Tag Archives: Bakersfield Crude Terminal

EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations; Permit Invalid

News Release from Earthjustice

EPA Cites Bakersfield Oil Train Terminal for Clean Air Act Violations

Federal agency says California oil train terminal is major air pollution source, permit is invalid without significant environmental review
Contact: Maggie Caldwell, Earthjustice, 415-217-2084, mcaldwell@earthjustice.org, Monday, May 4, 2015
The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft which the EPA has found in violation of the Clean Air Act.
The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft which the EPA has found in violation of the Clean Air Act. | Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice

Taft, CA —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited the Bakersfield Crude Terminal for 10 violations of the Clean Air Act, declaring the California crude-by-rail facility a major air pollution source that should have been subjected to rigorous environmental review during the permitting process. The federal agency found that the terminal’s permit is invalid and that the facility lacks required pollution controls and emissions offsets, and that it is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s public notice and environmental review requirements.

In January, Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment sued the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which issued the invalid permit, over the permitting process for the facility’s expansion— a process that was conducted without public review. Earthjustice is representing the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR), ForestEthics, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

A public records request revealed communications between San Joaquin Valley Air District officials and the project manager for the terminal that included advice from the officials about how the project could avoid public noticing and pollution controls. The Air District approved the massive expansion in a piece-meal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely out of public scrutiny.

“The EPA’s announcement declares the Air District’s permit a sham and that the Bakersfield terminal is operating illegally,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice attorney. “Air District officials went out of their way to exclude the public from the process and speed the approval through, ignoring the environmental review required by state and federal law. We applaud EPA for stepping in and enforcing the Clean Air Act.”

EPA’s action could subject the terminal to serious Clean Air Act fines, and should force the Bakersfield Crude Terminal to undergo the major source permitting required by the Clean Air Act.

“The EPA stepped in to protect California from this crude-by-rail facility’s dangerous air pollution,” said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal intervention is urgently needed because the air district and Kern County officials have utterly failed to safeguard public health and the environment. They’re turning a blind eye to air pollution and environmental risks such as catastrophic explosions linked to these massive trains full of volatile crude.”

“EPA’s notice of violation should serve as a wake up call to local authorities around the country who help polluters when they should be protecting public health,” said Matt Krogh, ForestEthics Extreme Oil Campaign Director.  “Oil trains threaten 25 million Americans who live in the blast zone, plus millions more who live downwind of a refinery, downstream of where an oil train crosses a river, or in the Bakken and tar sands producing regions of North Dakota and Alberta, Canada.”

“In Kern County, with the worst air in the nation, the air district has harmed the health of the public by intentionally allowing this facility to violate the Clean Air Act,” said Tom Frantz, with Association of Irritated Residents.

“Given the increased pollution and hazards from refining and transporting a lower quality crude, there is immediate need for a moratorium that halts new permits and construction of extreme oil infrastructure, not the opposite fast track permitting process that Air District officials put this massive crude by rail terminal on – and in secret,” said Roger Lin, attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement today is a significant step forward for Bakersfield and Kern County residents who bear all the burdens of volatile, accident-prone crude by rail transport and none of the benefits,” said Gordon Nipp Bakersfield resident and Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter Vice Chairman. “This terminal wreaks havoc on our region’s already compromised air quality and our communities now fear the risk of exploding trains.”

The agency also weighed in on the issue of vapor pressure of Bakken crude, declaring it unreasonable to underestimate the vapor pressure when permitting a crude-by-rail site and requiring vigorous monitoring and reporting of what crude oil is actually shipped. One way many of these facilities get around major source permitting is by cherry-picking the volatility of the crude oil being shipped, estimating the vapor pressure on the low end of the spectrum, which would keep emissions of volatile organic compounds under the threshold for triggering Clean Air Act review.

In addition to emitting volatile organic compounds from the off-loading of crude oil, the facility endangers Bakersfield and other communities in California by increasing the amount of explosive crude oil transported by rail through the state. There have been multiple incidents of train derailments and explosions across the nation and in Canada. An oil train that derailed in Lac Megantic, Quebec, destroyed most of the town center, burning more than 30 buildings to the ground and killing 47 people. Just this year, there have been four derailments and explosions in West Virginia, Illinois and Ontario involving oil trains.

Read EPA’s Notice of Violation.

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    Environmentalists play ‘Whac-A-Mole’ to stall crude-by-rail projects

    Repost from Environment & Energy Publishing (EEnews.net)

    Environmentalists play ‘Whac-A-Mole’ to stall crude-by-rail projects

    By Ellen M. Gilmer and Blake Sobczak, March 20, 2015
    (Second of two stories. Read the first one here.) [Subscription required]

    When an oil company’s expansion plans for Pacific Northwest crude by rail suffered a major setback last month, environmentalists spread the news just as quickly as they could Google “Skagit County Hearing Examiner.”

    The little-known local office about an hour north of Seattle holds the keys to land use in the area, and environmental attorneys saw it as the best shot to stall a rail extension considered critical for the delivery of crude oil to a nearby Shell Oil Co. refinery, but potentially disastrous for nearby estuaries and communities.

    The effort was successful: After environmental groups appealed a county-level permit for the rail project, Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford sent the proposal back to the drawing board, ordering local officials to conduct an in-depth environmental impact statement to consider the broad effects of increased crude-by-rail throughout the county.

    “The environmental review done in this case assumes that the whole big ball of federal, state and local regulations will somehow make the trains safe. And that if an accident happens, the response efforts described on paper will result in effective clean up, so that no significant adverse effects are experienced,” Dufford wrote. “There is no proven basis for such conclusions.”

    The decision was an incremental but significant victory for environmental groups, sending a signal to industry that its increasing reliance on railed-in crude could face formidable hurdles.

    Skagit County is just one piece of a larger plan to expand crude-by-rail across the country to better connect refineries and ports with prolific oil plays like North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. The use of rail to deliver crude oil has skyrocketed in recent years, rising from 9,500 tank cars of crude in 2008 to nearly 500,000 carloads in 2014, according to industry data. Projects in Washington and other refinery hubs aim to expand facilities and extend rail spurs to handle even more crude deliveries.

    Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company is “confident that we can satisfy any remaining issues associated with the project” to add rail capacity to its Puget Sound Refinery in Skagit County.

    “This project is critical to the refinery, the hundreds of employees and contractors who depend on Shell, and the regional economy,” he said. “We do not feel it should be held to a different standard than the crude-by-rail projects of the neighboring refineries that have been approved.”

    Smith added that “we all share the top priority of safety.”

    But the new reality of crude-by-rail traffic has environmentalists on edge. Oil train derailments in Illinois, West Virginia, North Dakota and other places have led to fires, spills and, in one case, lost lives. A 2013 crude-by-rail explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killed 47 people, prompting regulators in the United States and Canada to review the inherently piecemeal rules governing crude-by-rail transportation.

    The federal government has authority over certain details, such as standards for tank cars used to haul crude. But most expansion plans and related environmental concerns are left to local agencies situated along oil routes. The result is a hodgepodge of permitting decisions by local authorities following varying state laws, while a team of environmental lawyers challenges expansion projects one by one.

    “It’s a little bit like Whac-A-Mole because there isn’t a big permitting scheme,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles, who represented six environmental groups in the Skagit County appeal. “It makes it difficult and makes it frustrating for the public.”

    State laws in play

    So far, the Whac-A-Mole approach is working well for environmentalists.

    After three oil refineries in Washington went unopposed in building facilities to receive rail shipments of crude oil, Boyles said environmentalists and community advocates began tracking local land-use agencies more closely.

    Earthjustice and the Quinault Indian Nation successfully challenged two proposed crude projects in Grays Harbor County, southwest of Seattle, leading a review board to vacate permits and require additional environmental and public health studies. A third Grays Harbor project is also preparing a comprehensive environmental review.

    The next project on environmentalists’ radar is in Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., where Savage Cos. and Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co. have proposed building a new terminal to transfer railed-in crude oil to marine tankers bound for West Coast refineries. The Sierra Club, ForestEthics and several other groups earlier this month moved to intervene in the state agency review process for the project, citing major threats to the Columbia River and public health.

    The key to all of these challenges is Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Similar to the National Environmental Policy Act, SEPA requires government agencies to conduct a broad environmental impact statement for any major actions that may significantly affect the environment.

    For projects in Skagit County, Grays Harbor and now Vancouver, state and local officials considering challenges look to SEPA to determine how rigorous environmental review must be, based on whether projects are expected to have major impacts. To Dufford, the Skagit examiner, the answer is plain.

    “Unquestionably, the potential magnitude and duration of environmental and human harm from oil train operations in Northwest Washington could be very great,” he wrote.

    Down the coast in California, environmentalists have an even stronger tool: the California Environmental Quality Act. Considered the gold standard in state-level environmental protection laws, CEQA has already proved useful in halting a crude-by-rail expansion project in Sacramento.

    In Kern County, a team of environmental attorneys is also relying on CEQA to appeal construction permits for the Bakersfield Crude Terminal, a project that would ultimately receive 200 tank cars of crude oil per day. The local air quality board labeled the construction permits as “ministerial,” bypassing CEQA review, which is required only for projects considered discretionary. A hearing is set for next month in Kern County Superior Court.

    Earthjustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth, who is representing environmental groups in the Bakersfield case, said the state environmental law has been powerful in slowing down the rapid rise of crude-by-rail operations.

    “In California, we have CEQA, which is a strong tool,” she said. “You can’t hide from the law. You can’t site your project out in some town that you think won’t oppose you.”

    Unified strategy?

    Still, the one-at-a-time approach to opposing crude-by-rail growth is undoubtedly slow-going, and progress comes bit by bit.

    Boyles noted that Earthjustice attorneys from Washington to New York frequently strategize to “unify” the issues and make broader advances. On tank cars, for example, environmental groups have come together to press the Department of Transportation to bolster safety rules.

    “That at least is some place where you could get improvements that could affect every one of these proposals,” she said.

    But for expansion projects, the effort must still be localized.

    “You have this giant sudden growth of these sort of projects, and that’s the best we can do at this point to review each of them and comment,” said Forsyth, the California lawyer, who said the end goal is to empower local agencies to control whether proposals move forward and to mitigate the impacts when they do.

    Though labor-intense, advocates say the approach has paid dividends. Projects that would have otherwise flown under the radar are now under rigorous review, and industry players no longer have the option of expanding facilities quietly and without public comment.

    “If you hadn’t had these citizens challenging these projects,” Boyles said, “they’d be built already; they’d be operating already.”

    The delays have set back refiners seeking to use rail to tap price-advantaged domestic crude — particularly in California.

    “The West Coast is a very challenging environment,” noted Lane Riggs, executive vice president of refining operations at Valero Energy Corp., which has faced staunch environmentalist opposition at a proposed oil-by-rail terminal in Benicia.

    Riggs said in a January conference call that “we’re still pretty optimistic we’ll get the permit” for the 70,000-barrels-per-day unloading terminal at its refinery there, although he added that “timing at this point is a little bit difficult.”

    Facing pressure from concerned locals and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Benicia officials last month opted to require updates to the rail project’s draft environmental impact review, further delaying a project that was originally scheduled to come online in 2013.

    A Phillips 66 crude-by-rail proposal in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., has encountered similar pushback. If approved, the project would add five 80-car oil trains per week to the region’s track network. The potential for more crude-by-rail shipments has drawn opposition from several local city councils and regional politicians, despite Phillips 66’s pledge to use only newer-model tank cars (EnergyWire, Jan. 27).

    Some town leaders have also separately taken action against railroads bringing oil traffic through their neighborhoods, although federally pre-emptive laws leave cities vulnerable to legal challenges (EnergyWire, March 19).

    ‘Business as usual’

    Local, often environmentalist-driven opposition is seen as “business as usual” within the refining industry, according to Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

    “This is just another extension of the environmental playbook to try to obfuscate and delay,” said Drevna, whose trade group represents the largest U.S. refiners. “We’ve been dealing with that for years, and we’re going to continue to be dealing with it.”

    While Drevna said he doesn’t see lawsuits “holding up any of the plans” for refiners to improve access to North American oil production, environmentalists chalk up each slowdown to a victory.

    In New York, a plan to expand a key crude-by-rail conduit to East Coast refiners has been held in limbo for over a year at the Port of Albany, owing to an environmentalist lawsuit and closer public scrutiny.

    The proposal by fuel logistics firm Global Partners LP would have added a boiler room to an existing facility to process heavier crude from Canada. But advocacy groups including Riverkeeper have challenged the company’s operating air permit, calling for more review by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (EnergyWire, Jan. 13, 2014).

    “All of the actions we’ve taken with Earthjustice and others have really ground to a halt DEC’s repeated approvals of these minor modifications,” said Kate Hudson, watershed program director for Riverkeeper. “We have not seen tar sands. … The river has been spared that threat for a year-plus, at this point.

    “We certainly have no regrets,” she said.

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      Environmentalists sue to stop crude-by-rail terminal in California

      Repost from Reuters
      [Editor: See also excellent coverage on YubaNet, The Sacramento Bee and Public News Service.  Read the legal document filed here.  Read the public records request here.  – RS]

      Environmentalists sue to stop crude-by-rail terminal in California

      By Rory Carroll, Jan 29, 2015
      bakersfield-crude-terminal_EF_01.jpg
      An oil train moves through California’s Central Valley. The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal has the capacity to receive two 100-car unit trains a day. Credit: Elizabeth Forsyth / Earthjustice

      Environmental groups on Thursday sued a California regulator that permitted trains carrying crude oil to begin making deliveries at a terminal in Bakersfield, arguing the permit was issued in secret and the volatile crude could cause explosions.

      The plaintiffs asked the California Superior Court to stop operations at the newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft until a full environmental review is conducted. The terminal, located in Kern County, began receiving crude in November from North Dakota and Canada and is owned by Plains All American Pipeline LP.

      In their complaint, the groups point to emails obtained through a public records request that they say show the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District helping the company avoid environmental and public reviews of the project.

      The terminal can currently receive one 100-car unit train a day carrying crude from the Bakken shale formation as well as heavier tar sands crude from Canada. The terminal will ultimately expand to receive two unit trains per day, carrying as much as 61 million barrels of crude a year, making it one of the state’s largest crude-by-rail terminals, the groups said.

      Crude oil shipments by rail in California have jumped in recent years as producers seek to move cheap, landlocked crudes from North Dakota and Canada to refineries along the West Coast.

      The increase has raised environmental and safety concerns due to a series of fiery derailments, most notably the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in Quebec in July 2013, which killed 47 people.

      “The Bakersfield Crude Terminal evaded both state and federal environmental review and was permitted largely in secret. Given the potentially catastrophic damage from derailments of these tank cars full of volatile crude, these permits must be cancelled,” said Vera Pardee, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the five environmental groups who are plaintiffs in the case.

      Annette Ballatore-Williamson, an attorney for the air district, said the lawsuit misrepresents the nature of the permit, which only covered the construction of a couple storage tanks that emit about a half a pound of air pollution per day.

      The facility and the rail terminal underwent significant environmental review and analysis by Kern County several years ago, she said.

      “The problem from (the plaintiff’s) perspective is the statute of limitations on their claim against Kern County expired quite some time ago so now they are just looking for a target,” she said.

      (Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)

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