Business & Real Estate

State seeks more disclosure from railroad on plans to ship Bakken crude oil through Sacramento

One trainload of Bakken crude oil passed through Sacramento in the first two weeks of June, according to a report shared with The Sacramento Bee by the California Office of Emergency Services.

But agency spokesman Kelly Huston said the state doesn’t consider the information useful for emergency responders because it concerns what has already come through town, not what will be coming.

“The whole point of this is to help local first responders better prepare for this increase in crude oil shipments,” he said. “We encourage anything that’s going to improve that, including better disclosures.”

The agency decided to make the information public on Wednesday following the release of similar information by several other states, including Washington, Illinois, Florida and Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered railroads last month to begin sharing basic information about large crude oil shipments with state and local officials.

The order followed a series of derailments across North America where fire departments were not told about the shipments and never had an opportunity to account for them in their response plans. Federal regulators concluded that Bakken crude, extracted from hydraulic fracturing of shale rock, might be more flammable than conventional oil.

For weeks, the rail industry insisted that the officials keep the information only to those who “need to know.” The reports were marked “confidential,” “restricted” and “security sensitive,” and some states, including California, initially respected the industry’s wish.

But other states, and ultimately the federal government, concluded that the information was none of those things.

BNSF Railway, the largest hauler of crude oil by rail, sent California’s Office of Emergency Services two documents, one dated June 6 and the other June 13. They show the number of Bakken crude oil trains of 1 million gallons or more that traversed counties in the state every week.

The June 6 letter showed no shipments, while the June 13 letter showed one. Matching the counties with the rail lines, the train entered Northern California in Modoc County and followed BNSF’s “Inside Gateway” line to the Feather River Canyon, where the train picked up the Union Pacific line that follows the river, eventually toward Sacramento.

It traveled through Sacramento County on its way to Contra Costa County. There, BNSF serves a Kinder Morgan crude-by-rail terminal in Richmond, according to a map available on the railroad’s website.

The California Energy Commission estimates that the state could receive a quarter of its petroleum supply by train in a few years, and that could mean five or six trains a day coming through Sacramento, rather than just one every two weeks.

Union Pacific plans to haul two 50-car trains of crude oil a day from Roseville to the Valero refinery in Benicia, if a crude-by-rail terminal there is approved. The trains would pass through Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis.

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