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California Lawmakers Seek Ways To Address Oil Train Risks

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press (AP)
 

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press (AP)

More crude oil is coming into California by rail because of an increase in production and a lack of oil pipeline capacity. Twenty percent of it is the highly flammable Bakken crude oil. Gordon Schremp with the California Energy Commission told lawmakers to expect more.

“The more recent data in 2014 for the first four months show that our rail imports are up 90.5 percent compared to the first four months of 2013,” says Shremp.

At issue, is what the state can do to prevent and respond to oil rail accidents when most of the regulation happens at the federal level. Jayni Hein with the UC Berkeley School of Law says the state does have some options.

“It can undertake the exercise of figuring out where in California there are certain conditions such as track grade curvature, proximity to population centers, proximity to water supplies that warrant additional measures,” says Hein.

That didn't sit well with Senator Hannah Beth Jackson.

"This sounds like just craziness because we’ve seen what happens when these things explode," says Jackson. "I almost feel like our hands in California are tied yet all these trains are going through our communities.”

Lawmakers are considering several bills that would update the state’s oil spill prevention program, and provide additional training for first responders. The state budget increased the number of inspectors, anticipating a spike in the number of oil train cars. Juan Acosta with BNSF told lawmakers that railway companies have a business interest in keeping trains safe.

“For my railroad 2013 had the fewest derailments in our companies history, there is a direct correlation between how much we put back into our railroad in terms of capital expenditure and safety,” says Acosta.

Acosta says efforts are already underway at the federal level to strengthen tank cars and reduce the speed of trains. 

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