Repost from the Benicia Herald [Editor: No link is provided for this letter because the Benicia Herald does not publish letters in its online edition. A version of this letter also appeared in the Contra Costa Times. – RS]
Allowing crude by rail is asking for trouble
By Kathy Kerridge, August 16, 2015, Benicia Herald
It’s time for Benicia and California to say no to bringing in crude oil by rail (CBR). This is the highly explosive and flammable Bakken crude from North Dakota, which exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47. This is what Valero wants to bring into Benicia and other refineries want to bring into the Bay Area. There have been 30 major crude by rail accidents since 2012, including the latest on July 17 in Montana that spilled 35,000 gallons from a train that was going the legal speed limit.
The refineries also want to bring in tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada. A spill of tar sands crude in water cannot be cleaned up. The substances that dilute the tar sands (like benzene) so it can be transported evaporate and the tar sands sink to the bottom of the water. $1 billion, yes that’s right billion, has been spent on the Kalamazoo River spill of tar sands and the river is still not clean. Do we want a spill on the Benicia Rail Bridge into the Carquinez Strait or one in the Suisun Marsh? How about the Feather River Canyon where a train carrying corn recently derailed sending its cargo into the river?
Say no to CRB going over high hazard areas. Every rail line into the state goes through one. Say no to CBR by earthquake faults. Say no to trains carrying crude in cars designed to carry corn syrup. Say no to the new cars which have also split and spilled in recent derailments. Say no to bomb trains going through densely populated areas like Sacramento, Davis, and the East Bay. Just say no to putting people, our water sources and our environment at risk
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Valero Refining Co. sued the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on Monday, claiming it abused its discretion by denying it $57 million in emissions-reduction credits.
Improvements from a major modernization of Valero’s Benicia refinery brought significant and permanent reductions in air pollution, Valero claims, but the Air Quality Management District last year rejected its application to bank $57 million in emissions reduction credits for the work it did of its own volition.
The refinery, next to the Carquinez Strait about 25 miles north of San Francisco, emits fewer nitrogen oxides and less particulate matter greater than 10 microns in diameter than it did before the project, and also reduced organic compounds and sulfur dioxide, Valero says.
It claims that the Air Quality Management District has not disputed that “the emissions reductions were real, permanent, quantifiable, enforceable and not legally required.”
A Bay Area Air Quality Management District representative on Tuesday said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Valero says it relied on a senior district engineer for guidance during the project, only to find out that the district was not bound by her decisions.
After the project was complete, Valero says, the Air Quality Management District changed the baseline emissions figures for the before-and-after comparison it uses to grant or deny credits.
The district’s hearing board upheld the denial on appeal.
Valero on Monday asked the Superior Court to declare the ruling a prejudicial abuse of discretion not supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record.
Valero claims the district’s hearing board mischaracterized its 3½-year project as a “simple shutdown of equipment.”
To the contrary, Valero says, the refinery was outfitted with new furnaces, new flue gas scrubbers and other equipment that “reduced emissions of various pollutants … by thousands of tons per year, thereby significantly improving Bay Area air quality.”
Though the work was prompted by a 2005 consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Valero says it went far beyond the agreement’s requirements, to retool the refinery’s equipment and operations.
Valero says that $500 million of the $750 million spent on the project went to “achieve emissions reductions beyond those required by the Consent Decree or by other provisions of law.”
Valero seeks writ of mandate to evaluate the fairness and consistency of the district’s rejection, not just whether it was reasonable.
A spokesman from Valero declined to comment, saying the company would let the filing speak for itself.
It is represented by Ronald Van Buskirk with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, in San Francisco.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Repost from The Contra Costa Times [Editor: Significant quote: “WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.” – RS]
Pittsburg: Critics blast proposed oil terminal, even without Bakken crude trains
By Sam Richards, 04/07/2015 12:31:04 PM PDT
PITTSBURG — Train loads of Bakken crude oil are no longer in the plans for a proposed oil storage terminal near the waterfront, but that does not mean the project is being welcomed to town with open arms.
The City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve amending the environmental report for WesPac Midstream LLC’s proposed Pittsburg Terminal Project, which would renovate and modernize a long-dormant PG&E tank farm between West 10th Street and the Sacramento River waterfront.
The key change is that the five previously planned 104-car trains of domestic oil, mostly the volatile Bakken crude, are no longer part of the project. The new EIR will reflect that.
Councilman Sal Evola stressed that the vote reflected the council’s desire for “the process” to play out and fully vet the proposal.
“Every project at least deserves its fair process,” Evola said. “I’m all for preserving our industrial base, but we have to do it safely, and fair process is needed.”
Others were less interested in process, saying the WesPac proposal to bring an average of 242,000 barrels of crude or partially refined crude oil to be unloaded daily from ships and from pipelines, and stored in 16 tanks on 125 acres, is a problem for various reasons.
Speakers told the council that vapors from the storage tanks, the possibility of spills into the Sacramento Delta and the danger of the tanks exploding — all near hundreds of downtown homes — are potential issues, and that the project should simply be rejected.
“The only way you can mitigate this project is not do it,” said Willie Mims, representing the NAACP and the Black Political Association.
And though some at the meeting Monday night are grateful that WesPac that no longer plans to bring crude oil to the terminal by rail, others told the council that leaving out rail shipments doesn’t come close to salvaging the project. Some 30 people holding up “No WesPac” signs or wearing similar T-shirts crowded the council meeting.
Without the trains, the Pittsburg Terminal Project would now take oil from ships and a pipeline from the Central Valley and store it for later processing by refineries in Martinez, Benicia, Rodeo and Richmond.
Pamela Aranz of Antioch, representing the group Global Community Monitor, was one of several speakers who criticized the WesPac proposal as a dinosaur — old-fashioned, with increasingly outmoded technology. Others said the oil terminal would be at cross purposes with a nicely developing downtown area. Developing wind and/or solar power on that land, Aranz and others said, would make better sense.
Plans for the Pittsburg Terminal Project, first proposed in 2011, had been dormant for the past year, after local groups like Pittsburg Defense Council had protested the prospect of trains carrying volatile Bakken crude oil rolling in to the city. Communities across the United States — including Pittsburg, Richmond and Berkeley — have come out in opposed to crude by rail shipments through their cities after several high-profile derailments, including one in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013 killed 47 people and destroyed part of that city.
The new environmental report, to be paid for by WesPac, will replace an earlier one that was criticized in 2014 by the state Attorney General’s office because it did not suitably analyze air pollution impacts, address the risks of accidents involving storing and moving oil, consider the project’s climate change impacts, and consider a “reasonable range of alternatives” that could reduce impacts. WesPac officials said they dropped inbound crude oil shipments by rail from their plans for several reasons, including public sentiment against it, an unstable regulatory environment surrounding those shipments, and drops in crude oil prices that have made such shipments less economically viable.
If the needed approvals come at a typical pace, renovation work at the old PG&E tanks could begin in early 2016, and likely would take between 18 and 24 months.
Representatives from several area labor union locals supported moving ahead with the environmental study. Some said Monday night they wanted the jobs, both to rebuild the terminal and to operate it. Others said they favored the environmental process determining whether the terminal would be a safe place for union workers to be.
That, Evola said, is one benefit of continuing the process. “We want to be overly transparent,” he said.
That is fine with Lisa Graham and other members of Pittsburg Defense Council.
“We’ll be shining a bright spotlight on the project in the coming months,” she said.