Tag Archives: Earthquake

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.

 

 

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    Phillips 66 refinery plan threatens Rodeo California residents’ safety

    Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle, Open Forum

    Refinery plan threatens Rodeo residents’ safety

    By Janet Pygeorge and Laurel Impett, April 6, 2015 4:08pm
    Contra Costa County officials approved a controver sial expan sion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP / FILE
    Contra Costa County officials approved a controver sial expan sion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / AP / FILE

    The fracking boom in North Dakota and increased recovery of tar sands oil in Canada have prompted dramatic growth in transport of crude oil by rail throughout the United States from regions that pipelines don’t serve. Bay Area refineries and oil and gas companies already are planning for increased rail traffic and expanded operations. These plans are understandably alarming residents because of the potential for oil-train explosions. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, however, does not share this alarm.

    The supervisors made that clear in February when they rubber-stamped a proposed operational expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Analyses done by Communities for a Better Environment, a nonprofit environmental justice organization that has sued to overturn this approval, show that the refinery’s expansion would significantly increase air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and public safety risks.

    The board’s position defies both science and common sense. This refinery is located in the middle of an earthquake liquefaction zone. Phillips 66 plans to dramatically increase the number of railcars that are regularly staged at the plant; it also plans to begin processing propane and expand its processing of butane, both highly explosive.

    The proposal includes plans to store 630,000 gallons of liquid propane about half a mile from homes, churches, a school and a park. And yet the environmental analysis approved by the board claimed that there would be no significant risks associated with this operational expansion.

    In the case of a large earthquake, Phillips 66’s operational expansion would place huge swaths of Rodeo at significant risk of death and destruction, with damage radiating from the refinery up past San Pablo Avenue to as far away as where I-80 runs through Rodeo. It is simply unacceptable for our county officials to allow this expansion without requiring stringent attention to public health and safety by putting aggressive safeguards in place.

    In terms of air quality impacts, this refinery has a dismal track record. It received more than 200 notices of violation from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District between 2003 and 2014. According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, it is the seventh-most-toxic polluter of all California facilities with large chemical releases. Phillips 66’s proposed changes would significantly increase the level of air pollution the facility produces, but the company used accounting tricks to hide the ball in its air-quality analysis. County officials did not question the refinery’s flawed analytical approach.

    The Board of Supervisors showed its hand when it approved Phillips 66’s operational expansion without requiring investments to protect the health and safety of residents. Three different lawsuits have been filed against the county for lack of appropriate oversight in this matter. Contra Costa residents must demand better from local elected officials.

    Join us in demanding that the county put an end to approving dirty industry at the expense of the public’s health and safety. Enough is enough.

    Ultimately, if elected officials won’t stand up for health and safety, the court should intervene and protect the best interests of this community.

    Janet Pygeorge is president of Rodeo Citizens Association, one of the groups that has filed suit in this matter. Laurel Impett is a planner with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, the law firm that represents the association.
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      Federal study: Oklahoma more at risk of big damaging quakes because of increase in small ones

      Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald (Covered elsewhere, including U.S. News and World Report)

      Federal study: Oklahoma more at risk of big damaging quakes because of increase in small ones

      By Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, Feb 14, 2015
      File - In this Nov. 6, 2011 file photo, maintenance workers inspect the damage to one of the spires on Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, Okla., after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours. New federal research says small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes, new federal research indicates. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
      Maintenance workers inspect the damage to one of the spires on Benedictine Hall at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Okla., after two earthquakes hit the area in less than 24 hours. New federal research says small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes. Associated Press/Nov. 6, 2011

      SAN JOSE, California (AP) — Small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily and linked to energy drilling are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes, federal research indicates. This once stable region is now just as likely to see serious damaging and potentially harmful earthquakes as the highest risk places east of the Rockies such as New Madrid, Missouri, and Charleston, South Carolina, which had major quakes in the past two centuries. Still it’s a low risk, about a 1 in 2,500 years’ chance of happening, according to geophysicist William Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey. “To some degree we’ve dodged a bullet in Oklahoma,” Ellsworth said after a presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But, he added, “This is not to say we expect a large earthquake tomorrow.” During the 90-minute session on human-induced earthquakes, three quakes larger than 3.1 magnitude hit northern Oklahoma. Federal records show that since Jan. 1, Oklahoma has had nearly 200 quakes that people have felt. These quakes started to increase in 2008 and made dramatic jumps in frequency in June 2013 and again in February 2014, Ellsworth said. They are mostly in areas with energy drilling, often hydraulic fracturing, a process known as fracking. Many studies have linked the increase in small quakes to the process of injecting wastewater deep underground because it changes pressure and triggers dormant faults. Until now, those quakes were mostly thought of as nuisances and not really threats. But Ellsworth’s continuing study, which is not yet published, showed the mere increase in the number of tiny temblors raises the risk of earthquakes that scientists consider major hazards. That’s generally above a magnitude 5 with older buildings and a magnitude 6 for modern ones, Ellsworth said. “The more small earthquakes we have it just simply increases the odds we’re going to have a more damaging event,” Ellsworth said. A 2011 earthquake in Prague, Oklahoma, was a 5.7 magnitude, causing some damage and hurting two people. Some studies said that was a side effect of the drilling process, but other scientists are not convinced. Experts at the science session said Ellsworth’s finding of a higher risk for big quakes makes sense. “We are worried about this, no question about it,” said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey. Not all states with fracking and wastewater injections are seeing increased quakes and not all those with increased quakes, such as Texas and Ohio, are at a higher risk for major quakes, Ellsworth said. Arkansas and Ohio, for example, are also now seeing fewer man-made quakes, he said. Much depends on geology and how the wastewater is injected, said Stanford University geophysics professor Mark Zoback. He said industry and regulators can be smarter about where they inject wastewater and where they do not, and can avoid many of these problems.

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        Green coalition sues Kern County over DEIR failures

        Repost from Courthouse News
        [Editor: Significant quote: “They claim that the EIR’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is ‘riddled with flaws’ because instead of discussing mitigation measures to curb emissions, it assumed that the refinery’s emissions will be ‘reduced to zero’ by participating in the state’s cap-and-trade program, and thus concluded that ‘these emissions are not significant.'”    – RS]

        Greens Fight SoCal Tar Sands Oil Project

        By Rebekah Kearn, October 13, 2014

        BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – Kern County illegally approved expansion of a local refinery that will let it transport and process 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day, environmentalists claim in court.

        The Association of Irritated Residents, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sued the Kern County Board of Supervisors and the Kern County Planning and Community Development Department, on Oct. 9 in Superior Court.

        Alon U.S.A. Energy, of Texas, and its subsidiary Paramount Petroleum Corp. are named as real parties in interest.

        “The lawsuit challenges Kern County’s unlawful approval of a massive oil refinery and rail project that will further harm air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and subject residents in several states to the catastrophic risks of a derailment involving scores of tanker cars filled with explosive Bakken crude oil,” plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Forsyth, with Earthjustice, told Courthouse News.

        Bakken crude is from northern Montana and North Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Much of it is extracted by fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

        “The San Joaquin Valley is already overburdened by industrial pollution,” Forsyth said. “Kern County officials should put the health of their residents over the profits of oil companies.”

        The groups claim the county’s approval of the Alon Bakersfield Refinery Crude Oil Flexibility Project and its allegedly inadequate environmental impact report violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

        The project quintuples the Alon Bakersfield Refinery’s capacity to import crude oil, “from 40 tank cars per day to 200 tank cars per day, or up to 63.1 million barrels of crude per year,” the 27-page complaint states.

        “This influx of cheap, mid-continent crudes, including Canadian tar sands crude and Bakken crude from North Dakota, would allow the shuttered refinery to reopen and run at full capacity, processing 70,000 barrels of crude oil per day,” according to the complaint.

        “The project’s massive ramp-up in oil transport and processing poses alarming health and safety threats to the residents of Bakersfield and to those who live along the crude-by-rail route. Restarting the refinery will significantly increase harmful air pollution that will only exacerbate the poor air quality and respiratory illnesses that plague San Joaquin Valley communities already unfairly burdened with industrial pollution.”

        Bakken crude oil is “highly volatile,” and shipping it across several states “over treacherous and poorly maintained mountain passages” without adequate safety regulations will expose everyone who lives along the shipping route to the risks of derailment, the environmentalists say.

        Trains carrying Bakken crude have derailed and exploded, including the July 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Canada, which killed 47 people and leveled half of downtown Lec-Mégantic, according to the complaint.

        Bakersfield, pop. 464,000, between Los Angeles and Fresno, is the ninth-largest city in California. Kern County produces more oil than any other county in the state, and boasts the fourth largest agricultural output in the country.

        Its air quality is abysmal. “Bakersfield has the country’s third most polluted air, according to the American Lung Association, and one in six children in the Valley will be diagnosed with asthma before age 18,” Forsyth told Courthouse News.

        Kern County’s notoriously poor air quality causes approximately 1,500 premature deaths each year, and exposure to toxic air pollution racks up “$3 billion to $6 billion in health costs and lost productivity annually,” according to the complaint.

        Several schools, residential neighborhoods and a hospital are only a few miles away from the Alon Bakersfield refinery. It is 1,000 feet from the Kern River Parkway, where people hike, walk, and ride bikes along trails and through parks, according to the complaint.

        The refinery shut its doors in 2008 when its owner filed for bankruptcy. After sitting inactive for two years, it was bought by Alon in 2010 and “refashioned to convert intermediate vacuum gas oil into finished products,” but stopped all refining operations in December 2012 when the price of local feedstock rose, the complaint states.

        In August 2012, Paramount submitted proposed modifications to the county that would let the refinery use the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail line to bring in 5.5 million gallons of oil per day.

        “The five-fold expansion of the terminal’s unloading capacity, from 40 tank cars per day to over 200 tank cars per day, is the largest crude-by-rail project in California, twice the size of the next largest project,” the complaint states.

        The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved the environmental impact report on Sept. 9 this year.

        But the plaintiffs claim the environmental study “obfuscates and underestimates” the significant impacts posed by the project and ignores the effects that rail transport of Bakken crude will have on air pollution.

        “The EIR severely underestimates the safety risks of this project through sloppy math and an incomplete analysis,” the complaint states. “Based on simple mathematical error, the EIR calculates the risk of a train accident involving an oil spill is unlikely to occur within the project’s 30-year lifetime. Correcting this error, however, results in a risk of accident involving an oil spill once every 30 years.”

        California has a high risk for catastrophic accidents because many of its 5,000 to 7,000 railroad bridges are over 100 years old and are not routinely inspected by any state or federal agency, and the rail lines run through “hazard areas” such as earthquake faults and densely populated cities, the complaint states.

        Kern County is especially vulnerable because “the freight rail track runs through the Tehachapi Mountain, an area identified by the California Interagency Rail Safety Working Group as a ‘high hazard area.’ The rail track includes steep grades, extreme track curvature, and a single track through the majority of the corridor. The elevation loss of this corridor is approximately 3,600 feet from Tehachapi to Bakersfield, and the grade is so steep that it includes the famous ‘Tehachapi loop’ where the railroad line must loop back under itself to make the grade,” the complaint adds.

        The plaintiffs say the project also threatens to further pollute the air quality of a region “already plagued by the worst air quality in the nation.”

        “Refining Bakken crude emits high levels of volatile organic compound emissions that lead to ozone pollution, which in turn causes respiratory illnesses such as asthma,” Forsyth told Courthouse News.

        “The refining of tar sands crude, which is far dirtier than local crudes, will result in higher emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen, sulfur and toxic metals,” she added.

        Moreover, restarting the refinery and processing 60 million barrels of fossil fuels a year will elevate greenhouse gas emissions in the region and interfere with California’s goal of reducing such emissions, the groups say.

        They claim the EIR’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is “riddled with flaws” because instead of discussing mitigation measures to curb emissions, it assumed that the refinery’s emissions will be “reduced to zero” by participating in the state’s cap-and-trade program, and thus concluded that “these emissions are not significant.”

        “The EIR also unlawfully underestimates greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring emissions from the combustion of end products produced from the imported crude,” the complaint states.

        After Kern County released an initial study of the project in September 2013, the Air District commented that using 2007 as the baseline to analyze impacts to air quality was improper because the refinery had not refined crude since 2008, according to the complaint.

        The groups say the draft environmental report released for public comment on May 22 this year did not correct this error.

        “The draft EIR also omitted fundamental information necessary to evaluate the EIR’s conclusions, including underlying assumptions and calculations for the EIR’s emissions analysis, data concerning the properties of Bakken crude, and an objective description of the project’s crude slate,” the complaint states.

        On June 13, the groups’ attorneys asked for the information not included in the draft report and an extension to the 45-day comment period, but the county denied both requests.

        When the county issued its final EIR in August, the groups say, they objected to “new disclosures that the public had not had a chance to review,” including its flawed analysis of the probability of a train accident, and demanded that it be revised.

        Several prominent environmental scientists submitted comments criticizing the report’s treatment of toxic air emissions and its failure to include “emergency flaring events” in emissions calculations, but the county ignored their input and approved the report 13 days after it was released, the complaint states.

        Kern County Counsel Theresa Goldner defended the project.

        “The Kern County Board of Supervisors carefully and thoughtfully considered the EIR and all public comments and approved the report after a full and complete public process,” Goldner told Courthouse News.

        “We will vigorously oppose this action.”

        Paramount did not immediately return requests for comment.

        The environmentalists seek declaratory judgment that Kern County violated CEQA by authorizing the refinery expansion project without performing adequate environmental analysis.

        They ask that the project approvals and the environmental impact report be vacated until the defendants prepare a new environmental study that complies with CEQA.

        They also want an injunction preventing the defendants from carrying out any part of the project until they fulfill all of the CEQA requirements.

        They are represented by Earthjustice attorneys Elizabeth Forsyth and co-counsel Wendy Park of San Francisco.

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