Tag Archives: California Assemblyman Roger Dickinson

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.

Oil train regulation passes in California Assembly

Repost from Reuters
[Editor: The bill is AB380.  For text, analysis and votes on the bill, see leginfo.ca.gov.  – RS]

Oil train regulation passes in California

By Jennifer Chaussee, Aug 29, 2014

(Reuters) – California lawmakers on Friday passed legislation requiring railroad companies to tell emergency officials when crude oil trains will chug through the state.

The bill would require railroads to notify the state’s Office of Emergency Services when trains carrying crude oil from Canada and North Dakota are headed to refineries in the most populous U.S. state.

It passed its final vote in the Assembly 61-1, with strong bipartisan support within the state legislature in Sacramento. The bill now goes to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

“We have a spotlight on this issue because of the seriousness of the risk to public safety that it presents,” said the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, whose district encompasses parts of Sacramento along the trains’ route.

The legislation follows a disastrous oil train derailment in Canada that killed 47 people and spilled 1.6 million gallons of crude last year.

Worried that a similar spill could happen in California, firefighters and other safety officials have urged state lawmakers to increase safety regulations on oil trains and improve communication between railroads and first responders about when oil shipments are coming through.

President Barack Obama proposed new safety requirements last month that could lower speed limits for trains carrying oil and increase safety standards for oil tank cars.

The volume of oil shipped by train through California has increased dramatically in recent years, public safety experts told a legislative committee at a hearing in June.

The influx has been propelled by increased production in Western Canada and North Dakota without an accompanying boost in pipeline capacity.

Oil and rail industry representatives told lawmakers that they had already done much to improve safety. BNSF Railway lobbyist Juan Acosta testified that the company had agreed to slow its oil trains to 40 mph and increase inspections of its tracks.

Railroads are not currently required to proactively share their oil train schedules with first responders.

(additional reporting by Aaron Mendelson in Sacramento; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Modesto Bee editorial: Tell us when dangerous oil cars are rolling

Repost from The Modesto Bee

Our View: Tell us when dangerous oil cars are rolling

August 9, 2014

Tank cars suitable for carrying Bakken crude oil sit on the BNSF railroad tracks that run through Escalon in May. The cars were empty, but left unattended for several days at a time. MIKE DUNBAR — mdunbar@modbee.com

Anyone who bothered to examine the 40 black, cylindrical railway tankers parked within 60 feet of a neighborhood in Escalon would have noticed a couple of markings. First was the red diamond-shaped placard with a flame on it; the other was the designation “DOT 111” in a grid stenciled on the tank.Those markings are what you find on tank cars used to carry the most dangerous liquids across America – including the volatile crude oil extracted from Bakken shale deposits in North Dakota.

A BNSF official said those unattended tank cars left on one of the double tracks in Escalon for a total of seven days over several weekends from April to June were empty. Unfortunately, no one in the community of 7,000 knew enough about them to bother to ask what was in them.

“I’m not aware of what was in those cars,” said Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello, who commands a staff of nine full-time firefighters and a volunteer force of 16. Up to 50 trains go through Escalon each day, and BNSF never notifies Escalon about what is moving along its tracks – unless asked.

That must change, because it’s entirely likely we’ll see far more of those cars in the future. And they won’t always be empty.

California’s Office of Emergency Services estimates shipments of Bakken crude will increase 25-fold by 2016 as 150 million barrels move to California’s refineries in the Bay Area, Southern California and eventually Bakersfield. Since all Bakken crude moves by rail, that could mean another 225,000 tank cars a year moving through Roseville, Sacramento, Modesto, Merced and beyond. Mother Jones magazine calls it a “virtual pipeline.”

The Wall Street Journal reported Bakken crude contains higher amounts of butane, ethane and propane than other crudes, making it too volatile for most actual pipelines. Those gases have contributed to the deaths of 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic in Canada, where a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in July 2013 and exploded. Less dramatic derailments, some with fires, have occurred in North Dakota, Virginia and Illinois. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports 108 crude spills last year.

“When you look at the lines of travel from Canada and North Dakota, you figure if they’re headed for the Bay Area or to Bakersfield, the odds are that you’re going to see shipments going down the Valley,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who represents north Sacramento. That’s why he authored Assembly Bill 380, which would require the railroads to notify area first-responders whenever these trains are passing through.

But the nation’s railroads are largely impervious to local concerns; they’re governed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and they’re powerful.

In July, the DOT issued proposed new rules for safe transport, including increased cargo sampling, better route analysis, a 40 mph speed limit on trains labeled “high-hazard flammable,” and switching to the new, safer DOT 111 cars after Oct. 1, 2015. The new cars have double steel walls, better closures and heavier carriages. Currently, they make up about a third of the nation’s tanker fleet.

California’s Office of Emergency Services has issued 12 recommendations, ranging from allowing better data collection to phasing out those old tank cars to better training for first-responders.

Laudably, the railroads are already doing most of these things. Since the mid-1990s, BNSF has offered – at no charge – training for handling spilled hazardous materials and dealing with emergencies. One of Escalon’s eight full-time firefighters was trained at virtually no cost to the city. BNSF said they would even do on-site training for departments. But not every fire department has taken the courses. A BNSF spokeswoman said Sacramento sent only one firefighter to the most recent three-day training on dealing with hazardous materials, including Bakken crude.

The federal DOT issued an emergency order in May to require all carriers to inform first responders about crude oil being shipped through their towns and for the immediate development of plans to handle oil spills. Unfortunately, it contains a discomforting criteria: the order applies only to trains carrying 1 million gallons of Bakken crude, or roughly 35 tank cars. And to reach DOT’s definition of a “high-hazard flammable train,” a train must have 20 tank cars.

But a Bakken explosion in Virginia blew one tank car an estimated 5,500 feet; a photograph of another explosion showed a fireball rising 700 feet from a single car. Our first responders ought to know when even one car carrying such material is coming through.

Dickinson’s bill would make notification available on a real-time basis, without having to ask. His goal, said Dickinson, is to “give first responders better information on how to respond. The techniques and materials used in dealing with different chemicals, or even different types of oil, vary widely. ‘I know I’m dealing with oil, but what kind of oil?’ My bill is aimed at getting better, more timely, more complete information to responding agencies.”

But his bill mirrors federal orders on the size of the train; our first responders need to know when any hazardous shipment is moving through.

The incredible expansion of America’s oil resources is creating many positives – from more jobs to less dependence on foreign oil. But it’s happening so fast that we’re devising the safety aspects as we roll along this virtual pipeline from North Dakota to California in the west and to New Jersey in the east. Accidents are happening along the way. Federal rules don’t go nearly far enough to protect public safety in this new world. Dickinson’s bill and the state OES recommendations would help, but we need a broader dialogue. As Dickinson said, “we know we’re going to have derailments, no matter how careful people try to be.”

That’s why first-responders such as Escalon’s Chief Mello must “prepare for anything, any day.” Knowing what’s coming gives us a head start.