Tag Archives: Benicia-Martinez Rail Drawbridge

Little known Concord fault poses threat to Bay Area refineries, Benicia-Martinez rail bridge…

Repost from The Contra Costa Times

Little known Concord fault poses big threat

By Matthias Gafni, 04/11/2015 12:43:56 PM PDT
Cracks are visible in the roadway on Systron Drive in Concord, Calif., photographed on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. The cracks, cited by USGS geologist Dave Schwartz, are likely caused by movement of the Concord fault. The lesser-known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )
Cracks are visible in the roadway on Systron Drive in Concord, Calif., photographed on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. The cracks, cited by USGS geologist Dave Schwartz, are likely caused by movement of the Concord fault. The lesser-known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )

CONCORD — A mysterious earthquake fault slices under central Concord, its jagged, quarter-mile-wide seam running beneath a critical fuel-pumping facility, traversing the edge of a refinery processing 166,000 barrels of crude oil daily, and undercutting strip malls and homes.

While its big sisters, the San Andreas and Hayward fissures, grab the headlines, the Concord Fault — with its 11-mile-long fracture zone stretching from the Carquinez Strait to the Mount Diablo foothills — is also capable of producing a catastrophic earthquake, geologists say. And with critical infrastructure in its path, particularly refineries and a vulnerable railroad bridge not far away, a large seismic event could leave the entire northern half of the state without easy access to fuel — disrupting transportation and the transmission of electricity and water, according to a recent study.

According to USGS geologist Dave Schwartz, Kinder Morgan's Concord Station sits close to a earthquake fault in Concord, Calif., photographed on Friday, March 27, 2015. The lesser known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )
According to USGS geologist Dave Schwartz, Kinder Morgan’s Concord Station sits close to a earthquake fault in Concord, Calif., photographed on Friday, March 27, 2015. The lesser known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )

The Concord fissure may be largely ignored by the general public. But not by geologists.

“The Concord Fault is significantly more active than the fault that caused the Napa earthquake,” said Chris Wills of the California Geological Survey, referring to the 6.0 wine country temblor last August that caused more than $400 million in damage. “Nobody would be surprised if a magnitude-6 earthquake happened on the Concord Fault tomorrow.”

Make no mistake, Concord’s contribution to the Bay Area’s geologic activity is significantly smaller than the San Andreas and Hayward zones. Updated U.S. Geological Survey estimates indicate a 3 to 4 percent probability of a magnitude-6.7 or higher earthquake over the next 30 years on the Concord or lower Green Valley Fault, a connected Solano County segment, compared with 6.4 percent for the San Andreas and 14.3 percent for the Hayward Fault.

The Concord Fault creeps a measly 4 to 5 millimeters annually, while the Hayward slips 9 millimeters and San Andreas 25 millimeters.

The last catastrophic temblor on the Contra Costa-Solano combo fault struck more than 400 years ago, but geologists still say it’s important to monitor.

“At some point in time that system has to fail — we just don’t know exactly when,” said David Schwartz with the USGS. Even if the Concord Fault only produces a 5.0 quake, it could cause significant damage, Schwartz said.

The great unknown

The lake surrounded by the Lakes Apartments in Concord, Calif., is photographed on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Geologists say that the lake is there due to a dip in the Concord fault that allows groundwater to seep through. The lesser-known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )
The lake surrounded by the Lakes Apartments in Concord, Calif., is photographed on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Geologists say that the lake is there due to a dip in the Concord fault that allows groundwater to seep through. The lesser-known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )

On Oct. 23, 1955, a 5.4 quake — the Concord Fault’s last major temblor — was felt from San Jose to Sacramento. It caused $1 million in damage ($8.7 million in today’s dollars) and one fatality, according to the USGS. Windows shattered, brick walls cracked and moved, chimneys shifted and wine bottles crashed from liquor store shelves.

What makes the Concord Fault particularly worrisome to regional planners, so much so that it was highlighted in a December study by the Association of Bay Area Governments, is its potential impact on regional and statewide fuel distribution. Without gasoline, every other crucial need, including water, electricity and transportation, will be affected.

The lake surrounded by the Lakes Apartments in Concord, Calif., is photographed on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Geologists say that the lake is there due to a dip in the Concord fault that allows groundwater to seep through. The lesser-known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )
The lake surrounded by the Lakes Apartments in Concord, Calif., is photographed on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Geologists say that the lake is there due to a dip in the Concord fault that allows groundwater to seep through. The lesser-known Concord fault creeps ever so slightly annually. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group) ( Dan Honda )

In its report, ABAG studied three theoretical earthquakes — a 7.9 on the San Andreas, a 7.0 on the Hayward and 6.8 on the Concord.

“Originally, we were just going to explore the San Andreas and Hayward faults, but we realized that (there are) a lot of key infrastructure assets in (the Concord) region,” said study author Michael Germeraad, an ABAG resilience planner.

Five Bay Area refineries — all but two are within a couple miles of the fault — processed 235 million barrels of crude in 2012, about 40 percent of the state’s total, according to ABAG. In addition, Kinder Morgan operates a pumping station nearby that receives processed crude from all the refineries and pipes it out to terminals across Northern California and Nevada.

Critical pipelines

That pumping station, a critical piece of fuel infrastructure, lies directly above the Concord Fault.

Built in the 1950s, the station receives products from eight facilities and pumps the refined crude through pipelines. It can store about 1 million barrels, but normal inventory is half of that, said Melissa Ruiz, a Kinder Morgan spokeswoman. Its five outgoing pipelines serve Chico, Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton and surrounding cities, in addition to seven military facilities and public airports.

The company has facilities and pipelines in active fault areas throughout California but has never lost a pipeline or tank to a quake and maintains its infrastructure to industry rules and regulations, Ruiz said.

In its report, ABAG said it had concerns because pipelines can fail due to soil liquefaction — where hard soil loses strength during strong ground shaking — and fault rupture. Knowing pipeline material, age, weld types and other factors would help scientists know where failures are “more likely,” but that information isn’t available.

“Damage to the Concord station would interrupt fuel transmission across the northern half of the state,” the report concluded.

The study also found that if one Bay Area refinery was damaged, they would all likely suffer damage because of their close proximity to each other, and because they are built on similar soils and have similar construction.

“A conservative restoration estimate of damaged refineries is months,” the study found for the Concord quake scenario.

The Tesoro Golden Eagle facility in Martinez sits on 2,206 acres just feet from the fault. Built in 1903, Golden Eagle employs about 650 workers and is the fourth-largest refinery in California.

Spokeswoman Patricia Deutsche said refinery officials are aware it sits next to the fault and a liquefaction zone, but she said the facility follows industry design standards. Piles are driven down hundreds of feet into bedrock, equipment has been retrofitted and the Avon Wharf, an oil terminal located on aging timber piles along the southern shore of Suisun Bay, just received environmental clearance for retrofit up to state quake standards, she said.

Seismic assessments of Bay Area refineries are done every five years, and the building code requirements consider the level of possible ground shaking from any nearby fault, said Gayle Johnson, senior engineer with Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a national engineering firm.

Johnson, who has investigated the performance of industrial facilities in more than 20 earthquakes worldwide, said since the refinery retrofit programs began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there has been a “ton of upgrade work done.”

Other impacts

While fuel infrastructure may be the top concern for the region, a large quake could disrupt other major lifelines. The Benicia-Martinez rail bridge, located between the two vehicle spans, is particularly vulnerable, according to ABAG, and could face “significant or complete damage.”

Liquefaction along the Carquinez Strait could cause dredged water channels to slough into the shipping pathways. Runways could rupture at Buchanan Field, which sits adjacent to the fault. Delta levees could breach, creating flooding and impacting drinking water quality, ABAG found.

Two-thirds of the power generated in the region is produced by natural gas facilities, many along the Carquinez Strait.

“In the event natural gas lines are damaged, these facilities will be unable to generate electricity,” the study found.

Still, Wills warns that what will happen during a significant quake on the Concord Fault is largely a mystery.

“How it releases is not that well known,” he said.

 

 

    Guy Cooper: I hope you like trains a lot…

    Repost from The Martinez Gazette

    Martinez Environmental Group: Do you like trains a lot?

    By Guy Cooper, September 14, 2014

    Hope you like trains a lot.  (Kudos to the Fugs, 1965!)

    I just did a presentation as part of the Martinez Environmental Group Community Forum held here in town Sept. 8. My focus was on some trends and projections for crude-by-rail (CBR) nationally, statewide and locally. Then it hit me that there were aspects and implications I had not fully appreciated.

    Of course, the safety record doesn’t look good. A 2013 spike in CBR traffic nationally led to consequent spikes in accidents and spills.

    trainsalot

    In fact, more CBR was spilled in this country in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined. The sheer volume shipped can mask what is actually happening. A projected 7.7 billion gallons of crude is expected to roll into our state annually by 2016. That makes a mockery of the rail industry’s oft touted 99.99 percent safety record, a record based on volume shipped.

    Shipping that much volume into the state allows for the spilling or otherwise loss of over 766,000 gallons a year without even breaking a statistical sweat. You bring it, the accidents will come. The rail companies are actually having accidents about once a week now. Two locomotives derailed in Benicia Monday. Third derailment there in the last 10 months. Hey, stuff happens.

    I did my walk in the Marina Park this morning. Saw two freight trains go by, one from the north, one from the south. The one from the south had five or six locomotives pulling about a hundred hopper cars. From my vantage, I couldn’t tell if they were loaded. The train easily spanned the entire Carquinez trestle. We’ve seen the same thing lately with 100-car trains of ethanol heading through downtown.

    It struck me. Just how many trains do go through downtown Martinez on a given day, or at least take up room on the Union Pacific (UP) and BNSF rail corridors that bracket Martinez? The Amtrak guys at the station told me they have 42 trains a day.

    Forty-two! That’s almost one every 30 minutes. All but two of those travel the UP rails to Sacramento through Benicia, Suisun and Davis via the Union Pacific tracks that will also carry most of the crude oil trains into the Bay Area. Add in the freight trains. Amtrak couldn’t tell me anything about them, said they’re unpredictable. Well, I saw two within the space of an hour.

    Add in the projected oil train traffic. We do know that one unit train (100- cars) of Bakken crude travels the BNSF line from the east along the Highway 4 corridor, over the Muir trestle into Franklin Canyon every seven to 10 days. I don’t know what other trains use that route. If all of the regional refinery proposals are allowed, we could also see a unit train a day travel through downtown on its way to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria near San Luis Obispo. WesPac in Pittsburg wants a unit train a day. Valero in Benicia wants 100 cars per day. Add ‘em up and you’re looking at 20 trains, 2,000 cars, 60 million gallons a week impacting our region, kludging up the rails, slowing other freight and passenger traffic, not to mention complicating the mix with highly volatile and toxic cargoes.

    Each unit train is over a mile long, weighs over 28 million pounds and carries about 3 million gallons of oil. Remember, for each one coming in, there has to be one going out. I think that’s one of Newton’s laws of motion, but I could be wrong.

    Anyway, so double the number of unit trains: 40 a week by 2016.

    Add in 294 AMTRAK trains per week, and a conservative estimate of 28 other freight trains a week (4/day). Total: 362 trains per week, each blowing its whistle three of four times at each crossing. Every 30 minutes.

    So I hope you like trains a lot.

      Crude-by-rail: One federal inspector oversees all California’s railroad bridges, no state oversight

      Repost from The Contra Costa Times
      [Editor:  The issue of bridge safety is important here in Benicia for two reasons.  Locally, we understand that Valero’s proposed oil trains would roll PAST the refinery in order to back into the offloading racks, thus coming to a stop near enough to the Benicia-Martinez bridge that, in the event of an explosion, the bridge itself could be severely impacted if not destroyed.  Beyond Benicia, our little City’s decision would impact rail lines all the way from Alberta and North Dakota, including bridges of questionable security all along the way.  – RS]

      Crude-by-rail: One federal inspector oversees all California’s railroad bridges, no state oversight

      By Matthias Gafni, 09/12/2014
      View of the underside of the Benicia-Martinez Railroad Drawbridge in Benicia, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
      View of the underside of the Benicia-Martinez Railroad Drawbridge in Benicia, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

      As concerns grow over aging rail infrastructure, earthquake readiness and a dramatic increase in crude oil shipments by train, state railroad regulators are scrambling to hire their first-ever railroad bridge inspectors — two of them.

      Once they are hired, the California Public Utilities Commission plans to create a state railroad bridge inventory to determine which are most at risk. That’s right — neither the state nor federal government has a list of railroad bridges for California or the rest of the country. Until that happens, the safety of California’s thousands of railroad bridges — key conduits that carry people and hazardous materials over environmentally sensitive ecosystems and near urban areas — is left up to rail line owners and a single federal inspector who splits his time among 11 states.

      An Amtrak train crosses the Benicia-Martinez Railroad Drawbridge in Benicia, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
      An Amtrak train crosses the Benicia-Martinez Railroad Drawbridge in Benicia, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

      “Two more inspectors is better than none, but it’s really a Band-Aid,” said Suma Peesapati, attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group fighting the oil rail influx. “I think there should be no crude by rail over those bridges until there’s a comprehensive look at all of them.”

      No California rail bridges have failed in recent memory, but the 6.0 earthquake that rattled the Napa area on Aug. 24 provided a reminder that California must monitor its aging rail infrastructure.

      Following the quake, the Federal Railroad Administration worked with Caltrans to contact railroads within a 100-mile radius and ensure bridges and tracks were inspected for damage before resuming normal operations. The Napa Valley Wine Train, which was closed for two days after the quake, had its own private inspector go over the tracks and numerous bridges, including one traversing Highway 29. The inspector gave the green light to continue running Aug. 26.

      Caltrans employs 120 inspectors and 80 specialty personnel to inspect the state’s public automobile highway bridges to ensure the integrity of the elevated structures, in comparison to the one federal inspector for all of California’s rail bridges, most of which are privately owned.

      Those railroad bridges are inspected, maintained and regulated by company personnel, but watchdogs say that’s far from adequate.

      In its annual Railroad Safety Activity Report to the state Legislature in November, the CPUC identified the state’s railroad bridges as a “potential significant rail safety risk.”

      “There are many unknown questions regarding bridge integrity that need to be answered to ensure public safety,” the report found.

      The Benicia-Martinez Rail Drawbridge, built in 1930 and tucked between the automobile spans, carries hazardous material shipments across the Carquinez Strait to East Bay refineries, along with 30 Amtrak Capitol Corridor passenger trains each weekday. The bridge is owned by Union Pacific and is safe, the company’s spokesman said.

      “We regularly inspect all of our bridges in California,” said Union Pacific’s Aaron Hunt. “We perform necessary maintenance required to assure the safe use of our bridges. Bridges and culverts are a critical part of our 32,000-mile network.”

      Union Pacific has spent more than $42 billion on infrastructure, Hunt said, not specifying what portion of that was devoted to bridges, including $4.1 billion scheduled for this year. “These are private investments, not taxpayer dollars,” he said.

      However, the state report found many bridges are owned by smaller short-line railroads that “may not be willing or able to acquire the amount of capital needed to repair or replace degrading bridges.”

      Crude by rail

      Concern has grown about bridge safety and rail safety in general with the increase of crude oil shipments by rail. They’ve jumped 158 percent in California from just September to December 2013, according to the state energy commission.

      This year, the CPUC created the Crude Oil Reconnaissance Team to monitor the oil-by-train boom to ensure federal and state safety laws are followed.

      In June, federal rail chief Joseph Szabo spoke to an Indiana newspaper about the crude-by-rail boom: “The movement of this product is a game changer. We have to rethink everything we’ve done and known in the past about safety.”

      In response to the increase and some deadly accidents, including a derailment last summer in Quebec, Canada, that killed 47 people, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed tank car safety upgrades.

      As of now, about 100 rail cars of crude roll through populated areas of the East Bay each week along the BNSF line from Stockton to Kinder Morgan’s rail depot in Richmond. The route traverses the 1,690-foot-long, 80-foot-high Muir Trestle, above Alhambra Avenue in Martinez. The trestle was constructed in 1899 and rebuilt 30 years later. Those rail cars rumble through Antioch, Pittsburg, Bay Point, Martinez, and Hercules, said Contra Costa Hazardous Materials chief Randy Sawyer.

      Aging

      Based on total track miles and federal estimates of a bridge occurring every 1.25 miles of track, the CPUC estimates there are about 5,000 California railroad bridges.

      Most are old steel and timber structures built more than 100 years ago, and “actual railroad bridge plans or records are either absent or unreliable,” the CPUC report found.

      “It’s part of the infrastructure that’s dilapidated, not only in California, but across the country,” Peesapati said. “Bridges are really an example of the problem.”

      American Society of Civil Engineers past President Andy Herrmann, a bridge consultant, said companies balk at releasing bridge data for competitive reasons, but he believes bridges are maintained safely.

      “There’s a very strong profit motive to keep the bridges open,” Herrmann said. “Detours will cost them a fortune.”

      However, the 2007 Government Accountability Office report also found that “Because bridge and tunnel work is costly, railroads typically make other investments to improve mobility first.”

      Are they safe?

      In 1991, a freight train traversing steep switchbacks in Dunsmuir, Siskiyou County, derailed, sending rail cars tumbling off a bridge and resulting in 19,000 gallons of metam sodium, a concentrated herbicide, leaking into the upper Sacramento River. The accident killed all vegetation, fish and other aquatic animals 45 miles downstream, rendering some invertebrate species extinct. Several hundred people exposed to the contaminated water required medical treatment in what’s still considered the worst inland ecological disaster in the state.

      Although the accident was not caused by bridge failure, it led the railroad to build a derailment barrier on the Cantara Loop bridge to prevent it happening again. And the Federal Railroad Administration expressed concern about the condition of bridges generally in a wide-ranging review after the crash.

      “The review was prompted by the agency’s perception that the bridge population was aging, traffic density and loads were increasing on many routes, and the consequences of a bridge failure could be catastrophic,” according to a report published in 1991, the same year as the crash.

      From 1982 to 2008, records show there were 58 train accidents nationwide caused by the structural failure of a railroad bridge, causing nine injuries and about $26.5 million in damages.

      State hires

      As of July 2010, new federal rules require rail companies prepare bridge management programs — including annual inspections, maintenance inventories and more — that are made available to federal inspectors when asked. The Federal Railroad Administration can levy fines up to $100,000 for failure to comply.

      Federal inspectors audit railroad bridge inspections done by the companies and personally perform observations of 225 to 250 bridges each year. Based on those CPUC calculations, it would take the California inspector 20 years to visit and observe all of the state’s estimated 5,000 bridges, if that was all he had to do. But in reality, it would take much longer because California’s inspector splits his time among 11 states, leaving the CPUC to conclude in its 2013 report that the feds “cannot provide adequate oversight.”

      That shortfall prompted state regulators to hire their own bridge inspectors, and they have already designed a bridge evaluation form and experimented with performing inspections.

      “Railroad bridges carry thousands of cars of hazardous materials and thousands of passengers daily,” said CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow. “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has new, general bridge regulations … but employs only five inspectors for the entire U.S. The CPUC’s bridge inspectors will be able to augment the FRA’s efforts.”