Derailment that caused crude-oil inferno in West Virginia called wake-up call for California.
BY DAVID DANELSKI Feb. 17, 2015 Press Enterprise
The fiery derailment this week of a train pulling more than a hundred tank cars of crude oil in West Virginia underscored on-going demands by California officials for more information about hazardous materials moving through the state by rail.
The accident “is another sobering wake up call for us,” said Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Following last year’s directive by President Barack Obama, railroad companies now give California and other states limited information about large rail shipments of crude oil from the Northern Plains. This was the kind of oil that spilled and caught fire in West Virginia.
But the railroad companies, which fall under federal regulations, do not provide that kind of information to state and local officials about other shipments of toxic, volatile and explosive materials, Huston said by telephone.
“We want to know what all trains are carrying before they get here so our first responders can better prepare for such accidents,” Huston said Tuesday, Feb. 17.
A spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, one of two major railroad companies in California, said the company is now working on getting more information about hazardous cargo shipments to California officials.
BNSF is developing a software application for smart phones and computer tablets that will give state officials real-time information about what kind of hazardous shipments each train is carrying, said Lena Kent, the BNSF spokeswoman.
“It should be out in about a month,” Kent said.
Knowing the kinds of hazardous materials being shipped and their routes would allow local fire departments and other agencies to better train for accidents and more strategically deploy equipment and manpower, Kelly said.
Still, California and other states are getting more information than they did a year ago.
Because of an increase in rail shipments of volatile crude from the boom oil fields in the Bakken region of North Dakota and Montana, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last year ordered the nation’s railroads to provide states with information about crude shipments from those plains areas.
Bakken crude contains higher levels of combustible gases, making it potentially more flammable than other kinds of crude, federal officials have said in media reports.
Foxx’s order followed a string of fiery accidents. Those include derailments in North Dakota, Alabama, New Brunswick and Quebec, where a runaway oil train crashed in July 2013 in Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.
But this information provided to California so far is limited, Huston said. The companies have provided only estimates about the number of trains carrying one million or more gallons of Bakken crude oil and the counties they travel through, he said.
Kent said BNSF shipments of Bakken oil in California are “very limited” — no more than two trains a month that go to refineries in Northern California. A notice BNSF submitted to the state last fall said the trains followed a route from Oregon though nine counties to the Bay Area.
A spokesman for the Union Pacific, the other major railroad company in California, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In 2014, California received 1.2 million barrels of crude from North Dakota by rail, according to the California Energy Commission.
Huston pointed out that most crude oil rail shipments to California — about 79 percent — come from other parts of the United States and Canada. Much of it goes to refineries in South California, he said.
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