Butte Sups to send letters to state on crude oil transports through Feather River Canyon

Jan 13, 2015 6:15 PM by Brian Johnson

Less than two months ago, we brought you a special report about the dramatic rise in crude oil shipments coming through the Feather River Canyon by rail.

Today, the Butte County Board of Supervisors decided to take action on what many are calling a risky practice.

Staff informed the supervisors that by no means do they have authority to ban trains from coming through the county. Instead, they say the issue is whether or not the county is prepared for a potentially catastrophic derailment.

Frack Free Butte County's Joni Stellar was at today's meeting, and says the practice is fracking coming through the county's backdoor.

"It's just as dangerous, it's on trains," Stellar said. "In fact it's more dangerous."

Trains carrying crude oil travel on one of two railways through Butte County, coming from the Bakken formation, and going to refineries in places like the Bay Area and Bakersfield.

"More than 99% of light crude is transported safely to its destination," said Butte County Hazmat Coordinator Russ Fowler. "But it's that less than one percent that gets you." (Click here for Fowler's PowerPoint presentation)

For that reason, the county took up preparedness and readiness in the case of a derailment.

After all, nearly a dozen cars derailed in the Feather River Canyon in late November, spilling corn grain into the river.

Folwer says derailments in the Feather River Canyon are common, but a toxic spill there would be a significant issue because of issues like access, communication, and speed.

"If it was multiple tank cars with catastrophic releases, we would have a very difficult time meeting that challenge of stopping that oil before it did further damage," Fowler said.

Fowler says railroads are required to notify the local officials when they're carrying more than one million gallons of light crude oil through the county, but so far he says, none have done so in advance.

Some say if frack fluid were to hit the water at all, the damage would already be done.

"The second fracking oil hits any water in the Feather River, it will contaminate Lake Oroville and it could be between 35 and 75 years to clean that toxic waste pit up. It would just be catastrophic," Butte Environmental Council's John Scott said.

The board of supervisors voted unanimously to send letters of concern to the Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the California Public Utilities Commission.

They asked for training, equipment, and other enhancements to better prepare for a disaster situation.


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