A massive wave of oil is about to hit the Bay Area.
The explosion of hydraulic fracturing and extraction of high-grade oil from the Bakken shale formation in the Dakotas and Canada have resulted in the biggest North American oil boom in a generation. Over a half-million barrels of oil per day are being sucked from the ground and shipped to refineries across North America. And increasingly, that oil is being transported via rail.
By 2016, the California Energy Commission estimates that 25% of statewide oil imports will be moved by rail. In the Bay Area, that represents as much as 7,750,000 gallons per day of refining capacity being met by trains carrying crude oil from the Midwest and Canada to local refineries in Benicia, Martinez, and Richmond. Along the way, they cross thousands of creeks, rivers, and other waterways that lead to the Bay, travel along railways directly adjacent to San Francisco Bay and pass through the hearts of big cities and small towns.
Last summer witnessed the most deadly train accident since the 1800’s, when a 74 car freight train carrying over 2 million gallons of Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Forty-seven people died in the resulting fires, which leveled half of the town center. Poor safety procedures, coupled with a mechanical issue and lack of adequate training for emergency personnel all contributed to the tragedy.
Here in California, freight lines pass through downtown Truckee, Sacramento, Davis, Benicia, Richmond, Emeryville, and dozens more towns and cities. Tens of thousands of residents live and work adjacent to these crude oil highways.
While the use of oil trains has skyrocketed, regulations to ensure safe transport of these dangerous materials has lagged behind, in large part because local and state agencies have virtually no jurisdiction over what is transported on tracks that cross over more than 7,000 rivers and streams in California alone.“[T]he volume of flammable materials transported by rail…and multiple recent serious and fatal accidents reflect substantial shortcomings in tank car design that create an unacceptable public risk” – Hon. Robert L. Sumwalt Member, National Transportation Safety Board
Federal regulators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – have questioned the safety of the tanker cars used to transport hazardous substances since as far back as 1991. Yet two decades later, oil companies and railroads are using the same outdated and unsafe tankers. While the White House announced draft regulations for tank cars last week, even those new standards will take many more years to fully implement.
Meanwhile, our communities and San Francisco Bay will continue to be at risk.
In Sacramento, state lawmakers are working quickly to address the gaps caused by lagging federal regulation. Notably, State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Los Angeles) has authored legislation (SB 1319) that would extend oil spill cleanup authority, and create grant programs to help fund prevention, planning, and response to land-based spills.
We support this bill and other efforts to increase oversight, notification, safety requirements, and funding for emergency response. These are critical first steps, without which we believe crude by rail presents an unacceptable threat to the people and wildlife of the Bay Area.
We’ll be posting more soon about how you can get involved in the fight to protect communities and our beautiful San Francisco Bay from the dangers of crude oil trains.