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.

California Public Utilities Commission approves nearly 100% increase in exit fees for CCA customers

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[IMPORTANT INFORMATION: CLICK HERE – The “Power Charge Indifference Adjustment” (PCIA) and its impacts on customers who are served by alternative green energy companies (CCAs).  Unfortunately, the approved increase is not for a one-time fee, but rather a monthly fee that is tied to the usage on each electric account. It is charged on a kWh basis for all customers using CCA service.
Other proposed ongoing and monthly PGE penalties for solar customers were “proposed for rejection” by the Public Utilities Commission.  Stay tuned for their vote on January 28!  See also the Chronicle’s editorial on this, State regulators help advance rooftop solar.  – RS]

Customers of clean energy programs hit with fee increase

By Lizzie Johnson, December 17, 2015 7:53pm
PG&E and other big utilities also proposed cutting the amount of compensation that solar homeowners receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid. Photo: Lacy Atkins, SFC
PG&E and other big utilities also proposed cutting the amount of compensation that solar homeowners receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid. Photo: Lacy Atkins, SFC

The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to allow a nearly 100 percent price increase on exit fees for customers leaving Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for green energy programs like CleanPowerSF and Marin Clean Energy, which will make those and similar programs more expensive.

Many of the programs — where local governments buy green electricity for their residents, while private utilities own and operate the electrical grid — will be undermined financially by the uptick in the charge, called the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, their officials say.

“We are not surprised that the increase was approved,” said Marin Clean Energy spokeswoman Alexandra McCroskey. “We are disappointed. Our primary frustrations come from the fact that we are becoming almost liable for the market fluctuations for both ourselves and PG&E. If PG&E isn’t planning appropriately for people leaving for community choice aggregation programs, the PCIA will continue to increase. It’s poor planning.”

Under the increase, which is effective Jan. 1, customers making the switch to local green energy programs will face a heftier exit fee. Marin Clean Energy customers are projected to pay more than $36 million, up from $19.3 million in 2015. The cost for each residential customer would nearly double from about $6.70 each month to $13.

In San Francisco, the proposed exit fee for residents moving to CleanPowerSF would jump by 100.26 percent. Because the city energy program is designed to absorb costs for its customers, it would decrease the program’s revenue by $8.4 million.

Win for consumers

This month, PG&E and other big utilities also proposed cutting the amount of compensation that solar homeowners receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid, in addition to adding new monthly fees targeting solar homeowners. The CPUC released a proposed decision on the matter this week rejecting the fees. A vote is scheduled for January.

“Overall, we didn’t convince three commissioners to rule our way on the PCIA,” said Barbara Hale, assistant general manager for power at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “The fee is going to double, and that’s tough for us. But we are marching forward with our CleanPowerSF program, which will launch this spring. We are still moving forward.”

Hundreds of protesters came from as far as San Diego to oppose the fee increase at Thursday’s meeting in San Francisco. They carried homemade signs reading “Stand Up to Natural Gas!” and “CPUC: Consumers Pay Again?!” Public comment on the change stretched for more than two hours.

“We’ve achieved a great deal, but there is this overhang of costs that were necessary to kick-start the industry,” said CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio. “The reason the PCIA is so high is because of high-cost renewable contracts that PG&E was required by law to enter into, and that this commission approved. I don’t think it’s fair to let one group of customers escape from paying those historic costs and simply load those on the remaining customers. That’s what the PCIA is all about.”

Charge required by law

PG&E originally filed an application to raise the fee by 70 percent in June, but submitted another request last month to as much as double it. The fee helps the power company pay for energy it contracted for when it had more customers, preventing remaining patrons from bearing the brunt of the costs. The charge is required by law and determined by a formula implemented by the CPUC in 2011.

The fee is influenced by several market factors, including the price of energy, which fluctuates from year to year, said David Rubin, PG&E’s director of service analysis. The cost of power is now cheaper, meaning the difference between what PG&E paid for in its contracts and the price today is higher.

“The PCIA is going up because it is based very specifically on the difference between the cost of supplies in our portfolio which are based on contracts we signed several years ago when renewable prices were higher,” Rubin said. “If dynamics were different, the PCIA would go down.”

Process has critics

PG&E performs the calculation annually and submits the annual filing to the commission for approval. But to calculate the fee increase, some of the inputs must include confidential contract information. Critics say the numbers going into this ‘black box’ prevent outsiders from replicating the formula, and that the increase is another attempt by PG&E to undermine fledgling green energy programs, like Peninsula Clean Energy, which will provide electricity in San Mateo County beginning in August.

“The fee is almost completely redacted,” said Francesca Vietor, president of the San Francisco PUC. “It is extremely difficult for us to know what an affordable rate for our program is when we don’t have a transparent process.”

The CPUC also ordered in its decision that a workshop be held on Feb. 16 to address the methodologies and inputs used for calculating the PCIA charge.

“One day you’re a hero, the next day you’re a goat,” CPUC President Michael Picker said. “We are in the nature of balancing decisions. But we will continue to scrutinize the PCIA formula and balance different interests equally.”

Valero Crude by Rail: FINAL EIR released today – PUBLIC HEARING FEB 8

By Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

The City of Benicia published a Public Notice in the local newspaper today, announcing the availability of the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR).  The notice also gave details on upcoming public hearings.   Relevant excerpt on upcoming dates:

PUBLIC HEARING The City of Benicia Planning Commission will hold a formal public hearing to receive comments on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. to consider the Final EIR and a Use Permit for the Crude by Rail project.  In anticipation of the number of speakers, additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments are scheduled for February 9, February 10 and February 11, 2016.  These additional meetings will only be held as necessary to hear public comment – if all members of the public who wish to speak on the FEIR and the Use Permit have been heard, for example, during the meeting on February 9th, then no further public comments would be heard during subsequent meetings.  All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, Benicia City Hall, located at 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510.

The FEIR is now available on the City’s website and linked here on the Benicia Independent’s Project Documents pagePlease set aside time immediately to review the document and prepare your comments for the City.  There are only 34 days between release of the document today and the Public Hearing on Monday, February 8.