Butte County CA: Excellent staff report to Board of Supervisors

Repost from the Chico Enterprise-Record
[Editor: Here is the Agenda for the January 13 Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting.  See item 5.03, scheduled for 10:05 am, including a Staff Report and a PowerPoint Presentation.  I highly recommend the Staff Report, which contains two substantive draft letters, addressed to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Public Utilities Commission. The Powerpoint is also excellent  (more reliably viewable here as a PDF).  JAN. 13 UPDATE: see Butte County seeks help dealing with oil train derailments.  – RS]

Supervisors to hold hearing on oil train derailment risks

By Roger Aylworth, 01/08/15
Black tanker cars are a common sight on the railroad that follows the Feather River in the canyon above Lake Oroville. Courtesy of Jake Miille
A train laden with black tanker cars enters a tunnel in the Feather River Canyon, near Highway 70 above Lake Oroville. Courtesy of Jake Miille

OROVILLE >> With trains loaded with a particularly volatile form of light crude oil coming through the Feather River Canyon, Butte County officials are preparing for “derailments or other unplanned releases” of the oil.

A public hearing on the topic is scheduled to take place at 10:05 a.m. Tuesday as part of the regular meeting of the Butte County Board of Supervisors.

The potential for derailments and spills in the canyon was underscored in late November when 11 cars of a westbound Union Pacific Railroad freight train went off the tracks about 20 miles west of Qunicy.

The derailed cars slid down the embankment toward the North Fork of the Feather River, spreading their load of corn over the hillside. Some of the corn, which was being taken to the southern Central Valley, made it into the river.

At the time the a spokesman for Union Pacific stressed the point that nobody was hurt and no hazardous materials released due to the derailment.

The derailment took place in Plumas County, and Plumas County Director of Emergency Services Jerry Sipe told this newspaper it could have been a different scenario if the same 11 cars had been tankers carrying Bakken crude oil.

The Plumas official explained that Bakken crude is a very light oil produced in North Dakota and Montana that has an “explosive potential” more like gasoline than say Texas crude.

Sipe said, “I think it is in fact a reminder, if not a wake-up call,” that trains going through the Feather River Canyon face flooding, rock slides and other potential derailment hazards, and the more trains carrying any kind of hazardous material in the canyon, the greater the chance of a derailment.

An agenda document related to Tuesday’s hearing before the Butte board, says the county Office of Emergency Management, Fire Department and hazardous materials team are preparing for such accidents.