California oil train bill heads to governor

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Dickinson oil train bill heads to governor

By Tony Bizjak, Sep. 2, 2014
Special to The Bee by Jake Miill
A BNSF train carrying 98 tankers of crude oil passes through midtown Sacramento at 4 p.m. Monday en route from the North Dakota Bakken oil fields to a refinery in Richmond. | Jake Miille / Special to The Sacramento Bee

A bill by Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson requiring more disclosure about crude oil rail shipments has passed the Legislature and has been sent to the governor for his consideration. The bill is the last of several steps taken by the Legislature this summer to deal with safety concerns about the growing phenomena of 100-car oil trains rolling through Sacramento and other California cities on their way to coastal and Central Valley refineries.

The bill, AB 380, orders railroad companies to provide state and local emergency officials with information about oil and hazardous materials that may be shipped through their jurisdictions. It also also requires carriers, when shipping volatile Bakken crude oil, to provide the state with information about the volume of oil and timing of the shipment beforehand. The law also directs carriers to furnish the state with copies of the carrier’s hazardous material emergency response plan.

“The risk of catastrophic injury to life and property by rail accident has grown dramatically,” said Dickinson. “State and local emergency response agencies face new challenges when dealing with this amount of hyper-flammable or heavy crude oil. In order to prepare our emergency response agencies and protect our communities, it is essential that emergency response agencies have the information they need about the crude oil cargo in order to minimize any damage from an accident.”

A series of derailments and explosions has thrown a spotlight on the increasing numbers of crude oil train shipments in the United States. State energy officials say at this point only small amounts of California’s crude oil is arriving via trains from North Dakota and other areas of North America, but the amount is growing. Oil companies are building the capacity to accept as much as 23 percent of the state’s oil needs via train in 2016.

Reacting to statewide concerns, the Legislature and governor passed two budget bills in June to bolster state spill prevention and response efforts. One bill funded seven new rail and rail bridge inspectors for the state Public Utilities Commission. A second budget bill applied a fee to oil companies’ rail shipments to fund a state Office of Spill Prevention and Response program protecting inland waterways.

A last-minute bill, SB 1319, sought to impose a second fee on rail transports to support emergency hazardous materials response training. It died after oil industry officials complained the legislation duplicates other state and federal safety efforts, and that there was not adequate time to discuss and vet the bill.

Currently, only one rail company, BNSF, is transporting more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil per train into California. According to reports the railroad is required to file with state emergency officials, a train carrying Bakken travels through Redding, Sacramento and Stockton on its way to a transfer station in the Bay Area several times a month, perhaps as often as weekly. The train uses the tracks that run through midtown Sacramento between 19th and 20th streets. BNSF has declined to offer more details about those shipments.