Tag Archives: Martinez Environmental Group

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.”

Please share!

Guy Cooper: I hope you like trains a lot…

Repost from The Martinez Gazette

Martinez Environmental Group: Do you like trains a lot?

By Guy Cooper, September 14, 2014

Hope you like trains a lot.  (Kudos to the Fugs, 1965!)

I just did a presentation as part of the Martinez Environmental Group Community Forum held here in town Sept. 8. My focus was on some trends and projections for crude-by-rail (CBR) nationally, statewide and locally. Then it hit me that there were aspects and implications I had not fully appreciated.

Of course, the safety record doesn’t look good. A 2013 spike in CBR traffic nationally led to consequent spikes in accidents and spills.

trainsalot

In fact, more CBR was spilled in this country in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined. The sheer volume shipped can mask what is actually happening. A projected 7.7 billion gallons of crude is expected to roll into our state annually by 2016. That makes a mockery of the rail industry’s oft touted 99.99 percent safety record, a record based on volume shipped.

Shipping that much volume into the state allows for the spilling or otherwise loss of over 766,000 gallons a year without even breaking a statistical sweat. You bring it, the accidents will come. The rail companies are actually having accidents about once a week now. Two locomotives derailed in Benicia Monday. Third derailment there in the last 10 months. Hey, stuff happens.

I did my walk in the Marina Park this morning. Saw two freight trains go by, one from the north, one from the south. The one from the south had five or six locomotives pulling about a hundred hopper cars. From my vantage, I couldn’t tell if they were loaded. The train easily spanned the entire Carquinez trestle. We’ve seen the same thing lately with 100-car trains of ethanol heading through downtown.

It struck me. Just how many trains do go through downtown Martinez on a given day, or at least take up room on the Union Pacific (UP) and BNSF rail corridors that bracket Martinez? The Amtrak guys at the station told me they have 42 trains a day.

Forty-two! That’s almost one every 30 minutes. All but two of those travel the UP rails to Sacramento through Benicia, Suisun and Davis via the Union Pacific tracks that will also carry most of the crude oil trains into the Bay Area. Add in the freight trains. Amtrak couldn’t tell me anything about them, said they’re unpredictable. Well, I saw two within the space of an hour.

Add in the projected oil train traffic. We do know that one unit train (100- cars) of Bakken crude travels the BNSF line from the east along the Highway 4 corridor, over the Muir trestle into Franklin Canyon every seven to 10 days. I don’t know what other trains use that route. If all of the regional refinery proposals are allowed, we could also see a unit train a day travel through downtown on its way to the Phillips 66 refinery in Santa Maria near San Luis Obispo. WesPac in Pittsburg wants a unit train a day. Valero in Benicia wants 100 cars per day. Add ‘em up and you’re looking at 20 trains, 2,000 cars, 60 million gallons a week impacting our region, kludging up the rails, slowing other freight and passenger traffic, not to mention complicating the mix with highly volatile and toxic cargoes.

Each unit train is over a mile long, weighs over 28 million pounds and carries about 3 million gallons of oil. Remember, for each one coming in, there has to be one going out. I think that’s one of Newton’s laws of motion, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, so double the number of unit trains: 40 a week by 2016.

Add in 294 AMTRAK trains per week, and a conservative estimate of 28 other freight trains a week (4/day). Total: 362 trains per week, each blowing its whistle three of four times at each crossing. Every 30 minutes.

So I hope you like trains a lot.

Please share!

Richmond, California: Activists form human barricade to protest crude-by-rail facility

Repost from San Francisco Bay Guardian
[Editor: See this story also on Popular Resistance, the Richmond Standard. and the Sacramento Bee.  – RS]

Activists form human barricade to protest crude-by-rail facility

09.04.14 | Rebecca Bowe
PHOTO BY MATTHEW GERRING

This morning [Thu/4], at 7am in Richmond, Calif., four environmental activists used U-locks to fasten themselves by the neck to the fence of an oil shipping facility operated by Kinder Morgan.

They were interlocked with another four activists, who had their arms secured with handmade lock-boxes. “I’m locked to a lock box connected to my partner, Ann, who is locked with a U-lock to the fence,” Andre Soto, of Richmond-based Communities for a Better Environment, explained by phone a little after 8am.

At that time, Soto said several Richmond police officers had been dispatched to the scene and were calmly surveying the human barricade. He wondered out loud if they would be arrested.

The environmentalists risked arrest to prevent trucks from leaving the Kinder Morgan facility for area refineries with offloaded oil shipped in by train.

Crude-by-rail transport at Kinder Morgan’s bulk rail terminal, located in the Burlington Northern / Santa Fe railyard in Richmond, is the subject of a lawsuit filed in March by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

The suit, targeting Kinder Morgan as well as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), charges that Kinder Morgan was illegally awarded a permit for crude-by-rail operations without going through a formal environmental review process, which would have necessitated public hearings and community feedback. The case asks for operations to be halted while the project undergoes review under the California Environmental Quality Act. A hearing will be held in San Francisco Superior Court at 1:30pm tomorrow.

Ethan Buckner of Forest Ethics, who was also locked to the fence, said activists were especially concerned that the crude oil being shipped into Richmond, much of which originates in North Dakota, was volatile, presenting safety concerns.

“The oil trains are … very old tank cars that are subject to puncture, and have been known to fail over and over again while carrying oil,” Buckner said. Much of the oil shipped into the Richmond transfer point by rail originates from the Bakken shale region, which has been dramatically transformed by the controversial extraction method known as fracking.

“Nobody was notified that these oil trains were going to be rolling in,” Buckner said. That morning’s protest, he added, was meant to “send a clear message to Kinder Morgan and the Air District that if we can’t count on our public agencies to protect our communities, we’re going to do it ourselves.”

In the end, none of the activists were arrested. They voluntarily unlocked themselves from the fence and left the railyard around 10am. “After three hours we decided thsat we had made our point,” Eddie Scher of Forest Ethics said afterward, speaking by phone.

Along with a group of around ten others participating in the civil disobedience action, the activists who locked themselves to the fence were affiliated with Bay Area environmental organizations including 350 Bay Area, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sunflower Alliance, the Martinez Environmental Group, and Crocket Rodeo United to Defend the Environment.

Reached by phone, Ralph Borrmann, a spokesperson for BAAQMD, said, “We have no comment on the current litigation, or any actions relating to it.” He added that more information would come out during the Sept. 5 hearing.

When the Bay Guardian asked Kinder Morgan for a comment on the matter, spokesperson Richard Wheatley responded, “You’re not going to get one. We’re not going to comment on it.” Asked for a comment on the lawsuit, Wheatley said, “We’re not going to comment ahead of that hearing. And we’re not going to comment on the protesters.”

Please share!