Tag Archives: Benzene

Mosier groundwater contaminated after derailment spill

Repost from the Hood River News

Mosier groundwater contaminated after derailment spill

By Patrick Mulvihill, July 22, 2016
TREATMENT PLANT in Mosier came back online in mid-June. The city had been trucking sewage to Hood River for treatment while their system was shut down following the train wreck.
TREATMENT PLANT in Mosier came back online in mid-June. The city had been trucking sewage to Hood River for treatment while their system was shut down following the train wreck. Photo by Patrick Mulvihill

Regulators have found contaminated groundwater at the site of the June 3 fiery oil train derailment in Mosier.

There’s no current threat to drinking water or beach users, according to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), but concerns have surfaced for wildlife health in the Rock Creek wetland near the Columbia River.

“It really isn’t a significant issue of harming human health; however, there is a wetland (nearby) and we’re mainly concerned for animals (living there),” said Bob Schwarz, DEQ project manager.

DEQ staff found high levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in one of four test wells crews installed north of the Union Pacific train tracks in Mosier shortly after the train wreck.

Schwarz described the contaminant levels discovered at the east-most site as roughly 10 times higher than the safe amount for animal populations — 1,800 parts of benzene per billion, compared to the ecological risk level of 130 parts.

The wetland ecosystem includes various amphibians and insects, he said.

DEQ has ruled the local drinking water safe because Mosier’s municipal water supply is located about a mile away from the spill area, uphill.

Beach access at Mosier — a popular watersports access spot — has been deemed safe. Booms laid out on the river following the derailment (to catch a small sheen of oil) have since been removed.

Mosier’s wastewater system is also back in action. While heavy green sewage tanks and pump trucks were a common sight during early June, the town no longer trucks sewage to Hood River for treatment.

In the derailment, 16 cars of a 96-car Union Pacific train bearing Bakken crude oil left the tracks in what U.P. ruled an accident due to faulty rail bolts. At least three cars caught fire. Crews extinguished the blaze by early morning the next day.

About 47,000 gallons of oil escaped from four rail cars.

During the wreck, one of the railcars tore off the lid of a sanitary sewer manhole, allowing roughly 13,000 gallons of oil to flow into the nearby Mosier wastewater treatment plant. That system was shut down as crews worked to pump out oil and clean the piping network.

As a temporary fix, workers trucked sewage from Mosier to Hood River for treatment at the municipal plant on Riverside Drive. By June 16, the plant was restored, and shortly after Mosier’s system was fully functional.

A small sheen of oil leaked into the Columbia River through the wastewater system at some point following the wreck, DEQ reported.

Crews cast out absorbing booms into the river to contain the sheen. The exact amount is “unknown but low in volume,” according to a DEQ fact sheet, but it quickly dissipated.

Surface water samples in the river didn’t show any significant contamination from the spill, Schwarz said. He expects the booms will be replaced in September, before autumn rains, in case new rain flushes any oil from the ground into the river.

Agencies reported that the rest of the oil was burned off or absorbed into the soil. Excavation workers disposed of about 29,600 tons of earth that had been contaminated with petroleum.

Oil remaining in the derailed cars was transferred by truck to The Dalles, then hauled by rail to Tacoma, Wash., its original destination. The emptied railcars were taken by truck to Portland for salvage.

Following the derailment, DEQ oversaw the installation of six wells near the train tracks — two extraction wells and four monitoring wells. At the fourth monitoring site, staff found high petroleum levels and other compounds.

Now, DEQ is working with the railroad’s consultant to design an underground system that will treat the contamination, Schwarz said.

The “biosparge” system will include vertical pipes where air will be injected into the ground water. That oxygen will spur growth of naturally occurring microbes that will break down the oil.

“We are still waiting for groundwater flow direction information from CH2M, the consultant for Union Pacific Railroad,” Schwarz said in a July 6 memo.

Local conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper raised concerns about U.P.’s role in the high pollutant levels and called for a third party to steer the cleanup.

“It’s very concerning that we have such high levels of toxic pollutants so close to the river,” Riverkeeper staff attorney Lauren Goldberg said.

She asserted that the public needs to hold state officials accountable so that “U.P. is not at the wheel of this cleanup.”

Schwarz expects a small drill rig and a half dozen or so workers will be on scene in Mosier to implement the treatment system.

For more information, go to deq.state.or.us/lq/ecsi/ecsi.htm .

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Explosion rocks refinery in Texas, injuring one

Repost from ABC13 KTRK-TV, Houston TX

Explosion rocks refinery in Pasadena, injuring one

By Deborah Wrigley, Saturday, March 05, 2016 11:06PM


PASADENA, TX (KTRK) — One person was burned after an explosion at a Pasadena refinery Saturday morning.

Officials at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., say the fire began around 10:15am at their refinery off SH 225 and Lawndale Street.

The victim suffered burns to his hands.

Residents in the area told abc13 they felt a powerful blast right before flames began to rise from the plant.

A spokesperson says it all started with an issue involving a compressor. A fire quickly broke out, with burning diesel fuel sending huge plumes of black smoke into the air.

The refinery has their own firefighters, who were able to put out the blaze. Pasadena Police and fire are on standby to assist. The fire was able to be contained and air monitoring indicated no issues.

Drivers and bystanders tell Eyewitness News they could see the smoke miles away from the site of the fire.

The Washburn tunnel was closed by authorities after the explosion.

Viewer photo from the explosion at Pasadena Refining System off SH 225
Viewer photo from the explosion at Pasadena Refining System off SH 225.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the plant has a history of ‘significant violations’ of the U.S. Clean Air Act, and was assessed $1,143,000 in fines because of these violations.

A complaint was filed against the company for failure to follow regulations in connection with the storage of a motor vehicle and engine fuels. The company also paid $2,000 in fines for this in August 2014.

The plant is known to store several chemicals, including Ammonia, Benzene, Ethylene, Hydrogen Cyanide, N-Hexane, Propylene, and Sulfuric Acid.

According to the EPA, there are 20,901 households in the area around the plant, and 24,484 children also live in the area.

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Mr. Governor, kill the oil ‘watchdog’ – Tom Hayden on California’s pathetic fracking regulator

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Watchdog or lapdog of Big Oil?

By Tom Hayden, April 24, 2015 4:32pm
LOST HILLS, CA - MARCH 24:  The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) Photo: David McNew, Getty Images
LOST HILLS, CA – MARCH 24: The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Jerry Brown perhaps should put his DOGGR to sleep. Not his family dog, Sutter, but DOGGR — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — the 100-year-old agency that’s been handing out permits for drilling in the Central Valley without records, oversight or enforcement of 21st century environmental laws.

The agency was created prior to Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, “Oil!,” on which Daniel Day-Lewis’ 2007 film, “There Will Be Blood,” was based. Oil was to California what cotton was to Mississippi, a booming industry based on subsistence labor, migration, racism, vigilantism, and government officials looking the other way.

Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California's oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times
Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California’s oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Times change but slowly. Current Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who says Kern ought to be a county in Arizona, opposes President Obama’s immigrant-rights policy. There are an estimated 66,000 undocumented immigrants in Kern County, whose population is majority Latino. More than 22 percent of its people live below the poverty line, 69 percent of them within one mile of an oil well.

The barren place is a bit like Mississippi in the ’60s, powerful enough to defy progressive norms or laws on the national level. The federal government in 1982 transferred its power to California to monitor and regulate the 42,000 injection wells that dump toxic waste fluids into groundwater. That monitoring didn’t happen, a lapse that the feds say is shocking. The human carcinogen benzene has been detected in fracking wastewater at levels 700 times over federal safety standards. Health impact studies are inadequate, but Kern community hospital managers say the county has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, which is expected to double in 10 years.

How did it happen that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency is pushing the Jerry Brown EPA to comply with modern environmental law? The same Gov. Jerry Brown signed that 1982 agreement, giving Big Oil an opportunity to oversee itself. Those were the days when President Ronald Reagan’s Anne Gorsuch ran the federal EPA, perhaps convincing California that it could do a better job.

As a result of the 1982 transfer, the feds say California has failed at oversight and record-keeping. With the feds watching, the state has two years to implement a meaningful monitoring plan.

Brown has tried to fix the problem, which undercuts his claim that drilling and controversial fracking can be addressed by beefed up regulations instead of a moratorium on fracking that most environmentalists want. He has added more professional staff to DOGGR and installed a new director, Steve Bohlen, who promises to clean up the place. Since last summer, the agency has shut down 23 injection wells out of 2,500.

The preference of one experienced state official is to peel back DOGGR, move it to Cal EPA and turning it into a real regulatory agency instead of a lapdog for the oil industry. But Brown officials prefer the uphill task of reforming DOGGR from within, and have signaled they will veto any bill that brings the agency under state EPA jurisdiction. The Legislature is going along with his incremental approach, so far.

The task will be daunting. The DOGGR mandate has been to drill, baby, drill, says state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. DOGGR’s legal mandate calls for “increasing the ultimate recovery of underground hydrocarbons,” not determining whether drilling or fracking are sustainable and safe for aquifers or human health. Her SB545 is still a work in progress, however. It stops the archaic custom of drilling permits being obtained and accepted without any written approvals or findings, which upsets the feds and shuts out the public. Until recently, an oil company simply gave notice of its intent to drill and was entitled to proceed unless the agency said no in writing within 10 days. Under Jackson’s bill, an application to drill will require written approval, and the paperwork will be posted on the DOGGR website. In addition, the bill will limit the Kern custom of keeping records about chemicals and water impacts confidential, even when a well has gone into production.

However, the bill’s language makes oversight optional by saying that DOGGR “may” require an operator to implement a monitoring plan. Decision-making power is devolved to the division district deputy in Kern, which is like expecting a Mississippi sheriff to carry out federal law in 1964 — or the present Kern sheriff to enforce immigration law today. Nor does the bill give the state EPA or health experts any shared authority in the permitting process.

Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC
Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC

At the heart of the scandal is the historic power of Big Oil against the emergence of California’s clean-energy economy with its priorities of renewable resources and efficiency. The Democratic majority in Sacramento is hobbled by a pro-drilling contingent, led by Republicans with a number of Central Valley Democrats. The oil lobby spent $9 million in 2014 in a failed attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s cap-and-trade law. The effort was led by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, along with 16 Democratic legislators. In a more striking example, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, left his seat in 2013 to begin lobbying for Chevron, one of the major firms along with Occidental Petroleum operating in Kern’s oil fields. The oil lobby is spending large sums to cultivate friendly Democratic candidates and underwrite advertising campaigns warning of a “hidden gas tax” if their privileges are threatened.

Many Sacramento insiders believe that Brown has made concessions to Big Oil in order to protect his considerable progress toward clean-energy goals while not confronting the industry the way he took on the nuclear lobby in the ’70s. That’s understandable, if it works. Now, however, his regulatory reputation needs rebuilding. What if his DOGGR won’t hunt? What if it’s beyond reform? What will the governor and Legislature do if facing open defiance from the powers that be in Kern on a range of issues from clean air and water to the protection of children’s health to environmental justice? With the drought on everyone’s mind, can he allow the state’s aquifers to be threatened by the carcinogenic wastewater of oil production?

The DOGGR scandal drills deeply into the foundations on which state politics are built.

Tom Hayden writes, speaks and consults on climate politics and serves on the editorial board of the Nation. His latest book is “Listen Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.” (Seven Stories Press, 2015).
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