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Richmond residents, leaders warn of danger from Bakken crude by rail shipments

Repost from The Richmond Confidential

Richmond residents, leaders warn of danger from Bakken crude by rail shipments

By Phil James, November 1, 2014
Kinder Morgan's Richmond depot takes in dozens of DOT-111 train cars laden with Bakken crude oil from North Dakota every week. (Phil James/Richmond Confidential)
Kinder Morgan’s Richmond depot takes in dozens of DOT-111 train cars laden with Bakken crude oil from North Dakota every week. (Phil James/Richmond Confidential)

If you go to the website explosive-crude-by-rail.org and zoom in on Richmond, what you’ll find is disconcerting. According to the 1-3 mile buffer zone on the map, the entire city and its 107,000 residents are in danger if trains carrying crude oil explode.

Such is the concern of several Bay Area environmental groups in Richmond who have drawn the City Council into an escalating dispute with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Kinder Morgan, which operates a local crude by rail transfer station.

“The health and safety of the community is at stake here,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said during a City Council meeting. “We are encouraging the air district to review the process.”

Richmond City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to “review” and “if feasible, revoke” the permit given to Kinder Morgan – the 5th largest energy company in the United States — to take in crude oil by rail. Based in Texas, the company was founded in 1997 by two former Enron executives.

The crude, from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, ignites and explodes more easily than more traditional crudes. On the heels of a major oil boom, transportation of crude by rail in the North America increased by 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, and more crude shipped by rail was spilled in 2013 than in the four previous decades combined.

In 2012, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and decimating the small Canadian town. This, among other incidents, has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to label Bakken transport by rail as an “imminent hazard”.

Several community groups have rallied to ban the movement of crude shipments through Richmond. Megan Zapanta of The Asian Pacific Environmental Network said she’s worried that a lack of attention could have dire consequences.

“Bakken crude has not been well-documented here,” she said. “If there’s some disaster, how will we get the word out to our immigrant community?”

Evan Reis, a structural engineer for Hinman Consulting Engineers, released a report earlier this year assessing the probability of a crude-laden train derailing in the East Bay.

He estimates there is a six in 10 chance of derailment on the line running from San Jose through Richmond to Martinez within the next 30 years.

“Given the fact that these are highly urbanized places we are going through,” he said by phone, “A 60 percent probability would be of concern to me.”

McLaughlin pledged to support Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) as they consider appealing the air district decision to grant Kinder Morgan a permit to funnel crude through Richmond by rail cars. The city does not have the jurisdiction to revoke any licenses or permits from the company. The permit must go through the air district, where it can be reviewed with respect to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

In March, CBE filed a lawsuit against BAAQMD for failing to publicly disclose the permit to the residents of Richmond. The group only noticed the arrival of crude by rail because a local television station, KPIX, discovered that Kinder Morgan was bringing Bakken crude to its Richmond depot.

The Tesoro refinery in Martinez receives the Bakken shipments by truck after they are transferred from the rail depot in Richmond. Richmond’s Chevron refinery does not take in any of the Bakken crude.

In September, the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds because the complaint by the CBE was not filed within 180 days of the permit’s issuance.

The permit, which was filed by BAAQMD staff in 2013, drew ire from environmental groups because it was not subject to an environmental impact report, and was granted without review from the district’s board.

Andres Soto, a representative of Communities for a Better Environment in Richmond, appealed to Richmond leaders to counter the decision.

“Kinder Morgan issued an illegal permit to bring Bakken crude into Richmond without public notice or review,” Soto said.

Ralph Borrmann, public information officer for the BAAQMD, declined to comment until the end of the appeal period. The CBE has considered a challenge of the ruling.

The Kinder Morgan depot has been taking in ethanol by rail since 2010, but they have since diversified their intake to include Bakken crude. Kinder Morgan officials, though, say the concerns are overstated.

“We didn’t feel that the profile of the crude oil arriving was materially different,” Melissa Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Texas-based company, wrote in an email.

Charlie Davidson, a member of the Sunflower Alliance speaking on behalf of CBE, disagrees.

“They’re basically running tin cans on 100 cars,” he told Richmond City Council. “The flash point [of Bakken Crude] is so volatile that it could burn in Antarctica.”

Randy Sawyer, Chief Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials Officer in Contra Costa County, acknowledged the dangers but also downplayed the risk of a major disaster.

“It’s a hazardous material and there’s concern of derailment and fire,” he said in an interview by phone. “But if you put it in relation to other materials, it isn’t as hazardous as chlorine or ammonia. It’s equivalent to ethanol or gasoline.”

“The biggest concern with crude by rail is not so much than the hazard being worse, it’s just the huge amount of quantity that’s being shipped by rail,” Sawyer said.

Since the dismissal of the lawsuit, other municipalities in the North Bay have rallied against crude by rail. In Sacramento, a lawsuit by Earth Justice prompted the local air board to revoke a permit from Inter-State Oil Company on the grounds that they did not disclose the potential public health and safety concerns to local residents.

Suma Peesapati, a member of Earth Justice, drew similarities between Sacramento and Richmond.

“Kinder Morgan’s project in Richmond is virtually identical to the air district issued permits for unloading crude in Sacramento,” she said. “The [Bay Area] Air District made it clear they issued a permit in error, rather than engage in this formal process.”

Despite the resolution passing, Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick expressed just as much weariness as concern for the issue.

“The frustration that we had the last time we talked about this is it just seems there is so little we can do to combat it.”

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    Activists In Richmond Halt Oil Tankers

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

    Citizens Risk Arrest to Halt Operations at Richmond Oil Train Terminal: Call on Air Quality Agency to Reverse Illegal Permit, Protect Public Health

    By Eddie Scher, risingtidenorthamerica.org, September 4, 2014

    1stopoil[Richmond, CA] Today more than a dozen Bay Area citizens chained themselves to a gate at the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in Richmond to stop operations. The citizens risked arrest to protest mile-long oil trains that threaten the safety of area residents and are a massive new source of air and carbon pollution in the region.

    Among the demonstrators were residents of Richmond, Rodeo, Martinez, and Benicia, all towns that currently see dangerous oil trains moving through residential areas. Earlier this year the regional air quality agency, known as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, changed an existing permit to allow oil trains at the rail facility. Demonstrators contend that the agency broke the law when it modified the existing permit without additional environmental and safety review.

    On Friday the San Francisco Superior Court will hold a hearing on a lawsuit filed by groups challenging the legality of the permit change and asking for a halt to oil train operations at the facility.

    “I work with Richmond residents who already struggle with cancer, asthma and other devastating health impacts of pollution. Now they are living with bomb-trains full of explosive Bakken crude oil driving through their neighborhoods. By allowing this to happen, BAAQMD is failing to protect us and choosing Kinder Morgan’s profits over our safety,” said Megan Zapanta, Asian Pacific Environmental Network Richmond Community Organizer.

    “People in Richmond are angry that the Air District, who are supposed to protect us, instead has put our community at catastrophic risk along with all the uprail communities. This irresponsible behavior must be stopped NOW!” said Andres Soto, organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.

    “It’s unacceptable and illegal that the Air District allowed Kinder Morgan to bring explosive Bakken oil by rail from North Dakota without going through the processes established by state law to protect air quality and the safety of families in Pittsburg, Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo, Benicia, and Richmond. We demand that all operations related to oil by rail at Kinder Morgan stop immediately,” says Pamela Arauz, on behalf of Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition.

    “The law in the State of California requires public agencies like the Air District to inform the public of projects like the Kinder Morgan Bomb Train operation.  Not only that, the law requires an environmental review and public input into the process of issuing permits.  The Air District broke the law when they secretly approved this dangerous project,” stated Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor.

    “As the Bay Area Air District and other government agencies are failing to protect the health and lives of communities from the reckless shipments of crude oil by rail, the people are taking action to protect our communities,” said Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.

    “The Air District took a reckless, illegal shortcut that puts our families at risk. We’ve seen what happens when one of these trains derails and catches fire, we can’t let that happen here,” said Ethan Buckner, US organizer with ForestEthics.

    “Climate disruption is bearing down on us even faster because of the extreme extraction of tar sands and shale oil. With Bomb Trains carrying millions of gallons of that dangerous crude rolling on Bay Area rails, all of our lives are on the line. Instead of the alarming dead-end expansion of the fossil fuel industry we need a rapid transition to renewable energy now,” said Shoshana Wechsler of the Sunflower Alliance.

    “To be sure, we take the oil refineries’ contempt for fenceline communities for granted. But frankly, it was shocking to see how covertly BAAQMD threw our public health under the bus,” said Nancy Rieser, Co-founder, Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (C.R.U.D.E.)

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