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Sen. Cantwell: Act now on oil trains

Repost from The Columbian
[Editor:  Significant quotes: 1) “BNSF Railway…has offered training to local responders. But that training “just scratches the surface,” said Nick Swinhart, chief of the Camas-Washougal Fire Dept.”  And  2) “About 88 percent of the cars now hauling crude oil in Washington are the CPC-1232 design, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas. The railroad plans to phase out all of its older DOT-111 cars from moving crude within the next year, he said. It also plans to retrofit its CPC-1232 cars with internal liners during the next three years, he added.”  – RS]

Cantwell: Act now on oil trains

Senator pushes for changes to improve safety of hauling crude by rail

By Eric Florip, April 8, 2015, 9:20 PM
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., walks past a firefighting rig with Vancouver Fire Department Division Chief Steve Eldred during a visit to Vancouver on Wednesday. Cantwell and local leaders highlighted the risks of crude oil being transported by rail. (Steven Lane/The Columbian)

Now is the time to act to reduce the continued risk of crude oil moving through the region by rail, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said during a visit to Vancouver on Wednesday.

The Washington Democrat and local leaders repeatedly stressed the volatility of the oil itself. Speaking inside Pacific Park Fire Station No. 10 in east Vancouver, the group noted that responders are ill-equipped to handle the kind of fiery derailments and huge explosions that have characterized a string of oil-train incidents across the country recently. In some cases, the fires burned for days after the actual derailment, Cantwell said.

“No amount of foam or fire equipment can put them out,” she said. “The best protection we can offer is prevention.”

Cantwell last month introduced legislation that would immediately ban the use of rail cars considered unsafe for hauling crude oil, and create new volatility standards for the oil itself. The bill would require federal regulators to develop new rules limiting the volatile gas contained in crude that is transported by rail — an important and somewhat overlooked facet of the larger debate over oil train safety, Cantwell said.

Much of the oil that now rolls through Clark County comes from the Bakken shale of North Dakota. Regulators there this month imposed new rules on the volatility of that oil, but critics argue they don’t go far enough. North Dakota, currently in the midst of a historic oil boom, lacks the infrastructure and facilities for more thorough oil stabilization that are commonplace elsewhere.

About two or three oil trains per day now travel through Vancouver on the way to other facilities. A proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver would more than double that number. The project, now under review, has fixed a spotlight firmly on Vancouver.

“Although crude-by-rail is a national issue, we firmly believe that Vancouver is the epicenter of the conversation,” said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.

Wednesday’s gathering also included two local fire chiefs, who said their crews don’t have the resources to respond to a major disaster involving an oil train. BNSF Railway, which carries crude oil through the Columbia River Gorge and Southwest Washington, has offered training to local responders. But that training “just scratches the surface,” said Nick Swinhart, chief of the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.

“No first responder is fully prepared for the threat posed by crude oil trains carrying highly volatile oil from North Dakota,” Swinhart said, noting his agency has 54 paid personnel. “The fire resulting from just one exploded oil train car, as you can imagine, would overwhelm our resources very rapidly.”

Concerns about oil train safety go far beyond the oil. Much of the discussion has centered around the tank cars carrying it. Cantwell’s bill would prohibit all DOT-111 and some CPC-1232 model tank cars from hauling crude oil. The move would affect tens of thousands of rail cars currently in use, phasing out older models many believe are inadequate for carrying crude.

About 88 percent of the cars now hauling crude oil in Washington are the CPC-1232 design, said BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas. The railroad plans to phase out all of its older DOT-111 cars from moving crude within the next year, he said. It also plans to retrofit its CPC-1232 cars with internal liners during the next three years, he added.

BNSF expects tank cars to improve as designs evolve and federal rules change, Melonas said, and the company welcomes that trend.

“We are in favor of a stronger-designed tank car to move this product,” Melonas said. “In the meantime, we’re taking steps to make sure we’re moving it safely.”

As for whether BNSF supports Cantwell’s bill, Melonas said the company is still evaluating it.

Near the end of Wednesday’s event at the fire station, officials showed Cantwell a large rig equipped with foam tanks and other features. The Vancouver Fire Department acquired the vehicle as mitigation several years ago when Valero, a company operating at the Port of Vancouver, began handling methanol, said Division Chief Steve Eldred.

The Valero site later became NuStar Energy. NuStar has since applied for permits to handle crude oil at the same facility.

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    Reuters Exclusive: California getting more Bakken crude by barge than rail

    Repost from Reuters
    [Editor:  At the 9/11/14 Benicia Planning Commission meeting, John Hill, vice president and general manager of the Valero Benicia Refinery, stated that Bakken crude has been refined at Valero.  Commissioner Steve Young asked Hill to confirm his statement, which he did.  Young then asked the means of transport, and Hill replied “by barge.”  Our communities might well ask when, how much, and with what new volatile emissions output, etc….  – RS]

    Exclusive: California getting more Bakken crude by barge than rail

    By Rory Carroll, SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 23, 2014
    A pumpjack brings oil to the surface  in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
    A pumpjack brings oil to the surface in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    (Reuters) – Shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to California by barge have quietly overtaken those by train for the first time, showing how the state’s isolated refiners are using any means necessary to tap into the nation’s shale oil boom.

    While tough permitting rules and growing resistance by environmentalists have slowed efforts to build new rail terminals within California itself, a little-known barge port in Oregon has been steadily ramping up shipments to the state, a flow expected to accelerate next year.

    From January through June, California received 940,500 barrels of the North Dakota crude oil from barges loaded at terminals in the Pacific Northwest, the highest rate ever, Gordon Schrempf, senior fuels analyst for the California Energy Commission, told Reuters.

    Bakken crude transported to California on railcars, which has gained widespread attention after a series of fiery train derailments in North America, accounted for just 702,135 barrels over the same time period, according to published figures.

    “We’re seeing marine transport of Bakken crude outpace rail for the first time,” Schrempf said. In 2013, rail shipments of 1.35 million barrels exceeded barge shipments of 1.33 million barrels. The year before, almost no crude arrived by barge.

    Bakken shipments by barge and rail may only comprise a tiny portion of the crude California imports, at about 5,200 and 4,000 barrels per day respectively, with Alaska supplying over 20 times as much crude.

    But companies, including refiner Tesoro Corp and logistics company NuStar Energy LP, have plans to significantly expand that volume with new terminals along the Pacific Northwest that would unload trains from North Dakota and pump the oil onto tankers.

    They would help make California a major destination for Bakken oil, a trend that has drawn objections from environmental groups who have been seeking to stem the tide, often by blocking local permits to built oil-train offloading terminals.

    “Bringing it in by barge gets you around cumbersome permitting and the growing citizen opposition to crude-by-rail,” said Lorne Stockman, research director of Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization working on energy, climate and environmental issues.

    To be sure, their objections may differ. The principle concern over transporting Bakken by rail is the risk that a derailment could cause a deadly explosion similar to the one in Lac Megantic, Quebec, last year that killed 47 people.

    There is no suggestion that waterborne oil transportation poses similar explosive risks, although the environmental impact of a barge spill could be much greater.

    “The barges are designed to carry the grade of oil that the Bakken is,” said Ted Mar, prevention branch chief for the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and a former member of the Coast Guard.

    That is small comfort to environmentalists, who oppose all forms of oil production, in particular shale crudes like Bakken, extracted through hydraulic fracking they fear contributes to global warming and poses a potential risk to water supplies.

    “Our end goal is to leave these more dangerous, unconventional fuels in the ground,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation manager for the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.

    SMALLER BUT CLOSER

    With state production declining since the mid-80s, California’s refiners have increasingly relied on deliveries of crude by oceangoing tankers carrying 500,000 barrels or more from places like Alaska, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Iraq, which supplied two-thirds of their needs last year.

    The refiners have been scrambling for several years to get better access to cheaper domestic shale oil by any means necessary, replacing costlier imports. But with the big shale fields to the east of the Rocky Mountains and a lack of major pipelines, it has not been easy.

    The articulated tug barges (ATBs) now arriving are tiny by comparison to the tankers, carrying as little as 50,000 barrels.

    Such shipments cost more than bringing Bakken directly to California by rail, but easily plug into existing port and terminal infrastructure – avoiding the need for new permitting that can take years.

    While many are working to build out their own rail facilities, a handful of major rail-to-barge terminals along the Pacific Northwest coast that would ship over 500,000 bpd of Bakken crude have been in the works for several years. But most are incomplete, and several face delays.

    One of the few exceptions is an idled ethanol terminal and processing plant in Clatskanie, Oregon, run by Global Partners LP. The facility, on a small canal that feeds into the Columbia River, began quietly transshipping oil from trains to barges in 2012 and is now receiving so-called “unit trains”, mile-long trains that only carry crude oil.

    “Unit train volume into our Clatskanie terminal is up, and interest in the facility from prospective customers is at an all-time high,” Global Partners Chief Executive Eric Slifka said in August.

    Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

    Later that month, the firm received a new air permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that will allow it to ship as much as 1.84 billion gallons of volatile liquids, or some 120,000 bpd. It did not specify crude or ethanol.

    Much of those shipments moved north to refineries in Washington, including BP’s Cherry Point in Puget Sound, and Phillips 66’s Ferndale facility. But both those plants are expanding their own facilities to bring more Bakken in by rail, likely curbing some demand for barges.

    Top oil barge operator Kirby Corp, which runs vessels out of Clatskanie, is currently building two larger 185,000-barrel barges to deploy on the coast next autumn.

    Environmentalists say they are monitoring the rise in Bakken-by-barge deliveries.

    “This won’t pull our focus away from crude by rail, but rather expand the lens with which we look at dangers of Bakken entering our communities,” said the Sierra Club’s Dervin-Ackerman.

    (Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Jonathan Leff and Marguerita Choy)
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      ‘Bomb trains’: A crude awakening for Richmond, Calif.

      Repost from Aljazeera America

      ‘Bomb trains’: A crude awakening for Richmond, Calif.

      Local activists try to halt the shipment of explosive Bakken crude oil through their neighborhoods

       

      RICHMOND, Calif. — The streets are quiet in Lipo Chanthanasak’s neighborhood on the outer edge of this city’s downtown core. Each of the small houses is painted a variation of beige and separated from the road by a neatly kept lawn, as if to highlight the scene’s utter normalcy. But half a mile west are the BNSF Railway tracks and the Kinder Morgan rail facility, which quietly began receiving trains of Bakken crude last year.

      Chanthanasak, who moved to Richmond from Laos 24 years ago, lives within the potential blast zone should an oil train derail, according to an online map created by the environmental-advocacy group ForestEthics. The 70-year-old retiree says he only learned that crude was being transported through his community because of his involvement with the nonprofit Asian Pacific Environmental Network, or APEN. Many of his neighbors, he says, are unaware.

      Since July 2013, when a train carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing at least 42 people and flattening the town, major crude-by-rail accidents have occurred in Alabama, North Dakota, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado. ForestEthics says that 25 million Americans live within an oil-train-evacuation zone. An elementary school, a public-housing project and an affluent, elderly community fall within Richmond’s zone, according to the advocacy group.

      train bombs Richmond California
      Bakken crude has been arriving since last year at the Richmond, California, train depot, pictured here. Google

      The transport of crude by rail is not a new phenomenon, but it has increased significantly over the past few years. In the first half of this year, 229,798 carloads of crude were transported by rail, up from 9,500 carloads in all of 2008. The increase is largely connected to the development of the Bakken shale, oil-rich rock formation that lies beneath parts of the northern United States and Canada.

      Compared with traditional forms of crude oil, Bakken crude has been shown to be much more volatile and more likely to explode in the event of derailment. Hence the rail cars’ nickname among activists: “bomb trains.” But apart from a code on the side of the cars, nothing about their appearance indicates their origins. Smooth and cylindrical, the black cars would be adorable, if only their contents weren’t so dangerous. Richmond’s Kinder Morgan facility, a rail yard containing very little except several tracks, is just as unassuming. The trains (100 to 120 cars hitched together, all carrying the same product) arrive here, where they are lined up in several rows, each waiting for their content to be pumped into tanker trucks (three tankers are required to hold the contents of a single railcar). The tankers are then thought to travel another 25 miles northeast to a Tesoro Corporation refinery in Martinez.

      Previously, the Kinder Morgan facility receiving ethanol by rail. But in September 2013, after securing the necessary air-quality permit granted by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (without the knowledge of its board), the facility quietly switched over to handling crude. By the time the community found out, in March 2014, through an investigative story by the local CBS station, KPIX, it was already too late. The lawsuit that the nonprofit group Earthjustice filed (on behalf of APEN and others) to halt operations at the terminal was dismissed by the Superior Court of San Francisco in September, because it had been filed after the 180-day deadline.

      “It’s a catch-22,” says Andres Soto, an organizer for Communities for a Better Environment, one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit. “How can you even comment unless you knew that something had been done? We would’ve had to be going through public records on a regular basis to discover when they’re making these kinds of decisions.”

      Richmond’s case is not unique: In June, a NuStar terminal in Vancouver, Washington, also received an air-quality permit to begin storing crude without public notification. Community resistance has, however, encouraged the Vancouver City Council to adopt an emergency six-month moratorium on new or expanded crude-by-rail facilities.

      “It’s very rarely been the case that local representatives or city councils have questioned these things without being encouraged to by local citizens or by being forced to by local action groups,” said Lorne Stockman, research director at Oil Change International and author of two recent reports on the rise of crude-by-rail in North America. “The only way [the projects] have been challenged are because vigilant citizens have questioned them.”

      The secrecy that has characterized the projects has been aided by the fact that, in many cases, their introduction requires very little new construction — none at all in the case of Kinder Morgan. That makes the projects virtually invisible. This is also why crude by rail has been economically viable, despite being slightly more costly than transport via pipelines. In addition, pipeline projects normally require 20- to 30-year contracts to recoup their capital investments. Therefore, because the Bakken oil boom is not expected to last, constructing new pipelines to service it often doesn’t make economic sense. Meanwhile, the Bakken region is already connected to the West Coast by existing rail infrastructure. With crude prices higher in the West Coast than elsewhere in the country, and a growing Asian market for North American crude, the transportation of crude by rail to the West Coast is likely to increase unless community resistance proves successful.

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        Vancouver City Council passes oil moratorium

        Repost from The Columbian

        Vancouver City Council passes oil moratorium

        Unanimous vote approves emergency six-month measure
        By Stephanie Rice, September 11, 2014
        An oil train passes through Vancouver. The Vancouver City Council on Thursday unanimously passed an emergency six-month moratorium on new or expanded facilities that would accept crude oil. The moratorium won’t affect the oil transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies that’s currently under review by the state. (Steven Lane/The Columbian)

        The Vancouver City Council on Thursday unanimously passed an emergency six-month moratorium on new or expanded facilities that would accept crude oil.

        The moratorium won’t affect the oil transfer terminal proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies that’s currently under review by the state.

        While the six-month moratorium was straightforward — a public hearing will be Oct. 20, and it will expire March 10, 2015, unless extended by the council — a last-minute filing muddied the issue.

        The special council meeting was announced Wednesday in accordance with a state law requiring 24-hour public notice. It was meant to head off plans by NuStar Energy L.P. of San Antonio to apply to start storing crude oil at its two bulk tank terminals in Vancouver, one at the port and one at 5420 Fruit Valley Road.

        At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, a preliminary application was filed by NuStar with the city, said Brent Boger, an assistant city attorney.

        Boger said he doesn’t know whether a pre-application qualifies the project as vested, and therefore exempt from the moratorium.

        A pre-application signals interest to do a project in the city. During a pre-application conference, the applicant learns what the city would require before permits would be issued so the applicant can decide whether to go forward with an application.

        Without a moratorium, NuStar would be allowed to store crude oil under current city zoning, Boger said.

        Jon Wagner, a senior planner, told the council he hadn’t had enough time to thoroughly review the thick packet submitted by NuStar.

        NuStar has handled jet fuel, antifreeze, diesel, methanol and other products at its Vancouver terminals, but not crude oil. In April, NuStar submitted an application for an air quality permit with the Southwest Clean Air Agency to convert a tank at each of its locations to handle crude oil.

        The terminals would receive oil by rail, and then ship it out by barge.

        NuStar spokesman Chris Cho said Thursday the potential crude-by-rail project at the Vancouver terminal is in the early stages of development, but a pre-application was submitted for a building permit to start the lengthy permitting process.

        “If we receive regulatory approvals to build the facility, we anticipate it would handle an average of 22,000 barrels per day — approximately one-third the capacity of one unit train per day,” Cho said. “This project would provide revenue to the port, create jobs, bring more low-cost crude to the region, and further support U.S. energy independence. It would also be a state-of-the-art facility that would be operated safely, in accordance with NuStar’s very high safety standards,” Cho said.

        Cho emphasized that NuStar operates rail facilities at many terminals and invests in safety equipment, technology and specialized training for employees and ensures trains comply with all regulatory safety standards.

        Aside from the NuStar questions, the council focused on wanting the six months to discuss how crude petroleum facilities should be regulated. The proposed moratorium referenced Bakken crude oil, but Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle suggested the moratorium cover all crude oil facilities and other councilors agreed.

        The only councilor who objected to the moratorium was Bill Turlay, but he changed his mind and voted with his six peers.

        Initially, Turlay, speaking to the audience that filled the council chambers, said he remembers when many of them showed up to protest coal trains.

        Now it’s oil trains, he said.

        Critics of the Tesoro-Savage facility cite many concerns, including potential oil spills, the volatility of North Dakota Bakken crude and global climate change.

        Turlay, who believes that carbon dioxide has only a negligible effect on climate change, said instead of rushing to a moratorium he wants a public debate about causes of climate change. His comments prompted laughter and groans from the audience.

        Turlay said he does have concern about safety, but trusts the rigorous review by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council weeds out any dangerous proposals.

        Councilor Jack Burkman pointed out to Turlay that smaller projects need city, not state, approval. Those smaller projects don’t have to be reviewed by the state evaluation council, and that’s the point of enacting a moratorium.

        Councilor Alishia Topper told Turlay the council was doing what he said he wanted, which was to slow down and carefully weigh the pros and cons of additional regulations.

        When it came time for roll call, Turlay said he changed his mind and voted “yes.”

        In June, the City Council voted to formally intervene in the EFSEC process, a legal maneuver giving the city the right to present evidence and appeal.

        The council also approved a broad policy statement opposing any proposal that would result in an increase of Bakken crude oil being hauled through Clark County.

        Tesoro-Savage wants to build an oil-by-rail terminal that would receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day at the port.

        Eventually, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will approve or deny the project.

        While the city’s moratorium won’t stop the Tesoro-Savage project, Vancouver resident Jim Luce, a former chairman of EFSEC who opposes the oil terminal, said it could influence Inslee.

        “It sends a signal to the state — and the governor — that the Vancouver City Council is not enthusiastic about siting oil terminals in its backyard,” Luce said Thursday.

        Erin Middlewood contributed to this article.

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