Category Archives: Martinez CA

Benicia Herald: Train carrying hazardous materials derails in Martinez

Repost from Nick Sestanovich’s Benicia Herald Archive
[Editor:  See also coverage in the CCTimes: Martinez: Train derailment near Benicia Bridge rekindles safety fears along East Bay’s refinery belt.  Also see KTVU News and video coverage on KRON 4 News.  – RS]

Train carrying hazardous materials derails in Martinez

By Nick Sestanovich, January 24, 2016

Martinez train derailment 2016-01-20A train carrying sulfuric acid derailed in Martinez Wednesday morning near the Benicia Bridge. No leaks have been reported, although the incident has caused some concerns in Benicia as the Planning Commission plans to hold a hearing on Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail project in two weeks.

A Union Pacific Railroad train was carrying the hazardous materials to sulfuric acid regeneration provider Eco Services in Martinez at 8 a.m. when three tanker cars were derailed along Mococo Road. It is unknown what caused the derailment.

The acid contained contaminated hydrocarbon, but no leaks were reported and no vapors were released.

As with other train derailments and explosions, this has caused concerns in the refinery-heavy regions of the Bay Area, especially in Benicia where the Planning Commission is going to hold a meeting on Feb. 8 to consider a use permit for the crude-by-rail project.

Valero announced the project, which would extend three Union Pacific Tracks onto its property to deliver up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil a day, in 2013 and was quickly met with backlash over its potential environmental effects. Adding fire to these concerns was an oil train explosion in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic in Quebec that killed 47 people and destroyed more than 30 buildings in July of that year. Since then, oil train explosions in Casselton, N.D., and Lynchburg Va., are just a few of the similar incidents that have gotten widespread publicity.

The sentiments of Benicia have been echoed in other communities. In Pittsburg, the energy company WesPac Midstream LLC had proposed a project to convert a Pacific Gas & Electric tank farm into an oil storage facility which would have delivers from five 104-car oil trains a week. The project was struck down in December.

When reached for comment, Valero Public Affairs Manager Sue Fisher Jones said the Martinez derailment had no bearing on the city.

“The incident in Martinez is not related to, nor does it have any impact on, our operations in Benicia,” she said.

However, other residents like Roger Straw, who runs the anti-crude by rail blog The Benicia Independent, disagree.

“The derailment in Martinez involved tank cars full of poisonous sulfuric acid, rolling downhill unattended, just like the runaway train in Quebec that killed 47 people and leveled a downtown,” Straw said. “What does that have to do with crude by rail? Everything. Rail cars have carried hazardous materials for years, and the risk to our communities is already great. If we add to that risk two more 50-car trains every day full of toxic and volatile Bakken crude oil and/or impossibly heavy diluted tar-sands crude, two trains coming in and two more going out every day, we greatly increase the potential for a major loss in our own community and in those communities and wild spaces uprail from here.”

“This accident at Benicia’s front door is a wake up call,” he added.

The Planning Commission meeting will be held 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 8, at the City Hall Council Chambers, located at 250 East L St.


    Train Cars Full of Sulfuric Acid Derail Under I-680 / Benicia Bridge In Martinez

    Repost from the Contra Costa Times
    [Editor: The updated story below includes quotes by Andrés Soto, of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community and the NRDC’s staff attorney, Jackie Prange.  This derailment in Benicia’s front yard was a close call, a threat to a major Bay Area traffic artery and to our neighbors in Martinez.  The accident stands as an important reminder of the catastrophic dangers involved in rail transport of hazardous materials.  Stop crude by rail!  Stop oil trains!  – RS]

    Martinez: Train derailment near Benicia Bridge rekindles safety fears along East Bay’s refinery belt

    By Nate Gartrell and David DeBolt, 01/20/2016, UPDATED 19:30PM
    Tanker cars lay on their sides after derailing in Martinez early Wednesday.  (Nate Gartrell/Bay Area News Group)
    Tanker cars lay on their sides after derailing in Martinez early Wednesday. (Nate Gartrell/Bay Area News Group)

    MARTINEZ — Three tank cars carrying a hazardous liquid derailed Wednesday morning on train tracks under the Benicia Bridge, and although there were no reports of leaks, the incident rekindled fears about the potential dangers of derailments along the East Bay’s industrial and refinery belt.

    “Thank God there were no leaks. We may have dodged a bullet here, but it does bring up that discussion again about hazardous materials,” Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said.

    Cities throughout the Bay Area have expressed concern over the past year about the possibility of derailments and explosions in their communities, particularly in light of growing shipments of crude by rail nationally and several high-profile derailments in North America. The East Bay is laced by five oil refineries, all located near dense population centers.

    Wednesday’s derailment involving rail cars carrying sulfuric acid happened at about 8 a.m. along Mococo Road, across the tracks from Marina Vista Avenue, as the train was headed to Eco Services in Martinez, said Matt Kaufmann, assistant director of hazardous materials for Contra Costa County.

    The sulfuric acid contained contaminated hydrocarbon, but none of the materials spilled, Kaufmann said.

    Union Pacific Railroad also took air samples and found no vapors were released from the trains, according to Francisco Castillo, the railroad’s director of public affairs.

    “Sulfuric acid is highly dangerous and toxic,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, who also sits on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board. “Had there been a leak, it would have been worse. That’s why I call it a near miss.”

    Union Pacific workers delivered the shipment of 20 rail cars on Monday evening from its tracks to an industry line used by Eco Services, officials said.

    It is unclear what caused the derailment and where the train began its journey to Eco Services, which frequently receives similar shipments from nearby refineries.

    The company removes hydrocarbon from sulfuric acid that occurs during the refining process, Kaufman said. Shell Oil and Tesoro each have refineries within a mile of the company.

    By 9:30 a.m., Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials crews were on scene, along with scores of Union Pacific employees, but the cars remained derailed, including one that was tilted all the way on its side. Officials were waiting for a crane to arrive to move the tank cars back onto the tracks.

    Between January 2012 and October 2015, 4,321 train derailments — more than three per day on average — were reported in the United States, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.

    This incident also raises the issue of local control over railroad activities; cities such as Martinez “have absolutely no control over the rail lines or what is shipped through our communities,” Schroder said. In the East Bay’s case, Schroder said, U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa, and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, have been “very proactive” in dealing with railroad safety issues.

    Although the tankers weren’t carrying crude oil, anti-crude-by-rail activists around the Bay Area say this incident is a reminder of the potential dangers in transporting explosive materials by train.

    “These kind of derailments are an example that our community and all the up-rail communities would be in grave danger if crude-by-rail projects are approved,” said Andres Soto of the environmental group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community. “We’re so glad that (the WesPac oil terminal project) was taken off the table in Pittsburg recently. … These trains go under bridges, and if there was an explosion, the volatility involved could destroy those bridges. It’s a regional issue.”

    In recent years, several proposed crude-by-rail projects have sparked contentious debates around the Bay Area and nationally. Some of these concerns started after a July 2013 disaster in Canada, when a train carrying more than 70 crude oil cars derailed, causing a massive explosion in a Quebec town that killed 47 people and ultimately cost the Canadian Pacific railroad company nearly $450 million in a legal settlement with the victims’ families.

    Last year, anti-crude-by-rail activists in Pittsburg celebrated when the WesPac oil terminal project, which originally envisioned unloading as many as five 104-car oil trainloads a week, was taken off the table. In Benicia, a similar controversy surrounds a Valero proposal to deliver crude by rail to its refinery there. Residents opposed to the project are planning to voice their opposition at a Feb. 8 Benicia Planning Commission meeting, Soto said.

    Currently, tank cars used to transport crude oil can puncture from impacts of less than 10 miles per hour, although the U.S. Department of Transportation is in the process of adopting more stringent standards for such cars, according to Jackie Prange, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    “The concern is that had this been a crude oil train, it’s much more likely that the tank cars would have punctured,” Prange said.

    Check back for further updates.

      Martinez City Council approves ‘weak’ hazardous-rail-related resolution

      Repost from The Martinez News-Gazette

      City approves hazardous-rail-related resolution

      Rick Jones | October 21, 2014
      Citizens voice concern about ‘weak’ resolution
      Council meeting concerning crude by rail
      The Martinez Environmental Group and other concerned citizens attend the Oct. 15, 2014, meeting of the Martinez City Council, where council members approved a resolution calling for safer transportation of hazardous materials through the city. The sign in the background reads: “Stop crude by rail.” (RICK JONES / Martinez News-Gazette)

      MARTINEZ, Calif. – The Martinez City Council approved a resolution calling for safer transportation of hazardous materials through the city Wednesday.

      While the resolution passed 5-0, many in attendance felt the measure fell far short of where they hoped the city would go. Several members of the council agreed the resolution was weak and in places poorly written.

      Councilwoman Lara DeLaney said the resolution was vague, and it didn’t demand enough from state and federal authorities.

      “It doesn’t say what Martinez wants from this,” DeLaney said.

      She didn’t vote “no” because anything that encourages any kind of safety is better than nothing, she said.

      Mayor Rob Schroder supported the resolution, summing up the tone of the council that the resolution does at least make a first step.

      “At least it makes a public statement that the City Council is concerned about the public safety of its citizens,” said Schroder, noting the city is also concerned about rail shipments of other hazardous materials. “It’s a broader issue than just crude oil.

      “This is just the beginning; as we go on in time, we will be taking more actions with respect to this issue.”

      Before the council voted, 14 speakers voiced concerns, most urging the city to take a tougher, more aggressive stance on the issue.

      Amy Durfee, who said she lives on E Street about eight blocks away from the Alhambra trestle, is a member of the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG). She spoke forcefully to the council.

      “The resolution before you makes absolutely no concrete action to address the issue of the highly explosive trains that are coming across that trestle every 7-10 days and the tanker trucks that are coming back on Highway 4 to Tesoro,” Durfee said

      Durfee stated there are currently three crude by rail projects that directly affect Martinez – in Sacramento, Benicia, and Kinder Morgan in Richmond.

      “By not directing staff to monitor the situation in nearby cities you are putting the city’s head in the sand and putting us all in danger. [It] feels like voters are talking into a black hole. MEG has been telling you about this since May, and for you to pass this flimsy resolution is not going to fool Martinez voters.”

      Bill Nichols told the council that the residents of Martinez have come to just accept the dangers of hazardous materials in the community.

      “We have become inured to living with a refinery that puts out 4 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year. All the ice cream socials in the world won’t change that fact,” Nichols said. “We ignore the explosions, the stench, the flames; it’s just part of life here in Martinez. You, however, cannot become inured. You are charged with the public safety. The mayor has said that’s his highest priority. We are asking you to stand up and pass a strong resolution.”

      Jan Cox Golovich, former city councilmember from Benicia, told the council of three derailments in the last year at the Benicia Industrial Park involving petroleum coke.

      Golovich urged the Martinez council to take a much stronger stance against crude-by-rail. Golovich praised the council for being the first city with a refinery to take any action.

      Julian Frazer urged the council to adopt the stronger MEG resolution that was presented to the council.

      Councilmember Anamarie Avila Farias said “we all take this very seriously. This is a first step of many more to come. Not a perfect one, but it’s a start.”

      Farias said other cities who have passed safety resolutions are now complaining.

      “All these other cities have passed these resolutions taking a stance, but the trains keep coming,” Farias said. “The League (of Cities) and the cities we are working with are trying to stop it at a legislative level.”

      Interim City Manager Jim Jakel said the city is limited due to a lack of jurisdiction over the railways.

      “We don’t really have any power (over the railways),” Councilmember Mark Ross said. “To some, this is nothing more than a political selfie thrown out weeks before the campaign. To others it’s, ‘Hey, at least you are saying something.’”

      The resolution “doesn’t really do anything more than express our concern,” Ross said.