinez

    Repost from Fox News 2, Oakland, CA
    [Editor: This derailment of tank cars carrying Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) could have resulted in extreme hazardous consequences.  See my analysis here. – RS]

    Freight train derails near Shell refinery in Martinez

    [Editor: apologies for the advertisement at start of this video… – RS]

    By: Leigh Martinez, MAY 01 2018 05:22AM PDT, VIDEO POSTED: MAY 01 2018 05:13AM PDT, UPDATED: MAY 01 2018 06:55AM PDT

    MARTINEZ, Calif. – A freight train derailed in Martinez early Tuesday causing two tankers to lean off the tracks.  It is believed the train was backing into the Shell refinery when it went off the tracks at Shell and Marina Vista avenues.

    Two cars have their wheels off the tracks and were leaning into other rail lines.

    This was not a hazmat situation because there is no sign of leakage and no injuries were reported.

    The rail line runs next to Amtrak and Union Pacific lines. There was no immediate word if those commuter trains are affected.


      Andrés Soto Letter: Benicians Deserve Better

      Repost from the Benicia Herald, Forum Page

      Benicia deserves better

      Andrés Soto

      February 21, 2018, By Andrés Soto

      Benicia is the only Bay Area refinery town that does not have the community protection of an Industrial Safety Ordinance, or ISO.

      In 1999, the city of Richmond and Contra Costa County adopted their interlocking ISOs. The Richmond ordinance mirrors the Contra Costa ISO, and Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division is responsible for enforcement and reporting.

      Their experience with repeated refinery and associated hydrogen plant polluting events caused the elected leaders to respond to pressure from the disproportionally impacted communities in Richmond, Rodeo and Martinez for greater protection and information about polluting incidents.

      How did Benicia miss out?

      Since the adoption of the ISO, there have continued to be dangerous and deadly incidents at these Bay Area refineries, albeit at reduced rates, due to the ISO. Fortunately, the Richmond/Contra Costa ISO allows for corrective provisions that have improved refinery function and provided impacted communities with timely investigative information.

      Under the ISOs, a 72-hour post incident report is available to the public. Monthly reports, or more frequently if necessary, follow that report and are publicly posted. To date, neither the Benicia City Council nor the people of Benicia have received any official reports on the nearly monthlong Valero flaring disaster this past May.

      Based on the success of the Richmond/Contra Costa ISO, the California legislature adopted some of the process safety management portions of the ISO and made them state law, going into effect in October.

      Unfortunately, the legislature did not adopt all elements of the ISOs. Benicia’s ability to receive information, publish the results of investigations to the public and to require Valero to take corrective action simply does not exist. Can we wait for the legislature to strengthen the state law?

      While Valero and PG&E point the finger at each other over who is at fault for the Valero flaring disaster in May, Benicia remains in the dark. We know Valero was given permits to construct an adequate backup generator system but only one co-generator was built and the permit for the other was allowed to expire after several extensions, probably because of Valero’s bureaucrats in Texas.

      Do we Benicians think we can count on Texas oil men to put our health and safety ahead of their profits? The lesson we learned from the successful battle to stop Valero’s dangerous Crude-By-Rail Project is the company seems to stop at nothing to ensure their profits – even at the expense of Benicians.

      Benicia deserves better!

      Andrés Soto,


        Railroad blames local company for derailment; handbrakes not set

        Repost from the Contra Costa Times
        [Editor: Significant quote: “‘…if they didn’t set those handbrakes before they decoupled those eight, they could start rolling. And that looks like what happened,’ said Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.”  – RS]

        Union Pacific Blames Local Company for Martinez Train Derailment

        By Ted Goldberg, January 28, 2016

        Update, 3 p.m. Thursday: The company handling three tanker cars that derailed in Martinez last week failed to apply enough brakes, according to a report that Union Pacific filed with the Federal Railroad Administration.

        When the firm, Eco Services, pulled eight cars into its plant near the Benicia Bridge last Wednesday, a dozen other cars they were separated from began rolling away and under Interstate 680.

        “There’s handbrakes on the cars to keep the cars stationary, and if they didn’t set those handbrakes before they decoupled those eight, they could start rolling. And that looks like what happened,” said Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer. “It is a cause for concern.”

        The Union Pacific report also found that the incident caused more than $13,000 in damage.

        Eco Services, Union Pacific and the Federal Railroad Administration have yet to comment.

        Original post: The California Public Utilities Commission has opened an investigation into the derailment of three tanker cars carrying oil-refining chemicals in Martinez last week.

        The CPUC’s probe of the incident just south of the Benicia Bridge comes amid new disclosures that the company in charge of the train at the time lost control of a dozen cars carrying spent sulfuric acid just before the derailment.

        And county officials say the local agency in charge of responding to hazardous material incidents was not notified about the derailment until two hours after the cars left the tracks.

        The company that was handling the material was Eco Services. Union Pacific delivered 20 tanker cars to the firm’s plant in Martinez on Jan. 19.

        Early the next morning Eco Services workers began moving eight of the cars into its processing facility, according to a company incident report filed with county officials this week.

        “As soon as the separation took place, the remaining 12 cars started rolling southward and down gradient toward Marina Vista Ave[nue],” wrote Anthony Koo, a senior environmental engineer at Eco Services.

        The fact that a dozen rail cars carrying chemicals were briefly out of control near a busy freeway, Interstate 680, and one of the region’s major bridges prompted concern from the county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, Randy Sawyer.

        The tanker cars “were moving when they weren’t supposed to be moving,” Sawyer said in an interview. “I would think they would have some kind of braking system that would keep them from doing that.”

        According to the report, the three cars that left the tracks first passed under the I-680 overpass before hitting a derail device just west of the structure.

        Sawyer said that device is a safety feature designed to prevent rail cars from entering a main track and colliding with a moving train. That safety system worked. No chemicals leaked from the three derailed cars, and no one was injured.

        Sawyer also expressed concern about the delay in notifying his agency — a process that took nearly two hours.

        “We would expect notification sooner,” he said.

        According to the Eco Services report, the derailment occurred at 6:45 a.m. on Jan. 20. The company says it notified Union Pacific 17 minutes later.

        Sawyer said the rail company then contacted the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, which then sent the county an email about the incident at 8:33 a.m.

        Eco Services said it made a “courtesy call” to the hazardous materials program just over an hour after that.

        The delayed notification was most likely because no hazardous materials spilled, but “they did not notify us as quickly as we would have wished,” Sawyer said.

        The CPUC, meanwhile, is looking into whether Eco Services or Union Pacific were following state regulations at the time of the derailment, that agency’s spokeswoman, Constance Gordon, said in an email.

        Eco Services has not returned calls for comment.

        A Union Pacific spokesman says the company will cooperate with the CPUC in its investigation.