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Regulators, first responders catch hazardous oil transfers at McClellan Park

It is unfathomable that the most environmental and safety conscious state in the union would allow volatile fuel and crude oil transfers without permits, punishment or the authorities even knowing about it. The frantic rush to mine and move dangerous fuels has led to a national crisis. Most recently, the defunct McClellan AFB was discovered as the scene of unpermitted crude oil transfers from rail cars to trucks for a while. A March 29 Latin Times article details how the InterState Oil Co. and Patriot Rail boldly continue the operations.

McClellan Park 2002
McClellan Park 2002USGS Wikimedia Commons

Patriot Rail is a short line railroad that switches the cars at McClellan Park. A third company, Carson Oil, was also issued a permit to operate at the same location.

The first problem is that volatile crude and fuels are the same type that caused the fiery Lac-Megantic disaster in Quebec, Canada. The second problem is that local and regional fire departments will have been caught unprepared and unaware if a major disaster happens.

The third problem is that there is no sign that either InterState Oil Co. or Patriot Rail can post bonds or have the financial ability to pay for a disaster. Failure to have sufficient assets is a huge problem. The owner of the rail car company responsible for the Lac-Megantic catastrophe, MM&A, claimed insufficient assets and filed for bankruptcy last August.

The fourth problem is with the hastily approved permits that helped InterState Oil dodge punishments, fines, environmental review, disaster planning and public notice and comment.

This means that the state saw an increase in volatile crude ground transport from 100,000 barrels to over 1.2 million barrels and did little or nothing to prepare for the gravely larger threat of a fiery disaster or catastrophic spill.

To make matters worse, the state sits by knowing that ground transport is expected to boom until the volume reaches six trains with 100 tank cars every day. That is 500,000 barrels of crude, volatile oil and ethanol moving through the Sacramento metro area every day.

Such trains are called "moving pipelines" and there is growing upset that they are even allowed to operate. In comparison, the entire stationary Keystone pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels per day.

The companies (and the government) are exploiting a technical loophole in the rules. The Sacramento County Environmental Management Department is only charged with regulating crude oil storage facilities, not oil transfer operations. Once the material arrives at refineries in the east bay area, it is treated like any other cargo. This creates weak regulators who are ill-prepared to prevent accidents, negligence and disaster.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order for a comprehensive plan to cover Albany’s enlarged role as an oil shipping hub. California Bay area activists want Governor Brown to issue a similar order. The real problems are being ignored, however. Why is so much environmental disaster being invited in the first place?

Too many questions have gone unanswered. Why have the states and the federal government avoided the task of identifying all hazardous oil transport and transfer operations?

Why do these oil setups only enrich without indemnifying the oil companies and railroads? Why are taxpayers left in the dark about being stuck with the potential costs of these unpermitted and unregulated threats? Why are the states and the federal government avoiding giving anywhere like the same support to alternative fuels?

These questions will keep coming up, given repeated failures to allow public notice and comment.