Tag Archives: Mike Webb

U.S. Mayors: oil trains must be drained of explosive gas

Repost from Reuters
[Editor: see also Safety of Citizens in Bomb Train Blast Zones in Hands of North Dakota Politicians and North Dakota seizes initiative in CBR degasification. – RS]

U.S. oil trains must be drained of explosive gas, mayors say

By Patrick Rucker. WASHINGTON, Sep 16, 2014

(Reuters) – Dangerous gas should be removed from oil train shipments to prevent a future disaster on the tracks, U.S. mayors and safety officials will tell regulators in comments on a sweeping federal safety plan.

The Department of Transportation in July proposed measures meant to end a string of fiery accidents as more trains carrying oil from North Dakota wind across the United States.

Tank cars carrying flammable cargoes would be toughened and forced to move at slower speeds under the plan. But critics say the failure to address vapor pressure, a measure of how much volatile gas is contained in the crude, is a major omission, and intend to drive their point home.

“That’s an oversight we’re going to push them to fix,” Elizabeth Harman, an official with the International Association of Fire Fighters, told Reuters.

Responses to the DOT’s plan are due by Sept. 30, and so far more than 100 comments have been received. Typically in a contentious rulemaking major stakeholders submit their views just before the deadline.

U.S. officials have studied vapor pressure since July 2013, when a runaway oil train derailed in the Quebec village of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people in a fireball that shocked many with its explosive power.

Until recently, official findings on vapor pressure were in line with industry-funded studies: That the North Dakota fuel is similar to other U.S. light crude oil deemed safe to move in standard tank cars.

But the DOT said last week that it did not properly handle prior samples and that a precision device, a floating piston cylinder, is needed to reliably detect vapor pressure dangers.

Given that disclaimer, many officials simply want dangerous gas removed from crude oil before it is loaded onto rail cars.

“The technology exists so it boils down to costs,” said Mike Webb, a spokesman for Davis, California, who expects nearby cities will join a call for safer handling of Bakken crude from North Dakota.

Under one scenario, energy companies would siphon gas from crude oil and send the fuel to market via different channels. But building such infrastructure, like separators or processing towers, could cost billions of dollars.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council has sampled some Bakken fuel using a floating piston cylinder and the results have been inconclusive, said Kari Cutting, vice president for the trade group.

“But nothing we’ve seen supports the idea that Bakken crude is more volatile than other light crude oils or other flammable liquids,” said Cutting.

But leaders of many railside towns say uncertainty demands the fuel only move under the most stringent safety measures.

“There is a way to haul dangerous cargo safely and that means using state-of-the-art tools,” said Karen Darch, mayor of the Chicago suburb of Barrington, where fuel-laden freight trains cross commuter tracks as many as 20 times a day.

North Dakota officials will next week hold a hearing to consider measures to de-gasify crude oil in the state.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker, editing by Ros Krasny and Cynthia Osterman)

Davis City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

Repost from The Davis Enterprise
[Editor: Breaking news … DAVIS, CA – On Tuesday evening, 9/2/14, the Davis City Council approved the letter as written (but with minor editorial changes) and directed staff to submit it to the City of Benicia for the record.  The DRAFT letter can be seen here.  – RS]

City Council finds Valero crude-by-rail impact report lacking

By Elizabeth Case, September 3, 2014

The Davis City Council has released a draft of the letter it plans to send to the city of Benicia in response to the Valero crude-by-rail project’s draft environmental impact report.

The project would build out the Valero refinery’s capacity to unload oil from rail cars, increasing shipments to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day in two, 50-car-long shipments, likely from Roseville to Benicia along the Capitol Corridor rail line. That line passes right through downtown Davis.

Draft environmental impact reports are required for projects that could have significant impacts on their surroundings. Notably, this report found the risk of an accident — a derailment and spill — to be an insignificant risk, while the additional trains would have a significant air quality impact.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Community Chambers at City Hall to vote on the language contained in the letter. The letter, as it stands, argues that the assessment is both misleading and incomplete, and focuses on a few main concerns:

* The report’s failure to address a May emergency order and an August notice from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The former requires railroads transporting more than 35 cars, or 1 million gallons, of North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil in a single shipment to notify state emergency response commissions. The latter includes a report about improving vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

* A request that Benicia mandate the use of the newer 1232 tank cars. These have thicker shells and other improvements over “legacy” — DOT 111 — cars, which have been involved in most of past decade’s oil-by-rail accidents.

However, 1232 cars were involved in at least one derailment in Lynchburg, Va., in April. Benicia cannot legally require Valero or Union Pacific to use a specific type of car, since railroads fall under federal jurisdiction.

Valero spokesperson Chris Howe has previously confirmed that the company would use only the 1232 cars to transport oil.

* A lack of information on where and how Valero might store the crude oil, if it isn’t used right away. Specifically, Davis is concerned that the siding between Interstate 80 and Second Street in Davis could, and might already, be used for the storage of crude oil.

In addition to the above concerns, the Davis City Council requests an investigation into the current conditions of the railroad line from Roseville to Benicia.

The letter also alleges that the EIR fails to account for fire or explosions in its assessment of damage caused by release of hazardous materials, that it fails to take a magnitude of such a spill into account, and that it does not assess all the possible routes for the crude oil to be shipped to the Valero refinery.

The letter also requests that advance notice of shipments be made to city of Davis and Yolo County authorities — information oil companies have been tight-lipped about, citing terrorism concerns.

If Valero is importing Bakken crude at amounts specified in the transportation department’s order, it will have to inform the state commission. Assembly Bill 380, which was approved Friday, would require flow data and other information to be submitted about a company’s top 25 hazardous materials, including oil from the Bakkens, though it would continue to keep the information out of the public realm.

Davis’ comments draw strongly from those already filed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and Yolo County.

Davis City Council member Lucas Frerichs, who also sits on SACOG’s Rail Ad Hoc Committee, said the council understands the need for oil imports, but doesn’t believe the environmental assessment adequately assesses potential dangers.

“It’s going to come in by rail, we just need to make sure it’s done safely,” Frerichs said. “(But the report) absolutely needs to be adjusted in order to protect the safety of citizens up and down the rail corridor.”

The council passed a unanimous resolution in April opposing oil by rail until safety issues, like better warning signs about speed changes, have been addressed.

“Our read of it — even if the risk is only once in every 111 years, if there was a catastrophic explosion, especially in our downtown, it would obviously have a great impact on our community, on lives on our property,” said Mike Webb, the city’s community development and sustainability director and author of the letter.

“Even if that was only once in 111 years, that’s once too much.’

If the Benicia Planning Commission acknowledges the concerns voiced by Davis, it would require a reissue and recirculation of the EIR, delaying the project. Representatives for the commission could not be reached before deadline.

“It would slow the process down, but I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing,” Webb said,” because we’re asking for more information and disclosure about what the project is.”

Interested parties have until Sept. 15 to submit a comment on the EIR before the Benicia Planning Commission begins its review.

Benicia OKs Sacramento request for more time to review crude oil rail shipment plans

Repost from The Sacramento Bee

Benicia OKs Sacramento request for more time to review crude oil rail shipment plans

By Tony Bizjak, Saturday, Jul. 12, 2014
Family and friends cross the railroad track along the crash site after a memorial service early Sunday, July 6, 2014 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, for the 47 victims of last year’s devastating oil train derailment (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, /Paul Chiasson

Benicia has granted a request by Sacramento officials and others for extra time to review a plan by Valero Refining Co. to run two trains daily carrying crude oil through downtown Sacramento, Roseville, West Sacramento and Davis to its Bay Area refinery. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents local cities and counties, had requested extra time, saying they are concerned about the project’s safety risks. The new response deadline is Sept. 15, officials said.

Valero is asking the city of Benicia for an OK to begin receiving daily crude-by-rail shipments, including possibly the more volatile oil from the North Dakota Bakken fields. Federal officials issued a warning this year about that fuel after several train explosions, including one that killed 47 people in Canada.

The Valero plan, involving two 50-car trains a day through Sacramento, is among the first of what California officials say is an expected boom in crude-by-rail shipments through the state, prompted by the lower cost of North Dakota and Canadian crude.

The draft environmental report, issued last month by Benicia, included an analysis that says a derailment and spill might happen only once every 111 years. That analysis was authored by a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Barkan, who formerly worked for the American Association of Railroads and does research supported by the association. Barkan, an expert on hazardous rail transport, said in an email that his work for Benicia was not influenced by his association with the railroad association.

Local officials say they plan to issue written responses to that assessment this summer. City of Davis official Mike Webb has challenged the report risk assessment, saying, “It only needs to happen once to be a real problem.”

Also on Friday, a coalition of activists who oppose rail shipments of crude oil called on the state Legislature or the governor to ban or place a moratorium on construction of any more crude rail terminals similar to the one Valero is proposing.

The state Office of Spill Prevention and Response announced it will conduct a series of public workshops later this month soliciting opinions on how it should expand its work to inland areas, including along rail lines. The new state budget includes funding, from oil refinery fees, for the spill office to deal with the expected increase in crude oil shipments by rail. The agency will release information on its “legal and regulations” Web page on Friday.

Crude oil train protests planned in Sacramento and Davis

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor:  Check this out – Benicia’s uprail friends are getting out on the tracks, and they are getting the media’s attention.  Thanks to everyone who is following this story.  Benicia is in the “crosshairs” of a nationwide – worldwide – focus on this dangerous and dirty money grab by the oil and rail industries.  More and more, thoughtful people are saying, “No, not here.”  – RS]

Crude oil train protests planned in Sacramento, Davis

By Tony Bizjak, Jul. 8, 2014
Jake Miille / Special to The Bee | A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way west through James, Calif., just outside the Feather River Canyon in the foothills into the Sacramento Valley.

Laurie Litman, who lives a block from the rail tracks in midtown Sacramento, says oil and rail companies are about to put her neighborhood and plenty of others in danger, and she wants to stop it.

Litman is among a group of environmental activists in Sacramento and Davis who will gather this week at the Federal Railroad Administration office in Sacramento and at the Davis train station to protest plans by oil companies to run hundreds of rail cars carrying crude through local downtowns every day. The protests, on the anniversary of an oil train crash and explosion that killed 47 people in the Canadian city of Lac-Megantic, will spotlight a plan by Valero Refining Co. of Benicia to launch twice-daily crude oil train shipments through downtown Roseville, Sacramento and Davis early next year.

“Our goal is to stop the oil trains,” said Litman of 350 Sacramento, a new local environmental group. “We are talking about 900-foot fireballs. There is nothing a first responder (fire agency) can do with a 900-foot fireball.”

Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, an advocate for increased crude oil rail safety, will speak at noon Wednesday during the Sacramento event at 8th and I streets. The Yolano Climate Action group will distribute leaflets at the Davis train station Tuesday and Wednesday evening about the Valero proposal. The Davis City Council recently passed a resolution saying it opposes running the trains on the existing downtown Davis rail line.

The protests are among the first in the Sacramento area in response to a recent surge in crude oil rail transports nationally, prompted mainly by new oil drilling of cheaper oils in North Dakota, Montana and Canada. In California, where rail shipments have begun to replace marine deliveries from Alaskan oil fields and overseas sources, state safety leaders recently issued a report saying California is not yet prepared to deal with the risks from increased rail shipments of crude.

Oil and railroad industry officials point out that 99.9 percent of crude oil shipments nationally arrive at their destinations without incident, and that the industry is reducing train speeds through cities, helping train local fire and hazardous material spill crews, and working with the federal government on plans for a new generation of safer rail tanker cars. Valero officials as well say their crude oil trains can move safely through Sacramento, and a recent report sponsored by the city of Benicia concluded that an oil spill along the rail line to Benicia is highly unlikely.

In a letter last week, however, four Northern California members of Congress called on the federal government to require oil and rail companies take more steps to make rail crude shipments safer. The letter was signed by Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, George Miller, D-Martinez, Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove.

“We are especially concerned with the high risks involved with transporting .. more flammable crude in densely populated areas,” the group wrote to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Should spills or explosions occur, as we have seen over the last year, the consequences could be disastrous.”

The four lawmakers said oil companies should be required to remove more volatile gases from Bakken crude oil before it is shipped nationally from North Dakota. The federal government issued a warning earlier this year about Bakken crude after several Bakken trains exploded during derailments. The California Congress members also encouraged federal representatives to move quickly to require railroads to install advanced train control and braking systems. Industry officials have said those systems, called Positive Train Control, are expensive and will take extended time to put into place.

Representatives from a handful of Sacramento area cities and counties are scheduled to meet this week to review Valero’s crude oil train plans, and to issue a formal response to the environmental document published two weeks ago by Benicia that concluded derailments and spills are highly unlikely. City of Davis official Mike Webb said one spill and explosion could be catastrophic, and that as more oil companies follow Valero’s lead by bringing crude oil trains of their own through Sacramento, the chances of crashes increase.

The Sacramento group has indicated it wants a detailed advanced notification system about what shipments are coming to town. Those notifications will help fire agencies who must respond if a leak or fire occurs. Local officials say they also will ask Union Pacific to keep crude-oil tank cars moving through town without stopping and parking them here. The region’s leaders also want financial support to train firefighters and other emergency responders on how to deal with crude oil spills, and possibly funds to buy more advanced firefighting equipment. Sacramento leaders say they will press the railroad to employ the best inspection protocols on the rail line.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/07/08/6541363/crude-oil-train-protests-planned.html#storylink=cp