Tag Archives: Northern California

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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    Sacramento Bee: Crude oil train shipments on the rise in California

    Repost from The Sacramento Bee
    [Editor: Significant quotes: “…UP said new shipments into California from Canada started in late November, running through Idaho, Washington and Oregon…. The trains from Canada likely carry tar sands…. the trains from Canada appear to be traveling on the UP line that runs parallel to Interstate 5 through Northern California, which almost certainly takes them on one of several rail lines through Sacramento…. The new shipments are the first “unit” – or all-oil – trains to enter the Western U.S. from Canada, according to a report in Railway Age.  Crude from Canada has been coming into California sporadically and in smaller shipments for more than a year, Railway Age reported.”  See also Railway Age, UP begins Canada-to-California CBR service. – RS]

    New crude oil trains from Canada arrive in California

    By Tony Bizjak, 12/08/2014

    In a sign that crude oil train shipments to California refineries are on the rise, Union Pacific railroad officials confirmed last week they are now transporting full trains of Canadian oil through Northern California on a route that likely cuts through central Sacramento.

    State rail-safety inspectors shadowed the initial trains outside of Bakersfield and reported the mile-long trains were traveling at slow speeds, most likely out of caution, just days after a UP corn train derailed in the Feather River Canyon and spilled feed into the river.

    The Canadian imports are the second set of all-oil trains now believed to be coming through the capital on a regular basis. A Bakken oil train comes through midtown Sacramento once or twice a week en route to Richmond in the Bay Area.

    Several more oil trains may join them in the next year. Valero Refining Co. has applied for permission to run two 50-car oil trains a day through Sacramento to its plant in Benicia, and Phillips 66 has plans to run oil trains five days a week into its refinery in San Luis Obispo County, some from the north and some via southern routes.

    State officials say the Canadian trains are heading to a newly opened transfer station outside Bakersfield, where the crude oil is expected to be piped to coastal refineries. The station, operated by Plains All American Pipeline, a Texas company, is the first of several crude-by-rail facilities planned for California in the next few years. Combined, they would give oil companies the ability to receive up to 22 percent of the state’s imported crude oil by rail instead of by marine shipment.

    The increase nationally in train transport of North American crude has helped push international oil prices down dramatically in recent months. It also has raised concerns about the risk of derailments and oil spills. Sacramento officials have called on oil and rail companies and federal regulators to increase safety measures to protect against spills, including requiring stronger tank cars.

    Citing safety issues of their own, rail companies have generally declined to disclose where and when rail shipments are happening. But in an email to The Sacramento Bee last week, UP said new shipments into California from Canada started in late November, running through Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

    “We expect to run crude trains on this route moving forward,” UP’s Aaron Hunt wrote.

    The trains from Canada likely carry tar sands, also called bitumen, which is considered less flammable than the Bakken oil from North Dakota. Bakken oil has been involved in a several major rail explosions in the last few years, including one that killed 47 people in a Canadian town. State safety officials say tar sands, viscous and heavy, are a threat to waterways because the material can sink, making spills hard to clean. A bitumen spill from a ruptured pipe forced closure of 35 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 and required $1 billion in cleanup costs over a three-year period.

    The state recently called on railroads to provide plans that show that they have the wherewithal to clean oil spills on state waterways. Officials with the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response say tar sands may require particular equipment. “Businesses that transport heavy oils are required to have response resources necessary to address these types of spills,” state spokesman Steve Gonzalez said in an email. “Contractors must be able to locate, contain and clean up a spill that has sunk to the bottom of the water. Some of these responses include sonar, containment boom, dredges and pumps.”

    Rail shippers point out that derailment numbers overall have been decreasing nationally for decades and that the industry now runs oil trains at slower speeds at times.

    State Public Utilities Commission officials say they sent inspectors out near Bakersfield to monitor the first Canadian oil train, and another train headed to Bakersfield from the south, and noted that the trains were traveling slower than normal.

    “The first run is a critical run. If anything goes wrong, we want to be there,” PUC rail safety chief Paul King said. “There might be compliance issues. We want to see how it interfaces with traffic, what speeds they decided to go.”

    King said the trains from Canada appear to be traveling on the UP line that runs parallel to Interstate 5 through Northern California, which almost certainly takes them on one of several rail lines through Sacramento. Rail officials have declined to say which lines the oil trains use.

    In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation required railroads to notify state officials of large shipments of Bakken oil. Many states ultimately made the information available through public records requests, against the wishes of the railroads. However, railroads are not required to report oil shipments from Canada or other non-Bakken domestic sources.

    The new shipments are the first “unit” – or all-oil – trains to enter the Western U.S. from Canada, according to a report in Railway Age. Crude from Canada has been coming into California sporadically and in smaller shipments for more than a year, Railway Age reported.

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      Sacramento Bee: California state and regional agencies challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

      Repost from The Sacramento Bee
      [Editor: to read the State’s letter and others mentioned in this article, check out Project Review.  – RS]

      California officials challenge Benicia crude oil train plan

      By Tony Bizjak, September 24, 2014

      Brown administration officials say Benicia has underestimated the risk posed by oil trains planned to run through Sacramento and other parts of Northern California to the city’s Valero refinery, and is calling on the city to redo its safety analysis before allowing oil shipments to increase.

      A letter sent to the city last week by the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California Public Utilities Commission expresses concerns similar to those detailed in recent letters to Benicia from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and the cities of Sacramento and Davis.

      Sacramento regional leaders have accused Benicia of not adequately exploring the explosion and fire risks of a Valero Refining Co. plan to run two 50-car trains daily through downtown Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento, Davis and other cities to the Benicia refinery.

      Julie Yamamoto, chief of the state spill prevention agency’s scientific branch and a member of the governor’s rail safety team, said state officials felt compelled to push for Benicia to do deeper study prior to project approval.

      “We felt the risk analysis was sufficiently flawed and underestimates the risks,” Yamamoto said.

      In its draft environmental impact report, issued earlier this summer, Benicia only analyzed oil spill possibilities on the rail line between Roseville and Benicia, even though the trains will travel from other states or even Canada. “That is a pretty big shortfall in not considering the rest of the track to the California border, and even beyond that,” Yamamoto said. State officials also have questions about how Benicia came up with the assertion that a derailed train might spill oil only once every 111 years, and therefore the risk was insignificant.

      “The derailment rate looks to us to be low compared to national data,” Yamamoto said.

      Benicia city officials declined to respond this week to the concerns raised by the state and local governments, but previously indicated that they limited their spill analysis to the Roseville-Benicia track section because they do not know yet which rail lines the Union Pacific Railroad may use east or north of Roseville to bring the oil into California.

      State officials countered that there are only a handful of rail lines that could be used to bring the oil into the state, and all should be included in Benicia’s project risk analysis. The state noted that those rail lines pass through “high-hazard areas” where derailments are more common. In Northern California, those hazard sections are at Dunsmuir, the Feather River Canyon and near Colfax.

      By issuing its letter, the state secures legal standing to sue Benicia if that city approves the project without redoing its risk studies. State officials this week declined to address the question of whether they would consider a lawsuit.

      The letter from the state is one of hundreds Benicia officials said they received in the past few months in response to their initial environmental study. Benicia interim Community Development Director Dan Marks said the city and its consultants would review the comments and prepare responses to all of them, then bring those responses to the city Planning Commission for discussion at an as-yet undetermined date.

      Under the Valero proposal, trains would carry about 1.4 million gallons of crude oil daily to the Benicia refinery from U.S. and possibly Canadian oil fields, where it would be turned into gasoline and diesel fuel. Valero officials have said they hope to win approval from the city of Benicia to build a crude oil transfer station at the refinery by early next year, allowing them to replace more costly marine oil shipments with cheaper oil.

      Crude oil rail shipments have come under national scrutiny in the last year. Several spectacular explosions of crude oil trains, including one that killed 47 residents of a Canadian town last year, have prompted a push by federal officials and cities along rail lines for safety improvements.

      SACOG and the cities of Sacramento and Davis have called on Benicia to require UP to give advance notice to local emergency responders, and to prohibit the railroad company from parking or storing loaded oil tank trains in urban areas. Local officials want the railroad to use train cars with electronically controlled brakes and rollover protection. Sacramento also has asked Benicia to limit Valero to shipping oil that has been stripped of highly volatile elements, including natural gas liquid.

      Others in the Sacramento region, however, point out that rail safety is a federal issue, not one that cannot legally be dictated locally. In a joint letter, Stanley Cleveland and James Gallagher of the Sutter County Board of Supervisors said SACOG is overreaching, and a better approach would be to work with federal railroad regulators, as well as with Valero and UP, on safety issues.

      The Union Pacific Railroad also has challenged the SACOG and Sacramento city perspectives, arguing that federal law pre-empts states and cities from imposing requirements on the railroads. “A state-by-state, or town-by-town approach in which different rules apply to the beginning, middle and end of a single rail journey, would not be effective,” UP officials said in a letter this month to SACOG.

      State Sen. Ted Gaines, who represents much of Placer County and other rail areas, said the Valero project has his “full support.” Benicia’s analysis, he wrote, “affirms that this project is beneficial environmentally and economically and can be done safety given the prevention, preparedness and response measures in place by both Valero and Union Pacific Railroad.”

      Among other commenters:

      •  350 Sacramento, a local climate change group, warned that oil trains would cause an increase in carbon emissions and slow efforts to convert to renewable energies.

      •  The Capitol Corridor passenger train authority, which would share tracks with the oil trains, voiced concern about the safety of passengers, crews and communities, saying the Benicia analysis doesn’t look at the impact crude oil trains would have on Capitol Corridor or Amtrak passenger trains.

      • The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District said Benicia could ask Valero to fund local mitigation programs to reduce polluting impacts of trains in the region.

      •  UC Davis noted that the rail line passes through campus near the Mondavi Center and the UC Davis Conference Center, and called for additional training and equipment for Davis to deal with the possibility of a derailment and fire.

      Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2014/09/24/3866089_california-officials-challenge.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

       

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        KQED: Routes revealed for BNSF trains hauling volatile crude oil in California

        Repost from KQED Science
        [Editor: Of great interest for many in California, but lacking any comment on the Union Pacific rail line that transports freight to Benicia and over the Benicia Bridge to Contra Costa County and the East Bay.  Latest on the Union Pacific line as of 6/27/14: The Riverside Press Enterprise reports that “Union Pacific submitted a letter May 29 to the state office, saying the company was “compiling and reviewing the data.”  – RS]

        Revealed: Routes for Trains Hauling Volatile Crude Oil in California

        Molly Samuel, KQED Science | June 25, 2014
        A BNSF train carrying crude oil passes through downtown Sacramento. (Courtesy of Jake Miille)
        A BNSF train carrying crude oil passes through downtown Sacramento. (Jake Miille)

        State officials have released routing information for trains carrying a volatile grade of crude oil through California.

        The newly released information reveals that tank cars loaded with oil from the Bakken formation, a volatile crude that has a history of exploding, rumble through downtown Sacramento and through Stockton about once a week. Before they get there, they travel along the Feather River, a major tributary of the Sacramento and a key source of drinking water. They pass through rural Northern California counties — Modoc, Lassen, Placer, Plumas, Yuba and Butte — before reaching their destination in Contra Costa County.

        This is the first time that information about the trains’ routing in California and their frequency has been made public. About once a week, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) train enters the state from Oregon, headed for the Kinder Morgan rail yard in Richmond. Each train is carrying a million gallons or more of Bakken crude.

        “The purpose of the information is really to give first responders better awareness of what’s coming through their counties,” says Kelly Huston, a deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

        The notifications (shown below) provided by BNSF to the state list the counties through which the trains pass, and the average number of trains per week. They’re retrospective, reporting what’s already happened, rather than looking ahead to what trains could be coming.

        “Right now the information, because it’s not very specific, is being used as an awareness tool,” said Huston.

        An emergency order issued by the federal Department of Transportation requires railroads to notify emergency responders about large shipments of Bakken crude. BNSF had asked the OES to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which state officials refused to do. After keeping the notifications secret from the public for a few weeks, the state decided to release them on Wednesday, following the lead of other states that had already done so.

        “We think it is very important that those responsible for security and emergency planning have such information to ensure that proper planning and training are in place for public safety,” Roxanne Butler, a spokeswoman for BNSF, wrote in an email. “But we also continue to urge discretion in the wider distribution of specific details.”

        The DOT issued the order after a series of fiery derailments involving Bakken crude in Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia, among other states. Last July, a train carrying oil from the Bakken exploded in a town in Quebec, killing 47 people.

        MAP: State officials have confirmed that crude is traveling by rail in the counties shaded gray on the map, below. Also shown are rail lines owned by California’s two major railroads, BNSF and UP, which share some of the lines. Click on the rail lines or counties to see identifying information. Not all lines shown in the shaded areas carry Bakken crude. (Map produced by Lisa Pickoff-White)

        California Crude-by-Rail Shipments by KQED News

        “We want the rail companies to do everything they can to ensure public safety,” said Diane Bailey of the Natural Resources Defense Council. She says there are three things that would help assuage her concerns: safer rail cars, slower speed limits, and making sure the trains are always staffed.

        Butler said the railroads themselves have also pushed to phase out the DOT-111 railcars that have been involved in the accidents. “The rail industry also implemented a number of additional safety operating practices several months ago to reduce the risk of moving crude by rail,” she wrote, “including lower speed limits and had addressed the train securement issue in August of 2013 as part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s emergency order.”

        California lawmakers have introduced bills that would provide more money for oil spill response, and require more information from railroads about hazardous materials. The recently-passed California budget includes a fee on oil entering California by rail, which would help fund the state’s Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response. It also provides more money to the California Public Utilities Commission for rail safety inspectors.

        Transporting crude oil by rail is a burgeoning business, thanks to an oil boom in North Dakota. In 2013, more than 6 million barrels of crude oil came into California by rail. In 2008, there were none.

        California Crude-by-Rail Weekly Tracking

        Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly included Davis in the list of cities the trains pass through.

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