Tag Archives: Wilmington CA

Oil trains to pass through Stockton

Repost from The Record, Stockton, CA
[Editor: Significant quote: “‘These aren’t rail cars filled with rubber duckies. They’re filled with dangerous crude oil,’ said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.”  – RS]

Crude oil transport danger for Stockton?

Deadly 2013 explosion in Quebec among incidents fueling concerns
By Alex Breitler, Record Staff Writer, August 03, 2014
Top Photo
A train passes through Stockton carrying crude oil and other flammable liquids Friday morning. | CRAIG SANDERS/The Record

It’s no misprint: Explosive crude oil shipments into California last year increased 506 percent.

And a series of high-profile derailments and fiery explosions across North America has fueled fears that those seemingly ubiquitous tanker cars could someday spell disaster here, too.

The surge has really just begun. In a few years the quantity of oil rolling down our railways will be “huge,” said Michael Cockrell, director of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services.

“You’re looking at some really major transportation of oil, and it’s everywhere,” Cockrell said. “It’s going to be all up and down the state.”

The spike is tied to increased domestic drilling in North Dakota, where the Bakken shale formation produces especially valuable and especially volatile crude oil. Trains provide a fast and flexible way to transport that oil to West Coast refineries.

Stockton’s a bit off the beaten path for at least some of these shipments, which often enter the state via Donner Pass or the Feather River Canyon, traveling through Sacramento on the way to Bay Area refineries.

Still, with Stockton serviced by two major railroad companies and with tracks stretching through urban areas to the north, west and south, advocacy groups argue there is a risk here.

“These aren’t rail cars filled with rubber duckies. They’re filled with dangerous crude oil,” said Diane Bailey, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.

It’s impossible to say how many oil trains already roll through town. Railroads don’t divulge that information, citing security concerns. Only recently did they begin notifying local emergency response officials about incoming shipments.

But there are indications Stockton may have a part to play in the oil transportation boom.

Documents describing a controversial proposed terminal in Pittsburg show that trains carrying oil would come from the east, from Stockton. Plans call for up to one train per day, five days a week to arrive at the Pittsburg terminal. From there, the oil would be shipped through pipelines to refineries.

Plans are also in the works for a $320 million terminal at the Port of Stockton. Commissioners in 2012 approved a lease for the petroleum terminal and storage facility on 33 acres near Washington Street and Navy Drive, said Port Director Richard Aschieris.

It hasn’t been built yet. But Reuters reported last month that trains would deliver 70,000 barrels of oil per day to the port’s Targa Resources Partners terminal. The Houston-based company would then load the oil onto ships to be delivered to refineries.

Aschieris said that in addition to petroleum, Stockton’s terminal will also handle ethanol, natural gas, propane and other materials. He said it will generate $1.2 million a year in taxes for the city and county combined, along with 20 full-time, high-paying jobs.

Aschieris said the project makes sense from a safety perspective.

“No matter what they’re moving, if they move it onto a barge or ship, I would contend that is safer than putting it on trucks and taking it right in through the Bay Area,” he said.

As for the trains that would deliver the oil, Stockton’s flat terrain decreases the odds of a derailment, said Aschieris, who added that private railroads have made “huge investments” in improving local tracks.

The debate over the transportation of crude oil spreads far beyond Stockton and California.

In Quebec, 63 tanks cars of crude oil exploded in July 2013, killing 47 people. Eight other major accidents have been reported in the past two years.

Tellingly, train accidents involving crude oil have increased even while the overall number of train accidents and hazardous material spills has declined.

In late July, acknowledging that the growing reliance on trains “poses a significant risk to life, property and the environment,” the federal government announced plans to phase out older tank cars within two years. They also took action to improve notifications about oil shipments, to reduce the speeds at which oil trains travel through towns, and to encourage railroads to choose the safest routes.

Most crude oil is still transported by marine vessels. But the quantity sent by train has skyrocketed from 1 million barrels in 2012 to 6.3 million barrels last year, and experts say the number could climb as high as 150 million barrels by 2016, according to a report by a working group convened by Gov. Jerry Brown.

For Cockrell, with county Emergency Services, the oil shipments are yet another potential disaster to worry about.

Since railroads are regulated by the federal government, he said he’s concerned that local governments may have difficulty seeking assistance responding to a derailment, and that it might be difficult to seek reimbursement from the private railroads.

Many people could be affected by a large spill in an urban area, Cockrell said.

One advocacy group, San Francisco-based ForestEthics, recently issued “blast zone” maps showing the half-mile evacuation zones overlaid on rail routes that could conceivably carry shipments of crude oil. And the Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that almost 4 million Californians could be at risk.

Opposition has grown to the proposed new oil terminal in Pittsburg. Other projects are in the works in Bakersfield, Benicia, Santa Maria and Wilmington (Los Angeles).

Mike Parissi, with San Joaquin County’s Environmental Health Department, said the county’s multi-agency hazardous materials team trains for potential railroad disasters – though not specifically for crude oil spills.

“The big thing with the crude oil is it’s very flammable,” he said. “But we can deal with any kind of flammable liquid incident that might come.”

Back at the port, Aschieris said crews there are used to handling hazardous materials. So are the railroads, said a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, whose tracks pass through Stockton.

“We’ve actually handled hazardous material for many, many years, and we’ve done so safely,” said spokeswoman Lena Kent. “Unfortunately there have been a few high-profile incidents.”

She would not say how much crude oil her company sends through Stockton. She did say two crude oil trains per month enter the state, a tiny fraction of the 1,600 all-purpose trains that Burlington Northern operates throughout the country on any given day.

Union Pacific did not respond to a request for information about its shipments.

Bailey, the scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the trains should be rerouted, adding that they have a “stranglehold” on the cities through which they pass.

“I haven’t really seen anyone entertain this conversation,” she said. “Does it make sense to bring mass quantities of really dangerous crude oil through people’s cities, so close to their homes?”


Law professor: 9 ways that STATES can help regulate railroad safety and transportation

Repost from LegalPlanet.org
[Editor:  Federal preemption under the Commerce Clause is NOT the last and only word on regulating crude oil trains.  Here are some suggestions for State regulation by Professor Jayni Foley Hein, executive director of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment.  – RS]

Oil By Rail: Nine Things California Can Do to Increase Safety

While FRA Considers New Federal Regulations, States Can Ramp Up Prevention and Emergency Response
By Jayni Hein, June 24, 2014

At a joint Senate and Assembly hearing last week on oil by rail safety in California, some lawmakers expressed frustration at slow federal action, and asked what California can do to increase public safety. My testimony focused on federal preemption issues, defining areas where the state can regulate, and those where it is preempted by the Commerce Clause, Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), or ICC Termination Act, or all three.

While the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have primary authority over railroad safety and transportation, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) shares authority with the federal government to enforce federal rail safety requirements and conduct inspections. And even with strong federal preemption provisions, there are actions that California and other states can take right now to increase public safety in light of the enormous growth of oil by rail.

Here are nine things the state can do:

1. Prioritize track and rail car inspection.

California has more than 5,000 miles of mainline railroad track. Inspection of track and rail cars is vital, as derailments are the most common type of train accident in the United States. A national analysis of freight train derailments from 2001 to 2010 on the Class I freight railroads’ mainline track found that broken track rails or track welds were the leading cause of derailments. Broken rail car wheels and track obstructions are also common causes of derailments. (Liu, et. al. 2012).

Governor Brown’s new budget includes funding to hire seven additional rail safety inspectors for the CPUC, paid for by rail industry assessments. The state should ensure that it has enough CPUC inspectors to accommodate the projected rise in oil by rail traffic each year. If seven new inspectors are needed right now; we will likely need many more by 2016, when oil by rail shipments are projected to increase as much as 25-fold, to 150 million barrels per year.

2. Obtain robust data on rail routing, rail car contents, and accident causes.

California agencies need more information from FRA and the railroads on routes, frequency, and rail car contents, as well as data on train derailments, their causes, and risk factors specific to crude by rail transit. The state should obtain this data from FRA – a recommendation echoed in the June 10, 2014 California Inter-Agency Working Group Report. The CPUC needs both national data and California-specific data in order to do its job.

3. Conduct an analysis of the risks that crude by rail poses to the state, including identification of high-risk areas of track, and propose specific measures to increase safety.

The legislature should consider requiring an annual report from the CPUC on the specific risks that crude by rail poses to the state, and measures that it can take to increase safety. Voluntary agreements with the railroads may also be an important outgrowth of this state-specific analysis that can inform where and how to direct limited state resources. As previewed above, this state analysis should be guided by the most recent data available from FRA and the railroads.

The legislature could also consider requiring information sharing among the relevant state agencies, including CPUC, Office of Emergency Services (OES), Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), California Environmental Protection Agency, and more.

4. Require state oil spill contingency plans for trains transporting oil into the state.

SB 1319 (Pavley) would require state oil spill contingency plans for trains transporting oil into the state. Such a state-mandated plan would provide an opportunity to secure better emergency response protection for the environment and public safety.

5. Get access to daily information on oil shipments into California, and ensure that state and local emergency personnel can access this information immediately in the event of an accident.

A recent DOT Emergency Order requires that each railroad operating trains containing more than 1 million gallons of Bakken crude oil, or approximately 35 tank cars, to provide states with weekly notice that includes estimated volumes of Bakken oil  transported per week and routing information.

The state should also have immediate access to real-time shipment information, assuming the technology exists to enable this. The state should also ensure that local emergency response personnel are well trained to deal with any crude by rail accident, and can readily identify the contents of any shipment. Training and information sharing with local emergency response personnel can be paid for by the industry, using a fee or assessment like the 6.5 cent/barrel fee on all oil imports recently approved by the state.

6. Advocate for more stringent federal safety regulations.

Legislative pronouncements, as well as the CPUC’s robust participation in the Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) are needed to secure better federal standards.

California joins others states such as New York in advocating for more stringent rail car design standards (phasing out DOT-111 cars, for example), mandatory placards on rail cars identifying Bakken crude oil,  expediting Positive Train Control, and requiring electronically-controlled pneumatic brakes on all crude oil trains. The state can also advocate for further federal analysis of possible routing changes, to avoid sensitive population and habitat areas.

7. Monitor compliance with new voluntary measures that the railroads agreed to implement this year.

As part of a February 2014 agreement with DOT, the Class I railroads will perform one additional internal-rail inspection each year than required by the FRA on routes over which trains carry 20 or more tank cars of crude oil, and will conduct at least two track geometry inspections over these routes. The  railroads also agreed to use end-of-train braking systems on all oil trains, and lower train speed in federally-designated “high-threat-urban-areas.”

The CPUC should monitor the railroads’ compliance with these voluntary measures. At the same time, CPUC and the state should advocate for making these voluntary measures mandatory, by issuing new or revised FRA regulations.

8. Consider issuing guidance to local permitting agencies on requirements for offloading facilities and oil refinery expansion.

There are currently at least five crude-by-rail refinery projects being pursued in California: one in Pittsburg, one in Benicia, two in Bakersfield, and one in Wilmington. There is a patchwork of local permitting agencies responsible for land use, air, water, and other local safety and environmental issues that may be relevant to offloading sites and refineries.

Local government and permitting agencies can deny land use and other permits for refineries and offloading facilities if they find safety risks or improper environmental mitigation under statutes like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But, local agency personnel may have varying levels of expertise in oil and rail issues and may apply permitting criteria inconsistently. As such, the state, through the Office or Planning and Research (OPR), should consider issuing guidance to local permitting agencies on necessary permits and requirements for offloading facility or refinery expansion.

9. Provide guidance on CEQA review and the public comment and participation process, especially relevant to environmental justice communities that may be located near offloading sites or refineries.

While rail accidents can happen anywhere, communities near offloading sites and refineries are especially vulnerable to oil by rail transport risks. The state can provide information and guidance to these communities on opportunities for engagement, comment and participation.

In addition, the state can encourage railroads, industry and refineries to work directly with potentially affected communities to disclose as much information as possible about shipments, safety measures, and how community members can participate in the process to make their communities safer.