Tag Archives: Canadian tar sands

Sacramento Bee: Crude oil train shipments on the rise in California

Repost from The Sacramento Bee
[Editor: Significant quotes: “…UP said new shipments into California from Canada started in late November, running through Idaho, Washington and Oregon…. The trains from Canada likely carry tar sands…. the trains from Canada appear to be traveling on the UP line that runs parallel to Interstate 5 through Northern California, which almost certainly takes them on one of several rail lines through Sacramento…. The new shipments are the first “unit” – or all-oil – trains to enter the Western U.S. from Canada, according to a report in Railway Age.  Crude from Canada has been coming into California sporadically and in smaller shipments for more than a year, Railway Age reported.”  See also Railway Age, UP begins Canada-to-California CBR service. – RS]

New crude oil trains from Canada arrive in California

By Tony Bizjak, 12/08/2014

In a sign that crude oil train shipments to California refineries are on the rise, Union Pacific railroad officials confirmed last week they are now transporting full trains of Canadian oil through Northern California on a route that likely cuts through central Sacramento.

State rail-safety inspectors shadowed the initial trains outside of Bakersfield and reported the mile-long trains were traveling at slow speeds, most likely out of caution, just days after a UP corn train derailed in the Feather River Canyon and spilled feed into the river.

The Canadian imports are the second set of all-oil trains now believed to be coming through the capital on a regular basis. A Bakken oil train comes through midtown Sacramento once or twice a week en route to Richmond in the Bay Area.

Several more oil trains may join them in the next year. Valero Refining Co. has applied for permission to run two 50-car oil trains a day through Sacramento to its plant in Benicia, and Phillips 66 has plans to run oil trains five days a week into its refinery in San Luis Obispo County, some from the north and some via southern routes.

State officials say the Canadian trains are heading to a newly opened transfer station outside Bakersfield, where the crude oil is expected to be piped to coastal refineries. The station, operated by Plains All American Pipeline, a Texas company, is the first of several crude-by-rail facilities planned for California in the next few years. Combined, they would give oil companies the ability to receive up to 22 percent of the state’s imported crude oil by rail instead of by marine shipment.

The increase nationally in train transport of North American crude has helped push international oil prices down dramatically in recent months. It also has raised concerns about the risk of derailments and oil spills. Sacramento officials have called on oil and rail companies and federal regulators to increase safety measures to protect against spills, including requiring stronger tank cars.

Citing safety issues of their own, rail companies have generally declined to disclose where and when rail shipments are happening. But in an email to The Sacramento Bee last week, UP said new shipments into California from Canada started in late November, running through Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

“We expect to run crude trains on this route moving forward,” UP’s Aaron Hunt wrote.

The trains from Canada likely carry tar sands, also called bitumen, which is considered less flammable than the Bakken oil from North Dakota. Bakken oil has been involved in a several major rail explosions in the last few years, including one that killed 47 people in a Canadian town. State safety officials say tar sands, viscous and heavy, are a threat to waterways because the material can sink, making spills hard to clean. A bitumen spill from a ruptured pipe forced closure of 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 and required $1 billion in cleanup costs over a three-year period.

The state recently called on railroads to provide plans that show that they have the wherewithal to clean oil spills on state waterways. Officials with the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response say tar sands may require particular equipment. “Businesses that transport heavy oils are required to have response resources necessary to address these types of spills,” state spokesman Steve Gonzalez said in an email. “Contractors must be able to locate, contain and clean up a spill that has sunk to the bottom of the water. Some of these responses include sonar, containment boom, dredges and pumps.”

Rail shippers point out that derailment numbers overall have been decreasing nationally for decades and that the industry now runs oil trains at slower speeds at times.

State Public Utilities Commission officials say they sent inspectors out near Bakersfield to monitor the first Canadian oil train, and another train headed to Bakersfield from the south, and noted that the trains were traveling slower than normal.

“The first run is a critical run. If anything goes wrong, we want to be there,” PUC rail safety chief Paul King said. “There might be compliance issues. We want to see how it interfaces with traffic, what speeds they decided to go.”

King said the trains from Canada appear to be traveling on the UP line that runs parallel to Interstate 5 through Northern California, which almost certainly takes them on one of several rail lines through Sacramento. Rail officials have declined to say which lines the oil trains use.

In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation required railroads to notify state officials of large shipments of Bakken oil. Many states ultimately made the information available through public records requests, against the wishes of the railroads. However, railroads are not required to report oil shipments from Canada or other non-Bakken domestic sources.

The new shipments are the first “unit” – or all-oil – trains to enter the Western U.S. from Canada, according to a report in Railway Age. Crude from Canada has been coming into California sporadically and in smaller shipments for more than a year, Railway Age reported.

    East Bay projects are redefining refineries

    Repost from The Contra Costa Times
    [Editor: a shorter version of this article appeared in The Vallejo Times-Herald with byline Robert Rogers.  This seems to be a re-write by Tom Lochner and Rogers.  Interesting to see analysis of all five refineries in the Bay Area, labeled the “Contra Costa-Solano refinery belt, California’s largest.”  Good quotes from our colleagues Tom Griffith and Antonia Juhasz.   – RS]

    East Bay’s oil refineries look to the future

    Upgrades: Projects to allow flexibility to respond to changing energymarkets, but environmentalists raise concerns
    By Tom Lochner and Robert Rogers, September 24, 2014

    chevronThe East Bay’s first oil refinery opened in 1896 near the site of Porkopolis-of-the West, a defunct stockyard and slaughterhouse in the town of Rodeo. In the ensuing decades, four more East Bay refineries joined it, defining the region and powering its growth like no other industry.

    A century later, the Contra Costa-Solano refinery belt, California’s largest, continues to cast an enormous shadow over surrounding cities, influencing their politics, their economies, even their aesthetics. And at a time when fossil fuel seems like yesterday’s energy source, the Bay Area’s five refineries have all embarked on ambitious projects to transform the way they do business — and ensure their economic viability in a rapidly changing global energy market for decades to come.

    These projects, if seen to completion, will diversify the refineries’ operations by allowing them to process both dirtier, heavier oil and cleaner, lighter crude. Two refineries are looking to build their future, at least in part, on crude-by-rail operations, expanding available sources of petroleum while intensifying a controversy over whether that transportation method endangers East Bay communities.

    All told, the upgrades will generate a collective investment in the East Bay of more than $2 billion, while adding hundreds of construction jobs. And once they are completed, proponents say, the projects should result in a substantial combined cut to greenhouse gas emissions, even though many environmentalists remain unsatisfied.

    “While some of these local refinery projects promise to reduce greenhouse gasses, or pollution in general, that’s not nearly enough,” Tom Griffith, co-founder of Martinez Environmental Group, said in a recent email. “And it’s arguable given the cumulative costs.”

    Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said oil companies are looking to increase efficiency through these refinery projects while meeting the state’s stricter environmental requirements — not an easy balancing act.

    “They want to continue to supply California. And they want to contribute to the economy of the state,” she said. “What’s different right now is, a lot of the policies being contemplated in California, either at the state level or locally, are making it more difficult to achieve that. The biggest thing is, how do you balance our energy policy with our climate change policies?”

    Even without the new projects, the five East Bay refineries are a critical part of the local economy.

    In 2012, Chevron, Tesoro, Shell, Phillips 66 and Valero processed a total of about 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil, providing more than 7,500 direct jobs, according to industry sources. The oil and gas industry as a whole in the Bay Area generated $4.3 billion that year in state and local taxes, plus another $3.8 billion in federal taxes, according to an April 2014 Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation study commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association.

    The biggest project underway is at Chevron, a $1 billion investment to upgrade parts of its century-old 2,900-acre Richmond refinery allowing it to refine dirtier blends of crude with no increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the project application.

    Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery, near Martinez, has spent nearly as much on upgrades since 2008, and other projects are underway at Shell in Martinez, Phillips 66 in Rodeo and Valero in Benicia.

    ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

    While these sweeping investments offer the promise of new jobs and cleaner, more efficient operations, many environmentalists complain that they don’t go far enough to curb emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the lower atmosphere, and sulfur dioxide and other pollutants that can cause serious health problems in people in surrounding communities.

    And others warn that the improvements will smooth the path for highly flammable crude oil from North America’s Bakken shale region to the East Bay on railroad lines, raising the specter of spectacular explosions from train derailments, as happened last summer in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where 47 people died. Those fears have dominated debate over a proposed rail terminal at Benicia’s Valero refinery.

    A growing number of detractors clamor for America to cast off the yoke of fossil-fuel dependency altogether and concentrate on efforts to develop cleaner, renewable energy.

    “The missed opportunity here is for the oil companies to refocus their sights on the future of renewable energy,” Griffith said.

    That aim, albeit more gradual, is the policy of the state under Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The legislation calls not only for reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also for reducing the state’s dependency on petroleum.

    The refineries take that as a challenge but not a death warrant.

    “The industry clearly thinks these refineries are here to stay and wants them to adjust to the changes of the makeup of the world’s oil supply, which is dirtier, more dangerous oil,” said Antonia Juhasz, an oil and energy analyst and author of the book “The Tyranny of Oil.”

    Juhasz cited Canadian tar sands oil as the prime example of dirtier crude, and pointed to oil from the Bakken shale formation, mostly in North Dakota, as the prime example of the more dangerous variety.

    Scott Anderson, a San Francisco-based senior vice president and chief economist for Bank of the West, agrees that the increases in renewable energy sources pose no threat to the future of oil refineries locally. In fact, he says, increasing global demand for refined oil products makes refineries like those in Contra Costa and Solano counties an “emerging growth industry for the U.S.”

    “Demand is going to continue to increase, and there haven’t been any new refineries built in the U.S. in decades. So what we’re left with is these projects in existing refineries designed to improve efficiency and flexibility,” he said.

    Here is a look at the major projects underway:

    • At Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery, one of the biggest shifts has been bringing in up to 10,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude, which company officials say is critical to replace other sources of petroleum.

    “Our challenge going forward is, as California and Alaskan crudes decline, to find replacements that keep the refinery a viable business,” General Manager Stephen Hansen said.

    “One of those crudes is in the midcontinent, and the only way to get it here is by rail,” he added, noting that the refinery receives crude from ship, pipeline and truck after offloading it from rail cars in Richmond.

    The refinery’s nearly $1 billion in capital upgrades since 2008 have focused not on increasing capacity but on using a wider variety of crude blends and processing them more efficiently, cleanly and safely. A $600 million replacement of the refinery’s coker, for example, has reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by at least 400,000 tons, according to refinery officials.

    • Shell’s Martinez refinery is seeking to shift some of its refining capacity toward lighter crudes, which it says will allow it to trim greenhouse gas emissions. In phases over several years starting in 2015, the refinery would build processing equipment and permanently shut down one of two coker units, resulting in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 tons per year.

    Shell spokesman Steve Lesher said the project involves replacing equipment, not expanding the facility beyond its 160,000 barrels per day. He also said the refinery currently processes heavier oil from the San Joaquin Valley but will be bringing in oil from other, as-yet-unidentified sources.

    • Phillips 66 in Rodeo, the region’s oldest refinery, hopes to start recovering and selling the propane and butane that are a byproduct of its refining process, rather than burning them off in a highly polluting process called flaring or using them as fuel in refinery boilers.

    The project would add new infrastructure, including a large steam boiler, propane and butane recovery equipment, six propane storage vessels and treatment facilities and two new rail spurs.

    Phillips 66 has said the project, which was approved by the county Planning Commission in November, would reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide by removing sulfur compounds from refinery fuel gas, and reduce other pollutants and greenhouses gases, but those assertions have been questioned by environmentalists and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which wants further evaluation before signing off.

    Two groups have filed an appeal to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval, and in what might be a first for the region, the air district is requiring that the project’s emissions and possible health effects must be considered cumulatively with other refinery-related projects in the Bay Area.

    • Chevron’s plan, which received City Council approval in July after months of intense public debate, is touted as an important upgrade in an increasingly competitive global petrofuels market. While other refineries are gearing up to exploit the North American oil boom, Chevron will continue to get the bulk of its oil from the Persian Gulf and Alaska.

    But the new modernization plan approved in July would allow the refinery to process crude oil blends and gas oils with higher sulfur content, which refinery officials say is critical to producing competitive-priced transportation fuels and lubricating oils in the coming decades.

    In addition, it would replace the refinery’s existing hydrogen-production facilities, built in the 1960s, with a modern plant that is more energy-efficient and yields higher-purity hydrogen, and has the capacity to produce more of it.

    • Valero Refining wants to build a $55 million crude-by-rail unloading facility at its Benicia refinery that could handle daily shipments of up to 70,000 barrels of oil transported in two 50-car trains daily from sources throughout North America. That plan has drawn sharp criticism from locals and leaders in Sacramento concerned about the hazards of increased rail shipments.

    The project would not increase capacity at the refinery but replace crudes that are currently delivered by ship. Nor would it increase emissions from refinery operations, according to a project description on the city of Benicia’s website. The document also cites an air quality analysis indicating that rail cars generate fewer emissions locally than marine vessels.

    The latest projects, while still drawing criticism, have turned some critics into allies. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition, who played a leading role in getting millions of dollars in settlements for North Richmond residents stemming from a chemical spill linked to the Chevron refinery in the early 1990s, has come out in support of the Chevron modernization.

    “After all the negotiation and community input, we have a better project than we ever expected,” Clark said. “Fenceline communities like North Richmond are going to be next to a safer, cleaner facility and get to share in millions in community benefits.”

      Tar sands in our back yard

      Repost from The Martinez News Gazette
      [Editor: An excellent fact-filled summary on tar sands crude by our colleagues in the Martinez Environmental Group.  Note that Valero Benicia Refinery has admitted (in its open community meeting on March 24, 2014) that it may include tar sands crude in its “mix.”  See “NRDC report: Valero’s Magic Box.”  Also: “KPIX reports: Valero admits Tar Sands Crude, Fracked Oil could come through Benicia.”  – RS]

      Martinez Environmental Group: Tar sands in our back yard

      By AIMEE DURFEE & TOM GRIFFITH | May 22, 2014

      Because fossil fuels are a finite resource, petroleum companies are now resorting to more extreme forms of oil extraction, including tar sands, fracking, and Arctic exploration. The tar sands are deposits of heavy crude oil trapped in sand and clay that are extracted using enormous amounts of water, as well as open pit mining, heat and horizontal wells. The largest deposit of Canada’s tar sands is along the Athabasca River in Alberta (Source: http://albertacanada.com).

      Why is everyone so worried about the tar sands? First, tar sands oil extraction and production emit three times more carbon dioxide than the extraction and production of conventional oil. Second, tar sands extraction requires total destruction of pristine areas within the Canadian Boreal forest, one of the few large, intact ecosystems on Earth (Source: Friends of the Earth). Finally, the extraction of tar sands will have devastating global impacts. In a 2012 editorial in the New York Times, Jim Hansen of NASA famously wrote that if the tar sands are fully excavated, it will be “game over for the climate,” because Canada’s tar sands contain twice as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as has been emitted over the entire span of human history (Source: NYT! 5/9/12).

      What does this have to do with Martinez? Shell Refinery in Martinez is currently receiving and processing tar sands (Source: CC Times, 6/1/13). Contra Costa County’s air is already very polluted, and this type of refining will only make it worse. Shell’s choice to refine tar sands will worsen the health of Martinez residents; pollution emanating from tar sands refineries are directly linked to asthma, emphysema and birth defects. (Source: Sierra Club, Toxic Tar Sands: Profiles from the Front Lines).

      Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey found that tar sands bitumen contains “eleven times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional oil.” (Source: Environmental Integrity Project, Tar Sands: Feeding U.S. Refinery Expansions with Dirty Fuel).

      But wait, there’s more … Shell also has a global role in profiting from the destruction of the climate. Royal Dutch Shell owns a whopping 60 PERCENT of the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada (Source: www.shell.com). If you Google “Athabasca tar sands,” you will see a veritable “Mordor” on Earth.

      If all this makes you feel completely overwhelmed, get connected locally and join the Martinez Environmental Group. Climate change issues are happening literally in our back yard and we CAN do something about it.

      If you want to stay updated on these issues and learn how to get involved, please go to http://mrtenvgrp.com/category/meetings.