Tag Archives: Contra Costa County

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.

 

 

    Rodeo, California: Phillips 66 project faces additional lawsuits

    Repost from The Contra Costa Times
    [Editor: see also Communities for a Better Environment sues CCCounty and P66 and Lawsuit filed to Stop Tar Sands in the Bay Area.  – RS]

    Rodeo: Phillips 66 project faces additional lawsuits

    By Tom Lochner, 03/06/2015 06:03:54 AM PST

    RODEO — A second organization has sued to block a propane and butane recovery project at a Rodeo refinery, and a third announced it would do so as well Thursday.

    Rodeo Citizens Association filed suit Thursday in Contra Costa Superior Court, Martinez against Contra Costa County and the Phillips 66 Co., contending Phillips wants to transport heavy and dirty tar sands crude by rail from outside the state to a sister refinery in San Luis Obispo County and pipe the semi-refined oil to Rodeo. The association further contends that a county-approved Environmental Impact Report fails to note that the project would increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

    On Wednesday, Communities for a Better Environment sued the county and Phillips 66, contending the project is part of a grander plan to process heavy, dirty tar sands crude that would come to California by rail.

    Phillips 66 spokesman Paul Adler said Thursday he had not seen the Rodeo Citizens Association suit and therefore could not comment on it. On Wednesday, commenting on the CBE suit, Adler had called that organization’s allegations “inaccurate and misleading.”

    “Following two years of careful analysis by the Contra Costa County board (of Supervisors) and its expert staff, claims that this project is a crude by rail project were dismissed,” Adler said Wednesday.

    Also on Thursday, Safe Fuel Energy Resources of California, a group representing workers at the Rodeo refinery, sued the county and Phillips 66 in Superior Court, Martinez, according to an announcement by the firm Public Good PR LLC. The group contends, among other allegations, that Phillips 66 wants to bring in tar sands crude from out-of-state and that the county improperly “piecemealed” its review of the Rodeo project from other Phillips 66 projects and neglected to analyze the cumulative levels of the various projects on air quality and human health and safety.

    The timing of Safe Fuel Energy Resources’ filing was not known as of late Thursday.

      BNSF train car derails in Richmond, CA

      Repost from The Contra Costa Times
      [Editor: see also this NBC Bay Area video news report by Cheryl Hurd.  Apologies for the commercial ad.  – RS]

      Burlington Northern Santa Fe car carrying pork derails in Richmond, raising concerns about more hazardous materials

      By Robert Rogers, December 3, 2014

      RICHMOND — The derailment Friday of a single rail car containing refrigerated pork is under investigation by Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials, who say it occurred during a low-speed movement within its rail yard and suggests no added risk for the rail transport of more hazardous materials in Contra Costa County.

      “This was a very minor incident with a single car going less than 10 mph,” BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said. “There are many precautions we take to ensure that 99.997 percent of all hazardous materials we transport reach their destinations without a release caused by an accident.”

      The car was being pulled by a locomotive through the yard just west of Richmond Parkway near Pennsylvania Avenue when it tipped over.

      Kent said people cut through a chain-link fence soon after and took boxes of refrigerated pork that spilled from the crumpled hull. Empty cardboard Tyson Foods boxes were seen scattered in the neighborhood nearby.

      Kent said the incident is under investigation, and she declined to say what may have caused it or whether the line on which the derailment occurred is ever used to transport hazardous materials.

      The incident and its aftermath — the car remains broken beside the tracks and will soon be scrapped — has only heightened concerns in a community already on edge over the recent influx of crude-by-rail shipments, much of it from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

      City officials last month sent a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urging the agency to revoke a permit allowing Kinder Morgan to offload Bakken crude and Canadian tar sands oil at its Richmond rail yard, the major draw for local crude-by-rail traffic.

      In September, a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to revoke that permit — which was issued without public notice — was tossed out by a judge on the grounds that it was filed too late.

      Kent said BNSF transports two oil-carrying trains per month in California but declined to say exactly where, citing security concerns.

      Industry experts expect crude-by-rail traffic to increase in the coming years, as North American oil extraction grows, and the product must be refined in facilities across the United States, including several in Contra Costa County.

      Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, said trains of up to 100 cars travel into Richmond before being transferred to trucks or pipelines to be refined. He noted that cars carrying hazardous materials are more robust than the one that carried the spilled pork, and they would be unlikely to spill in a low-speed derailment.

      Nonetheless, “A crude car could tip over also,” Sawyer said. “It’s a possibility.”

      Kent said Friday’s derailment does not indicate a wider problem.

      “We operate all of our trains with safety as our first priority,” Kent said. “However, when it comes to hazardous material we do have more restrictive operating procedures.”

      County Supervisor John Gioia said BNSF officials have told him they are developing “more resilient” cars for crude oil, a development he took to mean that the company expects the crude-by-rail market to continue to grow, and that federal regulators are likely to impose new standards as communities across the country see increased crude-by-rail traffic in their midst.

      “Any train derailment concerns me because there could be anything from injury to a larger public safety issue; it’s all important,” Gioia said. “But this new (incident) hasn’t told me anything new other than what we know already based on derailments in other parts of the country: that trains with hazardous materials pose a risk.”