Tag Archives: Mesa Refinery Watch Group

North Paso Robles County residents meet to oppose oil train rail spur

Repost from the Paso Robles Daily News

North County residents meet to oppose oil train rail spur

By Jackie Iddings, November 10, 2015 7:44 am
Tankers courtesy Mesa Refinery Watch Group
Tankers courtesy Mesa Refinery Watch Group

–A group of concerned North County residents met earlier this month at Congregation Ohr Tzafon in Atascadero for a public forum about Phillip 66’s plans to run oil trains through California to its Mesa refinery in Nipomo. Phillips 66 has applied to the county for a permit to build a rail terminal to unload oil trains carrying tar sands oil crude from Alberta, Canada.

Federal laws prohibit state and local governments from passing laws and regulations that control trains passing through their jurisdictions, but the group believes that San Luis Obispo County is in a unique position because denying Phillips 66 the permit will not only prevent the oil trains from running through San Luis Obispo County, it can significantly reduce oil-train traffic in California.

Phillips 66 proposes to bring mile-long oil trains, each carrying 2.4 million gallons of low grade tar sands crude, through San Luis Obispo county five times a week for the next 20 years. Once refined at the mesa refinery, the oil will be transported by train to the San Francisco Bay area for further treatment, then exported to the highest bidder.

Phillips 66 says importing the lower qualilty crude is necessary because it is running out of California crude, putting jobs at the Nipomo Mesa refinery at risk. The Mesa Refinery Watch Group challenges the oil company, stating “Phillips’ corporate executives have stated in writing that they want their entire company to process lower-cost crude oil in order to generate higher profits.” A statement on the Mesa Refinery Watch Group’s web site says, “The issue is about higher profits by switching to rail delivery, not about protecting jobs.”

Beth Kean from the California Nurses Association, and Lee Perkins from ProtectSLO presented concerns that would impact San Luis Obispo county in the event of an oil train accident.

Kean and Perkins stated the danger of derailments and explosions are very real. More than 95,000 people in San Luis Obispo County live, work, or attend school within a one mile blast zone around the Union Pacific tracks that would be used by the oil trains, they said. Retired Templeton fire chief Greg O’Sullivan spoke from Sunday night’s audience stating that an oil train derailment and explosion would tax local first responder resources and could result in hundreds of deaths in a populated area. O’Sullivan stated that the risk to public safety and environmental resources such as water, is just too high to be balanced by any claimed safety measures.

On October 7, 2015 the Los Angeles Times published a table showing 31 oil-train crashes between January 2013 and July 2015. Over half of thesewere credited to track issues. In an April 2015 press release announcing the Department of Transportation’s intent to improve transport safety the DOT reported the number of accidents involving trains carrying crude oil “is unprecedented.” “Operation Safe Delivery Update” a DOT report released in July 2014 reported the “potential devastating consequences of a crude oil train derailment.” Another DOT press release issued in May 2014, “Upon information derived from recent railroad accidents and subsequent DOT investigations, the Secretary of Transportation has found that an unsafe condition or an unsafe practice is causing or otherwise constitutes an imminent hazard to the safe transportation of hazardous materials.”

The DOT released derailment projections in an August 2014 issue of the Federal Register in which it presents a high end risk assessment for derailment of crude oil shipments at 5 to 15 events between 2015 and 2034. The assessment includes 10 additional events in the same time frame of “higher consequences.” These higher consequences total up to environmental damages, injuries and deaths costing between $1.15 and $5.75 billion for a single event.

A July 2013 oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic,Ontario, resulted in 47 deaths and clean-up costs were estimated at over $180 million. The railroad, Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway folded because it was only carrying $25 million in liability insurance, leaving Canadians responsible for financing the costs.

A draft of the Phillips 66 environmental impact report (EIR) is available for public view on the web site for the San Luis Obispo County Planning Department. The final EIR may be released in early 2016 and public hearings can start as soon as on month after that release. Opposition to oil trains is growing in San Luis Obispo county and across the state as well as in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation.

Kean and Perkins are making presentations at the San Miguel School Board meeting at 6:30 on Nov. 12, and to the Templeton School Board meeting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10.

 

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    Citizens: oil tankers traveling through Guadalupe to the Phillips 66 refinery could explode

    Reprint from The Santa Maria Sun

    Train of thought: Citizens worry oil tankers traveling through Guadalupe to the Phillips 66 refinery could explode

    By David Minsky, April 1, 2015

    Residents worried that their town could become the scene of an oil tanker explosion voiced their concerns during a March 24 Guadalupe City Council meeting.

    The Santa Maria Refinery property sits on the Nipomo Mesa, less than 5 miles away from Guadalupe, and that’s where owner Phillips 66 wants to build a rail spur to connect it to an existing Union Pacific Railroad line. Plans for a transfer station are in the works, too.

    The project would change where the refinery gets oil and how the resource is delivered to the refinery, which currently receives most of its oil via pipeline from Northern Santa Barbara County. The rail spur could bring up to five 80-car trains per week carrying crude oil through downtown Guadalupe on the Union Pacific line. Union Pacific Railroad would be responsible for delivering the railcars, refinery spokesperson Jim Anderson said at the meeting.

    On the table was whether or not the City Council would endorse a letter from 3rd District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr, who opposes the project. All sides—including representatives from Phillips 66, who encouraged the council to not take action on the letter in light of a yet-to-be completed environmental impact report; and the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, which opposes the project—made their cases before a packed house of politicians, residents, and journalists. The letter was secondary to the discussion, though. The real question that was debated: Is it safe to allow railcars of crude oil to pass through Guadalupe?

    Citing more than 60 years of safe rail operations, Anderson said the extension is necessary for the refinery to maintain its present rate of crude oil processing. With Central Coast oil production in decline and a strong demand for fuel—only one of the many products refined from crude—in California, Anderson said the spur is needed.

    “The only way to fill up and complete that 44,000-barrel-a-day rate is, rather than propose a marine terminal or a truck terminal with thousands of trucks on the highway, we felt that a rail terminal, which is sitting right next to the mainline railroad tracks, would be the best alternative,” Anderson said, adding that the trains would be similar to the ones that have rolled through Guadalupe in the last 10 years, but would be slightly longer.

    At one point while Anderson was speaking, an audible train horn blared in the distance, prompting chuckles among the crowd.

    The idea of oil trains wasn’t so funny to Laurance Shinderman, who spoke on behalf of the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, which formed to identify the negative impacts of the rail project. He noted the explosive potential of crude’s flashpoint—the temperature at which vapor forms and can ignite.

    “The lower the flashpoint of the crude, the greater the risk,” Shinderman said, emphasizing that oil being shipped has a lower flashpoint. “I’m not a chemistry engineer, but I’ve done enough reading on this.”

    He went on to cite several instances of tanker cars exploding or catching on fire, including the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster in Quebec where multiple tankers carrying Bakken formation crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying more than 30 buildings in a town roughly the size of Guadalupe.

    Shinderman described the Phillips 66 proposal as “oil roulette.”

    More people spoke against the spur after Shinderman, including Joyce Howerton, an aide who spoke on behalf of state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). Amy Anderson, a Santa Maria resident and volunteer for the Santa Barbara County Action Network, briefly talked about empty oil tankers.

    “An empty liquid petroleum gas tanker is actually even more explosive than a full one,” she said. “Once they start to explode, you can only hope the town’s been evacuated and there are no onlookers because the fragments from the exploding tankers will assault Guadalupe like shrapnel from a roadside bomb. That’s not an exaggeration.”

    Neither minimizing nor enhancing the risk of danger, Guadalupe Police Chief Gary Hoving said his biggest concern is a lack of emergency resources to evacuate the city in the event of a tanker explosion. Citing a FEMA estimate, Hoving said a blast zone with shrapnel would be limited to about 1 1/4 miles. He recommended an evacuation zone of at least 7,000 feet.

    “A derailment in the city of Guadalupe would necessitate an evacuation of the entire city,” Hoving said during the meeting. “The major concerns that I have are related solely to public safety … our lack of sufficient fire and police, especially for an initial response.”

    The last train derailment in Guadalupe was in 2007, when several cars came off the track, including four that spilled cases of Corona beer.

    Hoving also asked where the funding for additional resources would come from.

    Phillips 66 spokesperson Anderson noted that his company is presently working with the governor’s office to place a fee on each barrel of oil that’s loaded and unloaded. The money collected would go into a state-level emergency services fund and provide money for increasing the capability of emergency response, he said.

    The fate of the spur is still up in the air. At the end of the debate that Tuesday night, the city eventually voted 4-1 to not to take any action on endorsing Farr’s letter. Councilmember Ariston Julian dissented. Before the vote, Julian made a motion to endorse the letter, but it wasn’t seconded.

    Julian expressed concern for the city’s water source and residents living immediately near the tracks—including the soon-to-be-built Pasadera housing development that broke ground on March 4—if an accident caused oil to spill or explode.

    “In the unlikelihood that there is, we have a potential of losing people and also losing our water source,” Julian said.

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      San Jose State’s Spartan Daily on last week’s derailment: University is in potential impact zone

      Repost from The Spartan Daily at San Jose State University
      [Quote: “Last Wednesday a Union Pacific train pulling empty gravel cars derailed near Taylor and Seventh streets in Japantown. There were no injuries, but stalled traffic forced public transit to reroute, according to a report by NBC Bay Area.”   Editor:  See also the NBC report.  – RS]

      Trains will bring oil through Downtown San Jose

      By Jeremy Cummings Mar 18, 2015 2:36 am

      Despite growing public opposition to transportation of crude oil by rail since serious accidents such as the Lac-Megantic crash in 2013 a proposal to the Santa Maria Planning Commission might bring a crude oil train directly through Downtown San Jose.

      Jill and Jack Sardegna, two concerned San Jose natives who live close to the train tracks, worry about pollution and other risks the trains could bring.

      “We didn’t think that this was a possibility here, and certainly not through a residential area,” Jill Sardegna said, “But here it is.”

      San Jose State is in the potential impact zone of fires that could result from a derailment downtown, according to blast-zone.org, but the school’s administration is unprepared at this point to respond to such an event, according to SJSU Chief of Staff Stacy Gleixner at a press conference with student media last Wednesday.

      “I don’t think we’ve given thought yet to what kind of precautions we might need to have in place,” Gleixner said.

      The train, run by Union Pacific Railroad, will carry oil to the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County and was proposed in 2013.

      According to a draft of the proposal’s environmental impact report on slocounty.ca.gov, up to five 80-car trains will run to the Mesa refinery a week.

      The commission has the final say on whether or not the oil trains will run, a decision which will impact some citizens’ lives all throughout California, according to Council member Ash Kalra.

      Safety risks of oil trains

      Complete safety cannot be guaranteed when transporting oil by rail, according to Francisco J. Castillo, director of corporate relations and media at Union Pacific Railroad.

      Castillo said although oil by rail arrives safely 99.99 percent of the time, there is a risk associated with this shipping method as there is with any other.

      In July 2013 an oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killing 47 and causing significant damage to the city.

      The Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported that this crash was a result of simple human error. A conductor failed to set the train’s brakes correctly, allowing it to run out of control into the town center.

      Data from a report released by environmental watchdog Mesa Refinery Watch Group shows that approximately 462,000 gallons of crude oil are confirmed to have spilled in the United States alone since 2013.

      Unconfirmed amounts of oil have been spilled in other derailments such as one that occurred in Aliceville, Alabama, in December 2013.

      The most commonly used tank car by the Department of Transportation is the DOT-111.

      According to data from dot111.org and 2014 North American Freight Railcar review, DOT-111s make up approximately 75 percent of the North American Rail Fleet.

      These tank cars are a big concern to environmental groups such as the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, which say DOT-111s follow outdated safety standards and leak large quantities of hazardous materials during transit.

      Carol Ziegler, a representative of Phillips 66, said all of the cars in its fleet meet the newest safety standards for oil transportation.

      Local Impact

      Last Wednesday a Union Pacific train pulling empty gravel cars derailed near Taylor and Seventh streets in Japantown.

      There were no injuries, but stalled traffic forced public transit to reroute, according to a report by NBC Bay Area.

      The Lac-Megantic accident shows the potential consequences of an oil train derailing in a populated area.

      According to San Jose Fire Department Chief Curtis Jacobsen, San Jose Fire is not equipped to contain the fires that could result from a derailment.

      The Sardegnas are worried by the lack of publicized information about this issue, and have contacted multiple news outlets including the Mercury News trying to get the word out.

      “This is a big concern for us that students don’t even know this is happening,” Jill Sardegna said.

      Councilmember Kalra said it’s important for SJSU students to educate themselves about this and other issues so they might make a difference going into the future.

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        What does a Central Coast oil refinery have to do with Davis?

        Repost from The Davis Enterprise

        What does a Central Coast oil refinery have to do with Davis?

        By Dave Ryan, November 23, 2014

        In communities up and down the West Coast, groups of environmentalists, neighbors and local governments are doing whatever they can to mitigate or outright stop railroad terminals being built at coastal refineries at the end of rail lines that cut through cities and sensitive environmental areas.

        Davis residents joined the fight earlier this year against the Valero oil refinery in Benicia, and now are adding their voices to a chorus opposing a Phillips 66 facility in San Luis Obispo County.

        A local collection of environmental watchdogs called the Yolano Climate Action Group was one of the first to realize the potential public safety threat of Bakken crude oil trains traveling from out of state, through Roseville, Davis and to Benicia.

        The group successfully petitioned the city of Davis Natural Resources Commission in January to oppose the Valero project. The commission then was successful in persuading the City Council a few months later to begin monitoring the project and round up support from government agencies like Yolo County and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to lobby Benicia for a more complete environmental impact report.

        “It was Davis that alerted the entire region,” said Lynne Nittler, a coordinator for the Yolano Climate Action Group.

        Meanwhile, Davis’ state and federal representatives have been doing what they can, within the limits of strong federal pre-emption laws for railroads.

        Trains carrying the hazardous materials have derailed and exploded in recent years, most notably in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where a July 6, 2013, derailment caused a fire and wiped out a portion of the town, killing 47 people and forcing 2,000 others to flee. A subsequent derailment and explosion just outside Casselton, N.D., in January also alarmed the public.

        If the Valero refinery railroad terminal is built at Benicia, Davis would see trains estimated to be 100 cars long filled with volatile Bakken shale crude oil traveling straight through downtown along the same route the Amtrak Capital Corridor uses to carry commuters.

        Phillips 66 terminal

        But Davis faces another possible threat, as well.

        Far to the south and west of Davis are the Central California coast communities of San Luis Obispo County, housing the Phillips 66 oil refinery near the Nipomo Mesa and — potentially — another rail terminal.

        That terminal would attract more trains filled with Canadian tar sands crude oil, traveling through Roseville, Davis, Oakland, San Jose and Salinas to Phillips 66. While somewhat less volatile than Bakken shale crude, tar sands crude is mixed with chemical thinners that make it potentially explosive.

        Laurence Shinderman leads an activist group in Nipomo opposing the Phillips 66 railroad terminal called the Mesa Refinery Watch Group. The group’s ranks swelled from a handful in recent months to 250 residents spearheading a letter-writing campaign targeting the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

        The county is leading the environmental review process for the railroad terminal. Yolano Climate Action Group, the city of Davis and SACOG have submitted their concerns, as well.

        Shinderman said Nittler has been helping from the start, giving advice to the Mesa Refinery Watch Group.

        The mission among the Davis group is to get people to go from NIMBY to NOPE, or from saying, “Not In My Back Yard” to “Not On Planet Earth,” Nittler said.

        It represents a shift in thinking from opposing a particular project to a wider understanding of what environmentalists consider a dangerous trend of oil by rail along the West Coast.

        In San Luis Obispo County, the rail line that would carry the oil runs through the Cal Poly SLO campus and over a bridge adjacent to a county drinking water treatment facility.

        “The reality is there is human error, there are guys who are going to fall asleep at the switch,” Shinderman said. “You can’t mitigate for human error. The railroad is hiding behind the skirt of federal pre-emption and saying, “Ah, you can’t do anything.’ ”

        Federal protection

        Under federal code, any laws governing railroads must be uniform across the country, “to the extent practicable.”

        That forbids the vast majority of local tinkering, but a small “savings clause” says a state may regulate some railroad activity provided the situation is geared at a local, but not statewide, safety hazard; is not in conflict with federal law; and does not “unreasonably” restrict railroad commerce.

        The party claiming federal pre-emption has the burden of proof in any case.

        In the matter of the railroad terminals, local cities and counties are ostensibly in charge of the approval — or disapproval — of the projects.

        Even there, federal law may give the oil companies and the railroads a recourse in court if the terminals aren’t built.

        According to the Association of  American Railroads, rail safety is a top priority. In accordance with a 2014 emergency order from the federal Department of Transportation, rail companies are required to notify state emergency response agencies about the routes of trains carrying large amounts of Bakken crude.

        The association also notes that railroads train thousands of first responders, including using a $5 million specialized crude-by-rail training and a tuition assistance program, which is estimated to serve 1,500 first responders in 2014.

        “If an incident occurs, railroads swiftly implement well-practiced emergency response plans and work closely with first responders to help minimize injuries or damage,” reads a position statement on the association’s website.

        The association said the industry is also advocating for safer rail cars that are less prone to disaster. The association claims that in 2013, freight railroads “stepped up the call for even more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids” that included asking that existing tank cars be retrofitted to meet higher standards or be “phased out.”

        Nittler said that was a smokescreen, and the federal government does not impose rules the industry doesn’t agree to first.

        Even according to AAR, the federal Railroad Safety Advisory Committee that develops safety standards for rail transport uses a “consensus process” to impose new safety standards.

        Legislative help

        Davis’ Democratic congressman, Rep. John Garamendi, is a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He said the committee is in the process of crafting new rules for railroads.

        “I have and will continue to push them to write the strongest possible guidelines,” Garamendi said in an email.

        At the state Capitol, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is part of efforts to pass laws that levy taxes on railroads to provide money for first responders.

        “The volume of crude oil being imported into California has increased 100-fold in recent years, and Valero has plans to ship 100 train cars of crude oil per day through the heart of my district to its refinery in Benicia,” Wolk wrote in an email.

        “… Currently, local governments along these transport corridors don’t have sufficient funding to protect their communities. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, I will push for funding for developing and maintaining adequate state and local emergency response to accidents and spills involving rail transports of crude oil and other hazardous materials.”

        Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads filed suit against the state in October, claiming that California or any other state does not have the authority to impose safety requirements on them because federal law already does that.

        That may put a damper on a new North Dakota law passed Thursday that requires companies to stabilize the volatility of Bakken crude before shipping it out of the state. Texas already requires such handling.

        In the meantime, Nittler is busy trying to drum up support for a letter-writing campaign to the SLO Board of Supervisors before a 4:30 p.m. deadline Monday for comments on its draft environmental review.

        “If they don’t build it, they won’t come,” Shinderman said.

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