State Senator: California Not Prepared For Accident Involving Train Carrying Crude Oil

The California Energy Commission said the amount of crude oil being transported by train to the Bay Area has sky rocketed thanks to an oil boom in North Dakota and Canada--but that is raising concerns with at least one state lawmaker.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is worried about what could happen if there is an accident. Hill held a hearing about this very issue in Sacramento, and he said California is not prepared if there is an accident involving one of these trains.

Hill said in 2011, there were 9,000 tank cars filled with oil brought into California from out of state. By 2016, that number is expected to reach 200,000 tank cars.

Hill said that amounts to about 2.7 million gallons of oil being carried by each train. The trains are operated mostly by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and they travel through Solano and Contra Costa counties.

The federal government oversees the safety of the trains, but Hill is concerned about the ability of the local fire departments and emergency responders to react to a disaster if one happens. In the Bay Area, crude oil gets to refineries such as Chevron by sea, and to refineries such as Tesoro by train.

"It’s the response time, and the preparedness that we don’t have in California," Hill said. "We’re back in 1980 when it comes to what we’re prepared for and we can’t deal with that volume."

Hill pointed to a train accident in Quebec last year, involving a train carrying crude oil in which 47 people were killed. He said that right now, California is not prepared for that kind of disaster.

But he said efforts are underway to help solve that problem. The governor’s proposed budget includes a fee for each tank car brought to a refinery in California.

Those funds could help employ about 38 people in the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control to help deal with this issue. The governor puts out his revised budget in May, and it is expected to go to lawmakers for a vote in June.

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