Tag Archives: Funding for emergency response

Once in 111 years? Could be tomorrow…

Repost from The Vacaville Reporter
[Editor: The author convincingly makes the case that when it comes to oil trains, public safety is a roll of the dice.  He then suggests that the only way to win at crude oil craps is to buy insurance and prepare for the inevitable disaster(s).  In his next column, maybe Mr. Kimme will consider a statistically proven casino strategy: don’t play the game.  NOW is the time to say NO to big oil, and to promote, develop, plan for and build clean energy.  – RS]

The odds are, tanker safety needs to be discussed

By Vacaville Reporter columnist Ernest Kimme, 09/22/2014

Many people in Vacaville live in flood plains, and pay flood insurance. The city keeps the flood maps. They show the 50 year flood zones, 100 year flood zones, and 500 year flood zones.

People often believe that means that houses in a 50 year flood zone will flood once every 50 years. If you have a flood, then the next flood will be in 50 years. Sadly, this is incorrect.

Instead, every year, nature rolls a 50 sided dice. If the dice stops with “50” showing, your house gets flooded. If you are lucky, you could roll 100 times (once a year), and never see a “50”. But if you’re not lucky, you might get “50” twice in a row. Or three times in 10 years. Probability is a fickle mistress. You might know the odds, but you just never know what is going to happen each year.

So now let’s talk about train wrecks and oil fires.

The Valero Refinery in Benicia would like to import a lot of oil by train. The trains would start in Roseville, and travel 69 miles to the Benicia Refinery. Part of that journey would be in the Suisun Marsh. Several long trains of tanker cars would make the trip each day. So people have concerns.

Some bright mathematician calculated the odds of a derailment leading to a fire. Without going into the math (your welcome), he found that the odds of a train wreck and oil fire in Solano County were once in 111 years. So every year, the lords of chaos roll a 111 sided dice, and if it comes up “111,” then that year Solano County has a terrible oil fire on the railroad tracks. The fire might not happen for 200 years, or we could have 3 fires in 3 consecutive years. It’s all luck.

For comparison, Vacaville has about 6 to 8 house fires a year. The odds of one particular house — your house — burning are about 1 in 3,500. Take a dice with 3,500 sides you get the idea. Yet we still faithfully pay for fire insurance, and pay taxes for a fire department.

Now, go back and look at the chances of a train wreck, and the chances of a house fire. Did you notice that train wrecks are more likely than house fires?

But let’s not let our knickers get all twisted up — yet. Just like a house fire, oil tanker fires are not likely to happen. We should, however be prepared. We would like the fire department to be able to put them out quickly, if and when they happen.

That’s the rub. Oil fires do not quietly flicker out. They give off big clouds of toxic smoke, often with heavy metals and sulfuric acid in them.

Oil fires burn so hot that firefighters often have trouble getting close. And oil fires need special foams and equipment. Water just spreads it out and makes it worse.

So the obvious question is: Who pays for the extra training for the firefighters and the special equipment? The taxpayers? The refinery? The railroad?

Normally the taxpayers have to pay, and then file claims after the accident in an attempt to recover costs. Usually the railroads carry insurance in case of accidents, so it becomes lawyers arguing with lawyers. Makes you wonder: What if the county got insurance to cover their costs?

We can regret the need for oil and gasoline in our society, and we should make every effort to use less fossil fuel. But until that day, we need to safely transport oil and gasoline. With that in mind, Supervisor Linda Seifert is hosting a community discussion on the tanker trains and safety, Monday, Sept. 29, 6 to 8:30 p.m., in the Supervisor’s Chambers, 675 Texas St, Fairfield. For more information, call her office.

The author is a Vacaville resident and member of The Reporter editorial board.

Chicago City Council approves resolution targeting crude oil train shipments

Repost from The Chicago Tribune

Chicago City Council approves resolution targeting crude oil train shipments

By Richard Wronski, September 9, 2014
Moving oil by train
Empty railroad tank cars snake their way into a storage yard. (Curtis Tate / MCT)

A joint Chicago City Council committee approved a resolution today calling on the federal government to impose more stringent restrictions on the shipments of crude oil by train than were proposed in July by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The action would put Chicago in the forefront of communities across the nation demanding tighter controls on the shipment of flammable liquids, especially crude oil trains, which are the equivalent of rolling pipelines.

In the most significant request, Chicago wants the federal government to give local municipalities the authority to impose a hazardous material transportation fee on shippers. The fee, which was not specified, would be used by the city to plan and respond to emergencies involving these shipments.

The measure, approved at a joint meeting of the finance and transportation committees, will go before the full city council Wednesday but approval was expected.

“The proceeds of such a fee would help insure that our firefighters and police officers who would answer the call for help have the necessary equipment and proper training to respond to a catastrophic railroad accident,” said Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, chairman of the finance committee and one of the resolution sponsors.

“Hopefully, our leaders in Washington will act promptly to protect millions of people in the Chicago area before, not after, a disaster strikes.”

The city’s action comes in response to the July 2013 runaway train carrying crude oil that derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and destroying more than 100 homes and businesses.

The city is also calling for the federal restrictions to be imposed on trains carrying as few as 15 tank cars containing flammable liquids. The proposed federal rule on so-called “high-hazard flammable trains” would affect trains that carry 20 or more tank cars of flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol.

As many as 40 such trains come through Chicago and suburbs each week, the Tribune has reported.

Sacramento Bee editorial: First steps on oil train safety, but more to do

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: The Bee’s editorial board hit the nail on the head, but not hard enough.  Which is to say, the editors have joined with the chorus of legislators who want a good patch job for train wrecks that they presume are unstoppable.  Oil train safety would be best guaranteed by pressing the federal government to ban oil trains.  Allowing these “bomb trains” to rumble through our communities approaches criminal recklessness, and should be stopped.  Big business does not – or at least should not – dictate the direction we take as a nation.  – RS]

Editorial: First steps on oil train safety, but more to do

By the Editorial Board   |  Jun. 19, 2014
G092G6L04.3Staff Photographer
Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento announced legislation in April to require more disclosure to emergency officials of oil shipments by rail. Randall Benton

These are not all the steps that are needed, but it’s good to see the Legislature trying to get ahead of a potential (oil) train wreck.  As part of the budget they approved Sunday, legislators added seven rail safety inspectors. They also included a 6.5-cent fee proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown on each barrel of crude oil that comes to California by rail. The $11 million or so raised annually will be used to prevent and clean up oil spills, especially in inland waterways.

On Monday, the state Senate passed a resolution urging the federal government to pass laws and rules to protect communities from oil train accidents, including tougher standards on tank cars, and to put “safety over cost effectiveness.” That sends an important message because so far, federal officials have not required enough of railroads and oil companies – either in safety measures or public disclosure – to keep pace with a rapid increase in rail shipments of oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing, especially in Canada and North Dakota.

But there’s more that California officials can do.

Sens. Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Lois Wolk of Davis have a bill for a second as-yet unspecified shipping fee on oil companies to fund training and equipment for firefighters and other first responders. A recent state report found that 40 percent of local firefighters are volunteers who generally don’t have the resources to handle major hazardous material spills.

First responders often don’t have all the information they need, either, as reporting by The Sacramento Bee has made clear. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento is pushing a bill to require companies to tell emergency officials about crude oil shipments. The latest version does away with an exemption from the state public records law; instead it says reports would be deemed “proprietary information” that could only be shared with “government personnel with emergency response, planning or security-related responsibilities on a need-to-know basis.”

Time is of the essence since oil trains could be running through the Sacramento region later this year. Valero Refining Co. is seeking approval to route two 50-car oil trains a day through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis to its refinery in Benicia.

An environmental impact report released Tuesday offers some reassurances but no guarantees. The draft report concludes that while a crash or spill could be catastrophic, the likelihood of an incident is “very low.” The probability of a spill of 100 gallons or more along the 69 miles between Roseville and Benicia is calculated at once every 111 years.

Yet, it has happened elsewhere – six major oil train crashes in North America just in the last year, including the horrific fireball in Quebec that killed 47 residents.

More than 135,000 people in Sacramento and 25,000 in Davis live within a half-mile of rail tracks, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported Wednesday. They’re counting on legislators to do all they can to make sure oil trains pass safely through our cities.

Crude oil rail transport comes under scrutiny in California

Repost from the Sacramento Bee

Crude oil rail transport comes under scrutiny

By Alexei Koseff, June 19, 2014
A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way through James, California, just outside the Feather River Canyon in the foothills of Sacramento Valley, on June 5, 2014. Special to The Bee/Jake Miille

The volume of crude oil being shipped to California by rail surged last year, growing more than tenfold and raising concerns about public safety and transparency as these flammable cargoes roll through urban areas like downtown Sacramento.

Legislators have responded with bills that would require more communication by rail carriers to state emergency officials about crude oil shipments and impose a fee to train first responders to deal with major spills and fires on railway lines. Several safety provisions were also added to the budget, creating a fee for every barrel of crude that arrives in California by rail, to be used for oil spill prevention and emergency cleanup.

Lawmakers will explore the matter further during a hearing at 10 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. The session, jointly held by the Senate and Assembly natural resources committees and the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, will explore whether the state is prepared for a “boom” in crude oil rail transport, as well as the risks to local communities.

 VIDEO: Lawmakers are hurriedly pushing through hundreds of bills before summer recess, Dan Walters says.