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Preparing for oil train mishap
Firefighters train to respond to possible crude oil shipment derailment
oil train
An oil train heads toward Bakersfield.

Manteca Fire Department is prepping for the unthinkable — a derailment of one of the 100-car oil trains now passing through Manteca en route to a Bakersfield refinery via Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

The oil trains, like the one that passed through Monday, typically travel at a slower speed than other freight trains. Although UP declined to say, reports indicate the trains originate from Canada and are carrying tar sand oil that is less volatile than the Bakken crude from in and around North Dakota. Bakken crude has been involved in several fiery derailments during the past several years in the Midwest and on the East Coast as well as Canada.

“It’s definitely on our radar,” said Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters.

Several Manteca firefighters were sent to the UP sponsored Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colorado in April to get specialized training. They are helping train other firefighters as well.

An extensive three-day training session dealing with the scenario of a possible oil train derailment is being scheduled in the coming weeks.

Waters said the department has stockpiled foam. They also have a firefighter with extension hazardous materials training working every shift.

In addition the department has received training in a new and much more likely safety hazard — honey oil labs essentially converting marihuana into a liquid form. The process is extremely dangerous and can lead to flash fires and explosions.

Kern County oil refinery terminals had the capacity to handle 57 tank cars of oil a day before the first phase of expansion was completed. If all of the proposed expansion is completed, the oil terminals could handle 357 tank cars a day. Each tanker holds an average of 700 barrels of crude oil. At build out it would create the potential need for three 100-car oil trains a day.

 There is no pipeline that crosses the Rockies into the West to carry crude oil. Before shale oil production started in earnest, just 500,000 barrels of oil or one percent of what California consumes moved by rail. Eight planned oil terminals throughout the state could push that amount to 15 million gallons a month or a third of California’s oil use.

Oil shipments from the Bakken formation into California went from none in 2008 to 6 million barrels in 2013.

Waters noted chemicals as well as oil has always been shipped via rail through Manteca as well as on Highway 99 and the 120 Bypass via trucks.

The big difference now is the fact an entire train is made up of crude oil tank cars.

The last serious train derailment in Manteca was 27 years ago. It sent several tankers carrying toxic chemicals in the early morning fog off the tracks forcing the evacuation of over 2,000 people. The derailment occurred on tracks along Moffat Boulevard a short distance from Manteca High.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabuletin.comn