Officials have voiced concern over the potential dangers of crude oil transported on area railways, as well as support for a congressional bill that aims to make that oil safer.
House Resolution 3435, co-sponsored by Congressman John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-Massachusetts, would require petroleum companies to remove most of the explosive gases in Bakken crude, oil which is transported by rail.
“We know that oil is essential to our country, but we also know that if we can manage it in a different way as the congressman has proposed, any incident that happens we can mitigate easier,” Marysville Fire Chief Dale Vogelsang said during a Friday press conference with Garamendi. “Area fire chiefs support this measure because our number one concern is public safety.”
Garamendi cited train derailments as examples of the dangers of crude oil-by-rail transport: The 2015 derailment in West Virginia that destroyed one home, forced the evacuation of hundreds and temporarily shut down two nearby water treatment plants; and the 2013 train derailment in Quebec, Canada, which resulted in fire and explosion that killed 42 people and destroyed roughly half of the downtown area.
“On this rail line, virtually every day, there are trains that are carrying crude oil to the various refineries in California,” Garamendi said. “That crude oil presents an enormous problem, and the problem is this: the problem is that the Bakken crude oil coming in from the Dakotas has a very high gas content. And we’re talking about an explosive situation.”
Locally, there haven’t been many derailments, especially of hazardous material.
In 2014, nearly a dozen train cars derailed and spilled corn kernels and husks into the Feather River near Rich Bar Road and Highway 70. The environmental impact was mild.
In 2013, the Yuba-Sutter Hazmat Response Team helped clean up a tanker accident on Highway 70 that spilled 8,000 gallons of ethanol, according to archives. Only one person suffered minor injuries.
In 2006, a 100-car Union Pacific train carrying grain derailed from a track parallel to Highway 65 near McGowan Parkway in Olivehurst. There were no injuries.
The largest inland environmental disaster in state history was in 1991 on the Cantara Loop near Dunsmuir, when a train derailed and thousands of gallons of herbicides spilled into the Upper Sacramento River, according to media reports at the time of the incident. The spill killed nearly all wildlife and vegetation in a 45-mile stretch down to Shasta Lake and took about three years to be restored.
Caltrans District Director Amarjeet Benipal, who also attended the press conference, said railways are the backbone of transportation, but need to be running parallel to the state highway system safely.
“And if there are any incidents on the rail system, it’s significantly going to have an impact on the state highway system,” he said.
According to the bill’s language, no crude oil with a Reid vapor pressure level greater than 8.5 psi may be transported by rail in interstate commerce, and the secretary of Transportation and secretary of Energy shall establish an appropriate national standard for maximum volatility of crude oil to be permitted to be shipped by rail.
Last month, the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.