Kern County Likes Oil Trains

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2014 – 10:36 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2014 – 10:02 pm

The Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a controversial plan Tuesday to ship millions of gallons of volatilecrude oil daily on trains through California to a refinery in Bakersfield. Opponents immediately said they likely will sue to stop the project.

The project, proposed by the Texas-based refinery owner, would be the largest “crude by rail” project in the state. Under the plan, Alon USA could ship two 100-car oil trains to the site daily by late 2015.

Alon has declined to discuss the shipments, but the key North American oil supplies currently come from North Dakota, Canada and Texas. Some trains may travel through Sacramento andCentral Valley cities; others may come over the Tehachapi Pass from the southwest.

Kern County officials heralded the project approval as a solid step forward for that area’s economy and for the state oil industry. But several environmental groups called the project a health and safety danger.

Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said the project could employ up to 215 people at the local plant and provide 200 temporaryconstruction jobs. She said county officials believe the train shipments and transfers at the site can be done safely.

“We believe in our oil industry and we believe oil can be safely transported inside and outside California, and we look forward to the refinery getting up to full operations,” Oviatt said.

Environmentalists, however, said they are considering suing to stop the project, saying it will put Californians at risk by sending unsafe train shipments of volatile crude oil through the state and will increase pollution problems in the Central Valley.

“The county has rushed this enormous project through faster than I have ever seen,” said Kassie Siegel, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. She said her group believes the Kern County environmental review of the project is flawed. “I suspect the next stop is to go to court to challenge the project.”

Recent increases in domestic oil production have led to a surge of crude oil transports via train nationally. The increase has led to a handful of derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 people in a Canadian town last year, prompting the federal government to issue safety warnings and push for ways to make oil rail shipments safer.

Siegel’s group notably challenged a Kern County analysis that determined a train incident causing an oil spill on tracks in the county is likely to happen only once every 150 years. The center’s analysis indicates a spill is more likely to occur once in 30 years. Wendy Park, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, argued that Kern’s analysis also is inadequate because it does not evaluate the risks of derailments and spills outside of Kern County borders.

The Bakersfield project is similar to one proposed in Benicia in the Bay Area. The Valero Refining Co. wants to ship 100 train cars of crude oil daily through Northern California, including through downtown Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis to its Benicia refinery. Benicia has published a draft environmental review and is accepting public comment. The public comment period closes Monday.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

Sacramento Questions about Crude Oil Trains

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 – 12:00 am

Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to shipcrude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.

Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.

“We are not taking a position on whether the project should proceed,” said Don Saylor, a Yolo County supervisor and SACOG member. “We are pointing out, as we have the responsibility to do, the public safety issues in our region. There are ways those issues can be identified and mitigated.”

Benicia officials have been collecting public comments and questions about their environmental review of the Valero project plans, and said they will respond to all comments after the comment period closes Sept. 15.

The SACOG group also is drafting a letter to federal regulators, encouraging them to make hazardous materials transport on rail safer, particularly shipments of volatile crude oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken region. Crude oil train shipments have increased dramatically in recent years, leading to several derailments and explosions, including one that killed 47 in a Canadian town last year.

Railroad officials nationally say derailments are very infrequent. A study commissioned by Benicia determined that a derailment and spill would be a rare occurrence on the line between Roseville and Benicia. But Sacramento leaders contend Benicia has underplayed derailment possibilities, and has not adequately studied the consequences of a spill and fire.

“We think there are serious safety concerns that should be addressed by Benicia, not downplayed,” said Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn, chairman of the SACOG board.

The Benicia trains would travel on tracks just north of downtown, through the downtown Sacramento railyard, and over the I Street Bridge.

Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis was one of two SACOG members who voted to oppose sending the letter. “I thought it is a little outside our scope. It’s a slippery slope,” he said.

SACOG’s main role is to serve as the region’s transportation planning agency and to administer a portion of the region’s federal transportation funding allotment.

Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher also voted against sending the letter, saying many safety issues are in the federal government’s purview, not Benicia’s. He said he doesn’t want to discourage production of domestic oil that creates jobs and reduces reliance on foreign oil.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059


California Trains Hauling Crude Oil

Sacramento leaders: Risk of oil train explosions needs to be acknowledged
New map shows California emergency teams not in best position for oil train response
Feds propose phasing out older crude-oil train tank cars
Yolo supervisors challenge Benicia on crude oil train plans
State seeks more disclosure from railroad on plans to ship Bakken crude oil through Sacramento
Report minimizes risk from oil trains through Roseville, Sacramento
Crude oil rail transports to run through Sacramento region
Details about crude oil rail shipments shrouded in secrecy
Assemblyman Roger Dickinson wants more disclosure on crude oil transport
Refinery plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil through Sacramento

Read more here:

New Oil Train Car Safety Rules

Federal regulators said on Wednesday that they would require railroads and oil shippers to use stronger tank cars to transport crude oil within two years.

The new rules lay out a speedier timetable than initially expected to phase out old cars in response to a spate of derailments and spills involving oil trains in the last year.

The timetable, which is faster than a similar effort in Canada to phase out older tank cars within three years, could put pressure on manufacturers to build or retrofit tank cars in time to meet the new mandate.

The rules by the Transportation Department offer a wide range of measures to enhance the safety of oil trains, some of which had already been adopted by railroads on a voluntary basis in recent months, like notifying state emergency responders about train traffic, reducing speed limits or picking the safest route.

After a series of derailments, many local and state officials have expressed concern about the rapid rise of oil train traffic across the country. Many critics have called for retiring older tank cars that have been vulnerable to puncturing and exploding in a crash. Making things worse, the kind of oil that comes out of the Bakken region — which includes shale fields in North Dakota — is particularly flammable and prone to explosion.
Under the new rules, tank cars used for crude oil, ethanol and other petroleum products would require thicker steel shielding and better thermal protection, and would have to be fitted with more crash-resistant valves. Older models that cannot be refitted with these features would have to be retired or used for less hazardous materials.

Transportation officials are still seeking public comment on whether to outfit the new cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection, and whether to use seven-sixteenths-inch or nine-sixteenths-inch steel. The department said the proposed rules would be open to public comment for 60 days. Final rules are expected by early next year.

The Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car makers, had a muted response to the plan, saying it would review the proposed rules and respond.

The Transportation Department has been working on the new standard for several years. But the rapid development of domestic oil supplies from the Bakken shale region has caught many officials off guard. Most of that oil is transported by rail, given the lack of pipelines to take the oil to refineries.

The hazards of transporting crude oil by rail were made apparent last July, when an oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, destroying much of the city center and killing 47 people.

A new tank car design was introduced in 2011 with some enhanced features, but those cars have also been involved in spills — most recently in April, when an oil train derailed in Lynchburg, Va., and spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River.

About 98,000 tank cars are in service carrying crude oil and ethanol in the United States and Canada, according to the Association of American Railroads. Known as DOT-111s, their design dates to the 1960s, and a majority were built before 2011. About 18,000 have been built since then and could be modified if needed, according to industry officials.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“We are proposing to phase out the DOT-111 tank car in its current form,” Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, said on a conference call with reporters, adding that current oil trains “obviously present a safety risk.”

Some industry officials point out that phasing out older cars too fast would lead to a shortage that might curtail the surging production of oil from the Bakken. The new standard would apply to cars built after Oct. 1, 2015.

The new rules would classify any train with more than 20 tank cars carrying crude oil as a “high-hazard flammable train.” Regulators are seeking public comment on new speed limits for those trains, including whether to set up 40 miles-per-hour restrictions in urban areas with more than 100,000 people.

The Transportation Department is also working on separate rules that would require shippers to set up a comprehensive emergency oil-response spill plan.

The new rules require railroads to select the route posing “the least overall safety and security risk” when transporting oil by using the same analysis they perform when transporting other types of hazardous, toxic or radioactive material. This requirement had been part of the voluntary set of measures that railroads had agreed to undertake this year. The new rules, however, do not address what critics perceive is the industry’s opacity when picking a specific route for its shipments or the lack of information that railroads provided to local authorities.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said the Transportation Department should further strengthen provisions to notify emergency medical workers and local authorities for oil trains moving through their communities. Shippers are asked to give monthly assessments to state emergency response officials. “The failure to broaden notification requirements is especially baffling,” he said in a statement.

Federal regulators have acknowledged the high level of risk associated with these oil trains. Federal inspectors have tested Bakken crude and concluded that it was “on the high end of volatility” compared with other types of crude oils, Mr. Foxx said. This means it has a higher gas content, higher vapor pressure and a lower flash point and boiling point than other types of oils, making it more flammable.

This assertion drew a sharp denial from the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s trade group. It said: “The best science and data do not support recent speculation that crude oil from the Bakken presents greater than normal transportation risks. DOT needs to get this right and make sure that its regulations are grounded in facts and sound science, not speculation.”

California Rail Safety

California Has Little Say Over Oil Train Safety
Molly Samuel, KQED Science | July 21, 2014

The number of trains carrying crude oil across California is increasing rapidly, and two official reports say the state is not ready. Regulators are preparing, with funds for disaster response and more track inspectors, but they’re limited in how much they can do to make rail transport safer.

“My view is it’s pretty undeniably bringing in extra risks to the state,” said Paul King, deputy directory for rail safety at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

“These trains explode,” King said. “If that were to happen in a town, there’s no telling the damage. And of course we know what happened in little Lac-Mégantic.” That’s the town in Quebec where a train carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken formation derailed last July. The explosion killed 47 people.

‘These trains explode.’
– Paul King, California Public Utilities Commission

Bakken crude is volatile. In the past year, trains transporting crude from the Bakken have also exploded in North Dakota, Virginia and Alabama.
Trains carrying Bakken crude traverse California, too, bringing the oil to refineries here. And while the CPUC regulates rail in California, the state can’t actually do much when it comes telling the railroads how they can operate. Almost all of those rules are up to the federal government.

‘Our Hands in California Are Tied’

The state can’t set speed limits on crude oil trains. It can’t tell railroads to choose less hazardous routes. It can’t tell oil companies not to bring trains carrying the volatile crude through cities. It can’t tell oil companies to ship that crude in stronger tank cars. It can’t require upgraded braking systems.

Neither can local governments, though the cities of Davis, Richmond and Berkeley have all passed resolutions expressing their opposition to the transport of crude oil by rail.

“I almost feel like our hands in California are tied, yet all these trains are going through our communities,” State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a democrat from Santa Barbara, said at a hearing last month.

Trains carried nearly 6.3 million barrels of oil into California in 2013. That’s more than five times more than in 2012. According to the California Energy Commission, by 2016 that number could balloon to more than 100 million barrels.

That’s because there’s an oil boom in the middle part of the continent, and to get that crude from Alberta and North Dakota to California, oil companies have to use trains.

There are ways to make the trains safer.

Most of the tank cars used to transport crude oil, including the volatile Bakken crude, are old, and can’t protect against explosions. After the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada required that the most dangerous of the cars — the same tank cars that carry as much as 82 percent of crude oil in the U.S. — be removed from service, and that the rest be retrofitted.

The U.S. is considering stricter tank car standards. Last week, the advocacy group Earthjustice sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, urging the agency to move faster by issuing an emergency order immediately banning the use of the unsafe cars.

But California can’t require any of this. The CPUC intends to urge the DOT to “move expeditiously” to update its tank car regulations. That, and other recommendations, are laid out in a recent report on crude-by-rail safety in the state. The state wants the feds to require that there be newer braking technology on oil trains and a GPS-based system that prevents accidents on oil train routes. According to King, the CPUC will submit those recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration soon.

The railroads have already adopted some voluntary safety measures, including lower speed limits and increased track inspections. And Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the company that is currently transporting large amounts of Bakken crude in California, is asking railcar manufacturers to submit bids to build 5,000 safer cars. (The railroads typically don’t own the cars used to ship material; the oil companies themselves either own or lease them.)

The CPUC has done one of the main things it can: hire more railroad safety inspectors. The CPUC keeps a list of the most hazardous sections of track, and according to a recent report, the most frequent cause of derailments at those sites are track problems. The new state budget adds seven positions, bringing the CPUC’s inspection staff to 38. CPUC staff checks all the tracks in California once a year and, going forward, will check the tracks on Bakken oil train routes twice a year.

Revealed: Routes for Trains Hauling Volatile Crude Oil in California

Bay Area Cities and Environmentalists Respond to Crude-By-Rail Boom

California’s Not Ready for Influx of Oil Trains, Says Report
A Past Disaster

California once tried to introduce stricter railroad regulations.

In July, 1991, a train derailed in Northern California at a bend in the track where it crosses the Upper Sacramento River, near the town of Dunsmuir. It spilled 19,000 gallons of a pesticide called metam sodium into the river.

“It killed everything down to the bacteria,” said Mark Stopher, who was hired by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to assess the damage to the river.

The poison killed more than a million fish, and every insect and plant in the river for 40 miles. “Nobody’s ever seen anything like that before,” he said. In video from the time, you can see fish struggling to escape the river and get into tributaries. Stopher said they all died.

“It was kind of a blow to the heart to lose the river,” said Phil Dietrich, executive director of a conservation group called River Exchange.

The Upper Sacramento had been a popular fishing destination. So when the fish were gone, the tourists, and their money, disappeared too.

But it was a pulse of poison; metam sodium doesn’t linger. A few years later, the fish were back. The tourists are back, too. It could have been worse, if what spilled had been a substance that lasts in the environment for a longer time. Oil, for instance.

After the accident, the CPUC tried to require stronger track at Cantara Loop, to keep it from happening again.

“We were trying to adopt regulations where there were none,” said King. But they couldn’t. The railroad sued the CPUC, and eventually the court sided with the railroad, reinforcing the Federal Railroad Administration’s jurisdiction. There is a large rail in place on the bridge now, to help keep trains from derailing into the river. According to the CPUC, there have been four derailments in the area since 2009.

“Our role is limited,” King said. “Our role is to ensure that the regulations that the federal government has in place are followed.”

Beefing Up Clean-Up

Even if the the state can’t do all it wants to keep an accident from happening, it can prepare to respond to one.

In June, dozens of fire fighters, public health experts and Red Cross volunteers gathered near Cantara Loop to run a drill. The scenario was that an oil train had collided with an illegal marijuana grower’s truck at the site of the ’91 spill. The truck wrecked, and the train derailed and spilled oil into the river.

Firefighters pulled the casualties (volunteers marked with paint) away from the scene, a helicopter brought tools to treat people who’d been doused in dangerous chemicals and a team deployed a drone to get a view of the (largely imaginary) disaster scene from above.

“We want to make sure California’s prepared to respond,” said Alexia Rettalack of California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). “Spills happen. When product moves, things happen.”

OSPR got more money in this year’s budget, so that it can prepare for inland oil spills. Until now, the agency focused only on marine accidents. The state Office of Emergency Services is also looking for ways to better prepare emergency responders, many of whom are volunteers, for an oil train explosion. And state lawmakers are considering a couple of crude-by-rail bills that would improve emergency responses.

Dietrich emphasizes that what happened in Dunsmuir in 1991 was a rare event, and yet, the memory lingers.

“It comes down to we care about our river and about our towns,” he said. “And we hope that the agencies and the railroad are on top of it.”

“extremely low-frequency” EMF Radiation

Everywhere in the modern world, the throb of alternating current generates electromagnetic waves — from the television, the blender, the light bulbs, the wires in the wall.
Because the oscillations are very slow (just 60 hertz, or cycles per second), this type of radiation is called “extremely low-frequency.” It was long thought harmless because it is too weak to knock out electrons and directly damage molecules in the body.
But on July 11, 1989, Science Times reported the uncomfortable possibility that this ubiquitous background radiation might cause cancer.
An epidemiological study comparing children in Denver who died of cancer from 1950 to 1973 with a control group of other children found that those who lived near electrical distribution lines were twice as likely to develop the disease as those who did not. A subsequent study, by other scientists who sought to eliminate what were seen as flaws in the first study, had nearly identical conclusions.
Laboratory experiments provided more reasons for concern. Electromagnetic radiation, particularly the magnetic part of it, changed some functioning in cells and altered the action of neurotransmitters. Pulses of 60-hertz radiation increased the number of abnormal embryos in chicken eggs.
The article quoted Dr. David O. Carpenter, then the dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York at Albany: “The whole thing is very worrisome. We see the tips of the iceberg, but we have no idea how big the iceberg is. It ought to concern us all.”
25 YEARS LATER Dr. Carpenter is still at the same university, as the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment. He still finds 60-hertz radiation worrisome.
“Almost nothing has changed in 25 years in terms of the controversy, although the evidence for biological effects of electromagnetic fields continues to grow stronger,” he wrote via email last week.
In reviewing the research, the World Health Organization has categorized extremely low-frequency waves as “possibly carcinogenic”: There appears to be an increase in leukemia rates with long-term exposure to magnetic fields stronger than 0.4 microtesla. The earth’s magnetic field is about 100 times stronger, but it is not oscillating, a crucial distinction. (Concerns about other childhood cancers have largely abated.)
But only a small fraction of people are exposed to extremely low-frequency waves that strong. “It’s not a very normal type of exposure,” said Emilie van Deventer, the leader of a W.H.O. project to assess the health effects of electromagnetic fields.
One reason for the continuing uncertainty is that scientists have yet to explain how such waves could lead to cancer. Leukemia is a relatively rare disease, striking fewer than one in 5,000 children in the United States; its causes are hard to study, and even if a link were established, any effort to shield the world from low-frequency radiation would at best prevent a small number of cancers.
“In terms of a public health perspective and in terms of what one would think of suggesting in terms of regulations, you can see that the risk-benefit ratio would be quite unbalanced,” Dr. van Deventer said. “And this is if we were able to show causality.”
In recent years, concerns have migrated to frequencies that oscillate not 60 times a second but millions to billions of times — those used by cellphones, cordless phones and wireless networks. Dr. Carpenter, for example, would like to keep Wi-Fi out of schools, even though there is no direct evidence of harm as of yet and it broadcasts at lower energy levels than cellphones; the W.H.O. calls the radio frequencies used by cellphones, Wi-Fi and other telecommunication devices also “possibly carcinogenic.”
“Which is a little bit difficult to explain to the public,” Dr. van Deventer said. “People like to have a black-and-white answer.
“Looking at trends over the last 20, 30 years, we don’t see an increase” in cancer, she said. “But again, we don’t know. If it takes cancer 10 years to promote, maybe we will see it in the next 10 years.”
The possible hazards have not deterred her from a modern lifestyle. “Yes, I am calling you, talking to you using my cellphone,” she said. “I have a microwave. I have everything. It doesn’t change anything for me.”
She added, ”But from a professional point of view, it’s important that we stay on top of it.”
The W.H.O. project is working on a new report summarizing the health risks of radio-frequency fields, to be published next year.